The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Trillium, Robocop: Last Stand, Collider, Halo: Initiation, and more

First Impressions | Trillium, Robocop: Last Stand, Collider, Halo: Initiation, and more
Published on Thursday, August 22, 2013 by
[UPDATED] This week, we look at the first issues of Vertigo’s Trillium and Collider, BOOM!’s Robocop: Last Stand, Image’s Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose and Sidekick, Dark Horse’s Halo: Initiation and Station to Station, Action Lab’s Zombie Tramp, Michalski/Lagos’ Zoë: Out of Time, and more. If you have difficulty finding any of these issues, don’t forget that most can be reordered through your local comic book shop or purchased directly from any number of online retailers. NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed issues were digital copies provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers.
Trillium #1 of 8 (DC/Vertigo; $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • Trillium1Story & art: Jeff Lemire
  • Colors: Jeff Lemire, José Villarubia
  • Publisher’s summary: It’s the year 3797, and botanist Nika Temsmith is researching a strange species on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space. It’s the year 1921, and renowned English explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of Peru in search of the fabled “Lost Temple of the Incas,” an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties. Two disparate souls separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles. Yet they will fall in love and, as a result, bring about the end of the universe. Even though reality is unraveling all around them, nothing can pull them apart. This isn’t just a love story; It’s the LAST love story ever told.
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

2008 Shuster Award recipient for Outstanding Cartoonist Jeff Lemire (The Underwater Welder, Sweet Tooth) takes a page from Watchmen in the first installment of Trillium, using and expanding on the symmetrical panel and page construction technique first popularized by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in “Fearful Symmetry.” Essentially comprising two distinct but related stories, Trillium #1’s “flipbook” configuration is used by Lemire to connect the two tales in the issue’s physical midpoint, echoing the time travel conceit that unites their narratives. (The images in the preview gallery below show the first two pages of each story, showing their panel symmetry.)

Much of the issue is devoted to exposition, but it is artfully executed in a manner that serves to establish and rationalize motivations—the world-building doesn’t get in the way of, and in fact feeds into, character development. Lemire and Villarubia do an excellent job with the issue’s art and the visual storytelling is clear and unambiguous, although fans of more traditional comics rendering might find the stylized, painted aesthetic as something of an acquired taste. Despite not really doing much more than introducing the principals and the rudiments of the book’s defining conflict, the thoughtful craft applied to Trillium‘s first issue and the book’s intriguing romance/sci-fi premise have me highly anticipating the next issue in the miniseries.

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RoboCop: Last Stand #1 of 8 (BOOM!; $3.99)
  • Robocop_01_preview_Page_1Story: Frank Miller
  • Sequential Adaptation: Steven Grant
  • Artist: Korkut Öztekin
  • Colors: Michael Garland
  • Cover Artist: Declan Shalvey
  • Publisher’s summary: FRANK MILLER’S VISION FOR ROBOCOP’S FINAL CHAPTER REVEALED! Frank Miller’s incredible screenplay has been brought to life in this hard-hitting Steven Grant (2 GUNS, PUNISHER: CIRCLE OF BLOOD) penned adaptation. With all the brains, guts, and bullets that made the first film an instant classic, this is a comic event not to miss. The police force has disbanded. The people of Detroit have been evicted from their homes. ED-209’s and OCP officers run the streets. With OCP’s vision for Delta City well underway, Robocop may be his city’s last hope. This is Robocop’s last stand, as it was always intended to be.

Given the rather deliberate pace with which the narrative progresses in this issue, a decision to pick up subsequent issues of RoboCop: Last Stand will have to be based on how much a reader trusts that the story—adapted from Frank Miller’s original screenplay for the third film in the original RoboCop movie franchise—will be fleshed out in the future. As it stands, the first issue reads less like a fully formed chapter and more like an assemblage of related scenes that do little to establish who the characters are and why they act the way they do.

Still, anybody picking up a comic called RoboCop: Last Stand is likely to be more than familiar with the broad strokes of the RoboCop films and its underlying satire of 1980s urban decay and ancillary concerns such as the privatization of government services and paranoia over the takeover of American businesses by Japanese rivals (1980s Hollywood’s second-favorite go-to villains after the Soviet Union). Any criticism of the lack of in-story context in the issue might be moot for all practical intents and purposes. Korkut Öztekin’s bold, thickly-lined art is quite good though, a perfect match for the gritty inner-city setting, and his dynamic sense of “camera” placement makes for some quite visually arresting (ha ha) scenes.

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Station to Station one-shot (Dark Horse; $2.99)
  • stationtostation00Story: Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman
  • Art: Gabriel Hardman
  • Publisher’s summary: Something terrible has happened to the Bay Area. A pipeline explosion has totaled Treasure Island and destroyed the Bay Bridge. At least, that’s the official story… An interdimensional monster has been brought to San Francisco, and only the men responsible can fight it off, but can they resist its brainwashing? From the pages of Dark Horse Presents!
  • NOTE: This is an advance review (release date: 28 August 2013)

The Dark Horse Presents anthology is a ubiquitous entrant in the annual Eisner Award category for Best Anthology for good reason (it won the award again this year, if you’re asking, its third Best Anthology Eisner in the last 21 years). It provides a forum for showcasing excellent short-form serial narratives that would otherwise struggle to find expression in print elsewhere. Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s Station to Station is one such serial story drawn from the anthology, now compiled in a handy 32-page one-shot format. Station to Station‘s dimensional nexus/cross-time hijinks has a strong Skull the Slayer vibe and that mid/late-1970s feel extends to the art: Hardman’s detailed linework is reminiscent of the art seen in some of the best classic Marvel, DC, and Warren horror/sci-fi magazines (and he draws excellent pterodactyls and prehistoric crocodiles). An entertaining one-and-done standalone outing from a creative team that I’d be really interested in seeing on a full-length sci-fi or horror miniseries or graphic novel.

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Genie the Genius #1 of 3 (Ape Entertainment; $2.99)
  • GENIE1-preview-001Story: Darren Sanchez, Emily Sanchez
  • Art: Massimo Asaro, Fernando Peniche
  • Colors: Fernando Peniche, Antonio Peniche
  • Publisher’s summary: When fifth-grader, Andy Andrews rescues a junior-level Genie from a dusty old lamp at the museum, his life suddenly gets a whole lot more entertaining. Genie takes Andy on a time travel experience to see live dinosaurs in action, all in the name of homework. While exploring the Cretaceous, taking pictures and having a blast along the way, Genie and Andy face danger on land, sea and air, in a fantastic adventure. Will they make it back in one piece… and how long can Andy keep his new found Genie a secret?

A fairly entertaining, solidly illustrated read for the younger readers set, I do have one major misgiving about a basic aspect of the Genie the Genius property, one that, as described in publisher-supplied promotional materials, is supposed to promote science education and awareness of medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis: I am of the opinion that the use of a fantasy-based character design is stridently at odds with the property’s goal to promote intellectual curiosity and critical, rational thinking skills. That being said, the book’s creators do go out of their way to explain that the character’s “magic” can’t do everything, but it’s still an odd, odd design choice given the project’s parameters.

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Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose #1 of 3 (Image; $3.99)
  • burnorphana01_coveraStory: Sina Grace, Daniel Freedman
  • Art: Sina Grace
  • Colors: John Rauch
  • Publisher’s summary: A young orphan named Rock was left for dead, now he’s out for revenge! With partners Lex and Bear by his side, our hero will find out who burned his home and family to the ground. If that means taking on every goon, punk, and topless stripper ninja in the city… then so be it.

Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose is Sina Grace and Daniel Freedman’s sequential art ode to the side-scrolling beat ‘em up video games of their youth—think of the comic as an unofficial adaptation of Sega’s Streets of Rage, complete with a cast of heroes that fulfills the standard trio of beat ‘em-up playable character types: A jack-of-all-trades martial artist, a strong-but-slow bruiser, and a speedy and lithe female fighter. The problem is that it just might be doing too good a job of replicating the 8-bit/16-bit era brawler video game narrative. (This leads me to ask the question: Who plays beat ‘em ups for the story?)

Reading Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose feels too much like watching someone else have fun during retro-gaming night. There’s none of the vital interactivity and empowering player agency that is part of the experience of actually playing a video game, but all of the boilerplate revenge-driven plot (an orphanage is burned down by arsonists and former residents Rock, Bear, and Lex track down and fight those responsible), cheesy dialogue, rote characterizations, and (by now) homogeneous character designs, although to their credit, Grace and Freedman do try to update the genre’s tropes in certain ways—there are at least two notable attempts to subvert video game character types. On the art side of things, Grace’s draftsmanship and rendering is somewhat rough and inconsistent, although the visual storytelling is certainly capable. There are some neat Easter eggs for sharp-eyed readers—lead character Rock pulls off Street Fighter II‘s Guile’s signature “Flash Kick” move in one key scene, Kaneda’s bike (from Akira) makes an appearance, and one multi-panel fight sequence is actually laid out like a side-scroller screen—although in the main, the art can probably be best described as competent but unremarkable.

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Zombie Tramp, Vol. 2 #1 of 4 (Action Lab; $2.99)
  • ZTvol2_1_coverStory & art: Dan Mendoza
  • Cover: Dan Mendoza with David Delanty
  • Publisher’s summary: She used to be Hollywood’s hottest high priced call girl. Then a bite from an undead client changed her into something deadly different. Now she searches for answers (and brains). Janey Belle is the… Zombie Tramp! It’s crazy, it’s blood soaked, it pushes boundaries and defies expectations, it’s dirty and nasty and trampy, it was the best selling and now out of print product of Jason Martin’s Super Real Graphics and Dan Mendoza’s fevered brain, it’s about as far from Princeless and Molly Danger as it’s possible to get, it’s about zombie avengers and it’s simply called Zombie Tramp.

One of the launch titles of Action Lab Comics’ Danger Zone mature readers imprint, Zombie Tramp, Vol. 2 is a direct sequel to the three-issue Zombie Tramp miniseries sporadically self-published by writer-artist Dan Mendoza between 2009 and 2012. And when I say direct sequel, I really do mean direct sequel: Issue #1 of Zombie Tramp, Vol. 2 picks up right where the third issue of the original miniseries ended, without so much as a recap blurb on the inner cover recounting the character’s origins as a high-priced Hollywood call girl-turned-sentient zombie. (That description sounds like a punchline to a Frank Miller joke.) Readers who haven’t encountered the character before will have many questions about the character and setting, and will unfortunately find few answers in the comic itself, but those who’ve followed the property since its inception will appreciate Mendoza’s attempt to build on the prior story arc’s continuity. The issue’s partially-colored art is a mixed bag: Mendoza certainly has a talent for facial expressions and gesture, but he relies far too often on a static, ground-level, medium-shot perspective in his storytelling that is more comic strip than comic book, and the spare backgrounds make everything look flat.

As with many comics labeled with the “mature readers” tag, Zombie Tramp is actually more adolescent in its proclivities, although it’s not as if the book is presenting itself as anything more than a naughtily-drawn zombie comic with a slapstick approach to violence and body horror. Reading Zombie Tramp made me wonder if it’s actually possible to meaningfully and honestly satirize the worst excesses of exploitation genre media while simultaneously indulging in them—this is the same question I find myself inevitably asking when I read an issue of Robin Bougie’s Sleazy Slice anthology, for example—and while I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer to that conundrum, I do know that Zombie Tramp, beyond the nudity, violence, gore, and profanity, has a solid if rather basic story and a surprisingly well-realized protagonist, relatively speaking.

Preview gallery (Images may not be appropriate for viewing at work):

Zoë: Out of Time #1 of 4 (self-published; $1.99 on Amazon, 99¢ on comiXology) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • ZoeCover1Story: J. Michalski, Alexander Lagos
  • Art: Derlis Santacruz
  • Colors: Oren Kramek
  • Distributor’s summary: What happens when a time travel device falls into the hands of a rebellious, teenage girl? CHAOS! It is the year 2050, and sixteen year old Zoë Black is obsessed with one thing: legendary lead singer of Rebel Lions, Trent Darrow, whose untimely death sixty years ago at the tender age of seventeen launched him into the stratosphere of rock legend with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. To Zoë, Trent Darrow and the Rebel Lions are the center of her teenage universe, an escape from the loneliness and alienation of growing up as the only child of widowed physicist, Corbin Black, who is on the brink of a major breakthrough in the study of time travel. A discovery that offers her the opportunity to make the most fantastic of dreams a reality. And so, late one night, Zoë steals her father’s new prototype time travel device—the Kronos Traveller—sending her sixty years into the past to 1990 and into a gritty and dangerous world, much different from her own. But when she finally makes her way into Trent Darrow’s life, is he all that she imagined he would be? And what happens when she discovers that his death was no “accident”? Will a young woman’s obsession to cross time interfere with a rock star’s fate? Will he still die a legend, or will Zoë unknowingly alter his future… and her own?

Sold on Amazon as an e-book since late May of this year and launched earlier this month on the comiXology Submit indie comics platform, Zoë: Out of Time‘s low-key origin as a self-published title unaffiliated with any of the more notable independent publishers belies its polished level of craft and slick production values. Protagonist Zoë Black is a feisty, impulsive, intelligent, smart-mouthed young heroine with a knack for improvisation, cut from the same character design cloth as, say, Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis’ Alice Hotwire and the recent Glory reboot’s Riley Barnes. Zoë’s dialogue has a “TV realistic teen” quality to it, witty and funny enough to be entertaining, but not overly smart and precious so as to be grating and too-hip. As with just about any story that features casual time travel as a core element in the plot, readers will be best served by only superficially considering the implications of time travel technology on the fictional setting—examining the fantastical science of the comic at a finer resolution will only reveal plot holes. Read on its own terms as the first chapter in “pop sci-fi” (as opposed to “hard SF”) four-issue miniseries, Zoë: Out of Time #1 delivers action, humor, and suspense in a tightly-scripted package.

But for all Michalski and Lagos do right on the written end, it might yet turn out to be Derlis Santacruz’ art that readers will remember the most from their encounter with this issue. The Argentine artist has a fundamentally sound handle on figurework and panel-to-panel storytelling, although it is worth noting that he sometimes goes overboard with his habit of breaking panel borders, having figures cross panel boundaries for no readily discernible design or storytelling reason. But this is a minor nit in the face of everything the illustrator does well.

Preview gallery (unlettered):

Halo: Initiation #1 of 3 (Dark Horse; $2.99)
  • HaloInitiation 001-001Story: Brian Reed
  • Art: Marco Castiello
  • Colors: Michael Atiyeh
  • Cover Artist: John Liberto
  • Publisher’s summary: Before she was a super-soldier defending humanity as part of the Spartan-IV program, Sarah Palmer was an ODST—Orbital Drop Shock Trooper—carrying out the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines!

I’m not the ideal reviewer for Halo: Initiation #1, a comic steeped in the lore of Halo 4. My actual hands-on experience with the Halo video games and its in-game fiction began and ended in 2003 (the last time I had a PC capable of running a current AAA game) with a couple of playthroughs of the single-player campaign in the PC version of the first entry in the popular series of first-person shooters, so it’s certainly possible that many of the finer points and nuances of the story and script are lost on me. To Brian Reed’s credit, I didn’t find myself too confused with this issue, even when it’s clear that it was written with experienced Halo players in mind. Part of that is due to Reed’s decision to concentrate on explaining the whos, whys, and wherefores of the whole affair in the opening pages of the issue—it’s a transparent, somewhat clumsy attempt at exposition, but given the sheer amount of backstory involved, it’s probably a necessary evil. The issue does feature its fair share of action-packed fight scenes, of course, and artist Marco Castiello acquits himself well in these instances (also worth noting: his detailed rendering of the Spartan against the silhouette of an actual ancient Spartan, seen in the preview gallery below, is desktop/wallpaper-worthy). One thing I did notice is that while the in-game appearance of Sarah Palmer was modeled on actress Vedette Lim, that likeness doesn’t seem to carry over in the comic’s interior art, although this is likely a case of the rights to her likeness not making it past legal.

A solidly crafted first issue for tie-in comic miniseries, but one that will largely be of interest to those already invested in the Halo games and fiction.

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Sidekick #1 (Image; $2.99)
  • sidekick01_coveraStory: J. Michael Straczynski
  • Art: Tom Mandrake
  • Colors: HiFi
  • Publisher’s summary: WITNESS A MODERN HERO’S FALL FROM GRACE! The Cowl and Flyboy: renowned superhero and sidekick despite dopey names. They were famous, popular, and happy until the Cowl’s assassination. Now, no one takes Flyboy seriously. Follow his trajectory from barely tolerated hero to figure of ridicule, and witness his slow descent into madness, darkness and crime.

J. Michael Straczynski draws from the “superhero deconstruction” well in Sidekick, a project that seems to be of a piece with similarly-themed stuff like Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and to less of a degree, Straczynski’s own work on Marvel’s Supreme Power. I suppose it says something about the current state of superhero comics when Flyboy’s character arc can be described as offering no real surprises—perhaps gloomy deconstruction is the preferred filter for parsing the modern superhero narrative and sunnier “superhero reconstruction” such as that seen in Waid’s Daredevil and Dark Horse’s Captain Midnight are now the exception—but to be fair, Straczynski turns in an effective tale, regardless of how I feel about the book’s premise within the larger context of current superhero fiction. There’s no questioning the book’s technical merits: The setting, premise, backstory, character motivations, and dialogue are presented with an effortless and practiced clarity that can only be readily managed by someone with Straczynski’s considerable experience as a writer of fiction for broadcast and print. Tom Mandrake’s art similarly ticks all the boxes in the list of things I like to see in a superhero comic book artist’s repertoire of skills and tricks. The only ingredient missing, and this is probably more on me than on the creative team, is a reason for me to be genuinely emotionally invested in the book’s characters and their intertwining stories.

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Collider #1 (DC/Vertigo; $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • Collider1Story: Simon Oliver
  • Art: Robbi Rodriguez
  • Colors: Rico Renzi
  • Cover: Nathan Fox
  • Publisher’s summary: It started small: temporary gravity failures, time reversal loops, entropy reversals. With much fanfare a new government agency was formed with a mandate “to prevent and protect.” Its official title: The Federal Bureau of Physics. Humans, if nothing else, adapt to the changing parameters of their existence. What was extraordinary soon became ordinary, a part of people’s daily lives. They move on and do what people have always done: survive. But even that new status quo is now under threat. Things are getting worse, and it falls to Special Agent Adam Hardy and his FBP team to figure out what’s going on, before it’s too late…
  • NOTE: The reviewed comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer

Well, based on how much I enjoyed this month’s Trillium (see above) and Collider (soon to be re-titled FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics due to some trademark mix-up), it looks like recent reports of the Vertigo imprint’s impending creative demise in the wake of Karen Berger’s departure are grossly exaggerated. And yes, I will freely admit to bleating pretty loudly about how all the recent changes at DC didn’t bode well for what up until a couple of years ago was probably the most highly regarded label for non-superhero material in the mainstream comics space. And I’m also pretty glad that I’m very much wrong on that score, at least as far as these two titles are concerned. Yes, there’s no denying that Vertigo has taken a distinctly more sci-fi bent in recent months—which I don’t mind at all, as many of my favorite Vertigo titles from the 1990s were actually transplants from DC’s short-lived Helix sci-fi comics imprint—but the result is pretty much the same: thought-provoking, highly entertaining comics that are a cut above much of the similarly-themed stuff out there.

Collider succeeds in establishing its premise by at once playing up both the inherent sense of wonder and the accompanying bewilderment (and even existential terror, for some) that come with the realization that the immutable character of Newtonian physics we were taught in our youth starts breaking down once discussion and description of the universe as we know it starts veering into the direction of things like the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Writer Simon Oliver runs with the idea of a world whose physical rules are inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary and has fun with it, crafting an early scene that could very well have been inspired by that old joke about the law of gravity being repealed and introducing readers to the FBP—the Federal Bureau of Physics—a government agency tasked with investigating and resolving situations wherein the dictates of what we would describe as classical physics have been violated. It’s tempting to describe Collider as being similar to Morrison, Ellis, or Casey’s brand of “mad ideas” zaniness, but Oliver’s work, at least in this early going, is slightly more grounded and measured, and that’s a good thing: Not every comic book with a science-fiction conceit needs to be unrelentingly balls-to-the-wall in its delivery of the offbeat and novel.

Robbi Rodriguez employs a strong sense of stylization to his figure work that I find very appealing, especially in combination with the dynamic perspectives that seem to frame panels in the most interesting way possible. The linework is loose and energetic but not at all sloppy, and while the visual storytelling and panel-to-panel transitions take some unconventional twists here and there (sometimes bending and even breaking the laws of storytelling physics, as it were), those deviations rarely come at the cost of clarity or the viewer’s intuitive sense of reading direction.

A masterfully executed debut issue all-around. Highly recommended.

Preview gallery (unlettered):

The Rejects #1 (self-published; $4.99 on Indy Planet print-on-demand)
  • rejects01Story: Jesus Narvaez
  • Art: Randy Valiente
  • Distributor’s summary: A young woman named Jane running for her life inside a industrial facility trying to escape from a crazed, clown terrorist, but now she is trapped and the lunatic is about to killed her. And, she begins to wonder how she ended up in this predictment? After four years trying to survive in prison, an convicted male thief, Sean gets a second chance where he gets recruited by the CIA and leads a group of bizarre crinimals to become America’s secret counterterrorism team in the 21st Century.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who commits to creating a full-fledged comic book and going to the extent of getting it printed and distributed, even if it’s only through a self-publishing concern. The amount of work involved in the making of a full-sized 20+ pager is no insignificant thing. Jesus Narvaez and Randy Valiente’s The Rejects #1, however, is a project that could have really used more incubation and polish. The dialogue, in particular, is in dire need of proofing for format errors and awkward phrasing—their sheer number significantly detracted from my enjoyment of what is a cohesively-plotted work. Valiente’s rendering style harks back to the start-up comics of the 1990s—either a good thing or a bad thing depending on one’s appreciation of the period—but it is his ability to tell a story using a variety of distances and perspectives that really grabbed my attention. In a number of panels however, the quality and thickness of his ink line abruptly changes for no apparent reason related to the visual storytelling, as if he switched brushes or pens at random instances.

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