The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Juice Squeezers, The Midas Flesh, Black Widow, The Saviors, and more

First Impressions | Juice Squeezers, The Midas Flesh, Black Widow, The Saviors, and more
Published on Saturday, February 1, 2014 by
Read on for the first of two articles covering releases from the past two months. In this installment are reviews of Juice Squeezers, The Saviors, Black Widow, The Midas Flesh, Hacktivist, Furious, DeceiversDead Body RoadAll-New X-Factor, and Bad Blood. [Click here to read Part Two of our comprehensive look at the #1s of December 2013 and January 2014—ed.]

First Impressions is our (more-or-less) monthly look at first issues, one-shots, and “entry-point” comics. Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed issues are digital copies provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers, publicists, or creative team personnel.

Juice Squeezers #1 (Dark Horse, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • juicesqueezers01_coverStory & illustrations: David Lapham
  • Colors: Lee Loughridge
  • Publisher’s summary: Tunnels made by a legion of giant bugs crisscross the fields below Weeville, and only one thing can stop them from overrunning this quaint California town: the Juice Squeezers. A covert group comprised of scrawny tweens, the Squeezers are the only ones who can fit into the cramped subterranean battlefield and fight the insects on the frontlines!

Zedric DimalantaDavid Lapham’s reputation as a comics creator rests largely on material intended for older readers—his work on the crime comic Stray Bullets has earned him two Eisner Awards as well as a Comics Buyer’s Guide fan award and a good chunk of his recent work has been mature readers-rated comics for Avatar Press and Marvel’s MAX imprint—so the all-ages friendly Juice Squeezers is both a genuine surprise and a validation of his continued standing as one of the medium’s best all-around talents.

It is no random design decision that dictated that the back cover of the issue feature a collectible “Juice Squeezers Command Card” reminiscent of the file cards printed on the packaging of the old 1980s G.I. Joe action figures. The story may be labeled as an adventure suitable for young readers, but those in their thirties and early forties will also find a nostalgic charm to Lapham’s writing of the ensemble dialogue and character interactions, which call to mind that of 1980s movie fare like The Goonies, Stand By Me, and Monster Squad.

There are more subtle clues that Lapham intends for this comic to work on multiple levels, for readers young and old. While the comic’s “kids vs. giant bugs” conceit can ostensibly be read straight-up as a low-stakes tween/young teen adventure, there’s a darker undertone to the whole affair for those who are inclined to look for it that serves as commentary on the modern state of unending war, where each succeeding generation unquestioningly inherits and perpetuates the conflicts of its parents, without knowing or understanding why the wars started in the first place. Like Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise, this is a kid-friendly adventure comic that expertly and stealthily manages to broach basic themes of a political and military nature without devolving into tedium.

An excellent, excellent read, an all-ages comic that doesn’t talk down to younger readers, whilst offering surprising depth for their parents. Very highly recommend.

The Saviors (Image Comics, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • saviors01_coverStory: James Robinson
  • Art: J. Bone
  • Publisher’s summary: When Tomas Ramirez stumbles upon an extraterrestrial conspiracy to take over the world, his life is changed forever.  He must now seek out those few souls who share this terrible knowledge.  But even united, how can they hope to defeat a shadowy alien cabal that is both indestructible and eager to kill anyone who threatens it?

Troy Osgood: I’ve been a James Robinson fan ever since his stint on Firearm for Malibu’s Ultraverse, which I absolutely fell in love. His run on WildC.A.T.s was great and Leave It To Chance was phenomenal.  So I was very excited when heard he would be doing a new creator-owned series. Its premise sounded interesting, a kind of alien invasion/body snatcher/horror story.

Then I heard the art was by J. Bone and I got a little worried. Not that I think there’s anything intrinsically wrong or bad about it, but would his stylized, cartoony style work for a horror title?

I’m glad to say that I shouldn’t have worried.  The Saviors is a great read.

The main character, Tomas, is your typical slacker type.  But Robinson defies stereotypes and makes Tomas an enjoyable slacker.  This isn’t a guy that’s down on himself.  He’s just a guy that doesn’t demand much out of life and is happy with what he has.  That’s actually refreshing to see in a character.  There’s too much angst nowadays in comics. A character that is happy is very rare.

Bone’s art actually ends up working perfectly for what he and Robinson are doing with this book.  Great layouts, excellent linework and the alien reveal is appropriately freaky.

This series is off to a great start.  I can’t wait to see where Robinson and Bone take it.

The Midas Flesh #1 (BOOM! Box, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • MidasFlesh_01_rev_Page_1Story: Ryan North
  • Art: Branden Lamb, Shelli Paroline
  • Publisher’s summary: Fatima and her space crew have decided to return to Earth—a planet completely sectioned off, abandoned, and covered in gold—to find out exactly what happened to this once thriving planet and see if they can use that knowledge against the evil empire that’s tracking them down. As luck would have it, they just landed the most powerful weapon in the universe: some ancient dead guy’s body.
  • Full disclosure: The Comixverse uses the Project Wonderful advertising service, which was authored and programmed by Ryan North.

Zedric: Any all-ages comic that begins with a simplified summary of the conditions and implications of the Miller–Urey experiment will grab my attention, and so it was thus with The Midas Flesh, the launch title of BOOM! Studios’ new BOOM! Box imprint, which is intended to be a showcase for the more experimental and offbeat projects of its house talent.

The Midas Flesh—the work of writer Ryan North and artists Shelli Paroline and Branden Lamb, who raised their collective profile with their Eisner Award-winning, bestselling work on BOOM!’s licensed Adventure Time comics—attempts to blend science-fiction with Greek mythology. This is no lazy genre mash-up, either: North applies a more stringent, science-based reasoning for how the magical powers of myth’s King Midas might have actually affected the environment. It’s an interesting thought experiment committed to sequential art form, and the creative team’s retelling of the myth of King Midas is laugh out loud hilarious in spots.

This first issue is primarily devoted to exposition, and while the comedy is solid, readers hoping to find the crazy, non sequitur hijinks of Adventure Time might be a little disappointed. Still, the book’s premise is intriguing through and through.

All-New X-Factor #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • allnewxfactor1_00Story: Peter David
  • Illustrations: Carmine Di Giandomenico
  • Colors: Lee Loughridge
  • Cover: Jared Fletcher
  • Publisher’s summary: X-FACTOR IS BACK… LIKE NEVER BEFORE! Serval Industries, one of the world’s most trusted names in electronics and leader in cutting-edge internet and weapons technology, has just unveiled their newest contribution to society… the All-New X-Factor. Led by mutant mistress of magnetism, Polaris, the team uses its corporate backing for the betterment of society. With her half-brother Quicksilver, notorious thief, Gambit, and more by her side, can Polaris trust that her corporate masters really have good intentions?
  • NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer.

Troy: Marvel’s 2014 batch of Marvel NOW! titles starts off with Peter David returning to the title he spent over a hundred(?) issues on. It’s not quite the same team or premise, but it’s still David behind the controls and if you enjoyed the old X-Factor, then it’s a good bet that you’ll like this one.

This is one of the “canceled and then relaunched” titles that makes sense.  The name is the same, but that’s about it. Only two of the former cast members from the previous X-Factor series return.

Quick tangent: Peter David is responsible for turning Jamie Madrox into the A-lister (okay, maybe B+ lister) that he is today and many people (myself included) were hoping to see where David would take Jamie and Layla, but I have to say, without going into spoiler territory for those of you trade-waiting the series, that the little wrap-up in this issue (only a couple sentences) works perfectly and is a nice way to close this chapter of the Madroxes’ life. Well done.

Quick tangent #2: I have to applaud David’s commitment to continuity. These days, the trend seems to be for writers, when starting a new book (or jumping onto one), to ignore recent events from related titles written by other writers. Gambit just had an ongoing series end and instead of ignoring what James Asmus did in that book (which would be easy to do and many writers would have done), Peter David incorporates elements from that title in this issue. This may not seem like a big deal, but it means that David paid attention and cares about what the other writers do.  That’s very rare nowadays (DC, I’m looking at you).

But while I like what David is setting up, I’m not a big fan of was the art by Di Giandomenico. It’s decent for the most part, but here and there are odd panels that I just don’t like.  It’s also somewhat flat, with weird proportions and anatomy.

Serval, X-Factor’s new corporate sponsor, just seems to be too good to be true, and with this being a David book, you know something’s up. The relationships being established work well and David already has a good handle on Gambit, who can be a bit-and-miss character depending on the writer. It seems redemption will be a big theme for this book.

Deceivers #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99)

  • Deceivers_01_rev_Page_1Story: Steven Grant
  • Illustrations: Jose Holder
  • Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
  • Publisher’s summary: Lincoln McCord and Prince Adony Zaruka are two American con men living abroad in Europe, posing as an oil magnate and the descendant of long-lost royalty to live the high life by leeching off the European elite. But when an international thief begins wreaking havoc on their marks, the deceivers are enlisted by a rogue CIA agent to help entrap him.

Zedric: I will admit, I felt a little twinge of disappointment when I first saw the cover image and read the solicitation for Steven Grant’s Deceivers last year. While I realize that today’s comics creators need to look beyond the direct market for ways to monetize their work, I couldn’t help but feel that Grant, having hit the jackpot with Universal Pictures’ film adaptation of his 2 Guns, was trying to recreate that success by resorting to the same 2 Guns formula of an odd-couple heist story featuring two male leads with contrasting hair color, a mysterious female romantic interest who may or may not be working for the enemy, and the requisite twists, turns, and fake-outs that aren’t really twists, turns and fake-outs because of how inured audiences and readers are to them. I would probably have felt better about the idea of Deceivers had Grant not applied the same formula with last year’s 3 Guns.

But here’s the thing: Grant and artist Jose Holder are so good at their craft that one can’t help but be impressed by their technical prowess, even on a project that seems to be intended to be little more than an elaborate storyboard for the inevitable Deceivers film adaptation. Grant has mastered the rhythms of the Hollywood actioner dialogue and the pacing of the mid-budget summer movie release, while Holder might just be the best renderer and visual storyteller Grant has collaborated with in his time creating properties with BOOM! Studios. This is solid, solid work from two pros who know what they’re doing, and any fan of the medium will recognize that in this issue.

Never has the phrase “don’t hate the player, hate the game” been more applicable in comics.

Black Widow #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • Black-Widow-001-001Story: Nathan Edmondson
  • Art: Phil Noto
  • Publisher’s summary: You’ve seen Black Widow as an Avenger and even an Agent of Shield. But on her own time she searches for atonement for her past as a KGB assassin—in ways of which those teams just wouldn’t approve. From the darkest corners of the Marvel Universe, Nathan Edmonson (Who is Jake Ellis?) and Phil Noto (Thunderbolts, X-23) bring you a new ongoing series as gorgeous and mysterious as Nastasha Romanov herself!
  • NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer.

Troy: Redemption seems to be a theme with the All-New Marvel NOW! line. It figures heavily in All-New X-Factor and in the new Black Widow. Widow is a character with a very dark past and something she’s always seeking to atone for. Nathan Edmondson sets up a very interesting path for the leather-clad assassin to find absolution, one that may lead to a potential conflict with the Avengers down the road.

Edmondson introduces some new twists in Widow’s modus operandi as a mercenary: She only takes certain assignments, keeps the money in escrow, and has a lawyer who keeps everything in line. And as we’ve come to expect from Edmondson’s prior military/espionage comics work, Widow’s mission in this debut issue deals with thorny, moral gray areas.

Phil Noto always does good work and this is no exception.  It looks like he’s playing around with his normal color palette, going for a darker scheme at times.

Bad Blood #1 (Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • badbld1Story: Jonathan Maberry
  • Art: Tyler Crook
  • Publisher’s summary: Getting bitten by a vampire pissed him off. Seeing his best friend brutally slaughtered started a war. Trick was a typical college student—sort of—until vampires attacked. Then he found out his blood was poison to the bloodsuckers. And Trick will do anything to eradicate them.

Zedric: Anyone who has had a loved one contract cancer or worked with cancer patients knows the terrible toll the disease—as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy—takes not just on the patient, but on the patient’s friends and family as well. I have no idea what Bram Stoker Award-winning novelist Jonathan Maberry’s personal experience with cancer is, but whether through firsthand experience or eminent insight, he absolutely nails the heart-rending push-and-pull between resignation and hope that those afflicted with the illness and those who care for them feel every day as they try to live as normal a life as possible in the face of the disease.

Bad Blood isn’t just a story about a person with cancer, of course: As befits Maberry’s résumé as a horror writer, the comic is about a cancer patient who finds out that his leukemia-stricken blood is poisonous to vampires, and decides to embark on a vendetta against a high-ranking member of the revenant species. It’s a darkly humorous premise buoyed up by a plausible sense of internal logic, and it’s to Maberry’s credit that the offbeat affair neither trivializes nor caricatures what those affected by the disease go through. Helping things along is Tyler Crook’s art, which may initially seem like an odd fit for a horror title, but Crook’s skill in rendering emotion through pose and facial expression serves the comic well.

Dead Body Road #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • deadbodyroad01_coverStory: Justin Jordan
  • Illustrations: Matteo Scalera
  • Colors: Moreno Dinisio
  • Publisher’s summary: The men involved in his wife’s death must die. All of them. Writer JUSTIN JORDAN (LUTHER STRODE) and artist MATTEO SCALERA (BLACK SCIENCE, Indestructible Hulk) craft the bruising story of one man’s revenge and the dark road he travels.

Zedric: Dead Body Road, at least with its first issue, seems to be exactly what it says in the solicitations. It’s a straightforward revenge tale: Take one angry (Ex-cop? It’s not exactly made clear in the first issue) widower whose wife was murdered, throw in a shotgun, add some organized crime gangsters, shake vigorously, and watch the sparks, blood, and detached limbs fly. But while the story so far might be somewhat boilerplate, the art by illustrator Matteo Scalera and colorist Moreno Dinisio is anything but. Scalera is making an early case for Eisner and Harvey nominations for artist of the year, especially when his work on this title is viewed alongside his contributions to Black Science.

Hacktivist #1 (BOOM!/Archaia, $3.99)

  • Hacktivist_001_CoverStory: Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Alyssa Milano
  • Illustrations: Marcus To
  • Colors: Ian Herring
  • Publisher’s summary: Ed Hiccox and Nate Graft are young, brilliant, and the co-founders of YourLife, a social networking company that has changed the way the world stays connected. In secret, these best friends are also “.sve_Urs3lf,” the largest, white-hat hacking group on the planet, exposing information and sparking revolutions across the globe.

Zedric: Actress Alyssa Milano’s involvement might be the initial draw of Hacktivist for many readers, but there’s actually more substance and timeliness to the comic than what some readers might expect from a title that, to date, has been marketed largely on the strength of its association with Milano’s celebrity.

The book’s Jack Dorsey/Biz Stone-meets-Anonymous protagonist duo might strike some readers as grating, though, and there is something off about the book’s premise that those fighting for their freedoms against repressive regimes in the developing world need—or are even indebted to—America’s young social media technocrats. Still, it’s early enough in the series that this could be a red herring, and we can probably hope and even expect to see a shift from the simplistic, First World and techno-centric parsing of early 21st century revolutionary movements to a more nuanced perspective as the story progresses.

Furious #1 (Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • furious01coverStory: J.L. Glass
  • Art: Victor Santos
  • Publisher’s summary: Staring into a fractured mirror of her life, the world’s first superhero, Furious, seeks to atone for her past sins by doling out rage-fueled justice! But the spotlight of our celebrity-obsessed media threatens to undo her noblest efforts and expose her true identity before she can achieve redemption.

Zedric: Speaking of celebrity, J.L. Glass and Victor Santos tackle that particular theme, among others, in Furious, the latest entry in the quasi-subgenre of superhero comics that examines the moral, societal, and legal issues that complicate the notion of public super-vigilantism.

The biggest challenge Glass faces in this comic is making the protagonist a character readers can relate to. There is no such thing as a common sense notion of celebrity for the reader who has never experienced actual fame outside of the vicarious and distorted accounts to be found in entertainment “news” and tabloids, and I admit to feeling somewhat indifferent to the protagonist’s dilemmas as they’ve been presented thus far, the same way I don’t really care one way or another for the career and personal drama of real-world celebrities: It’s all in a realm that is so far removed, emotionally, from my own life experiences that I have some difficulty mustering any interest in it, even in a work of fantastical fiction.

This isn’t to say that the comic isn’t entertaining or well-made, because it is, or that the lead won’t become more sympathetic in future issues, and regular readers will know that I’m a fan of Santos’ work. The thing that has me looking forward to the next issue of this series, however, is the promise that Glass will surely take the story beyond the documentation of the lead’s struggles with the burden of superhero fame.

Click here to read Part Two of our comprehensive look at the #1s of December 2013 and January 2014.
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