The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Ghost, Black Dynamite, Revelations, Deadly Class, and more

First Impressions | Ghost, Black Dynamite, Revelations, Deadly Class, and more
Published on Saturday, February 8, 2014 by
Click through to read our reviews of Ghost #1, Revelations #1, Black Dynamite #1, Deadly Class #1, Skyman #1, DayBlack #1, and more in Part Two of our comprehensive look at the #1s of December 2013 and January 2014. [Click here to read Part One 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.

Ghost #1 (Dark Horse, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • ghost2013no1Story: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Chris Sebela
  • Illustrations: Ryan Sook
  • Colors: Dave McCaig
  • Cover: Terry Dodson
  • Publisher’s summary: Ghost, the hero trapped between two worlds, fights to protect Chicago from extradimensional demons disguised as humans. When a familiar stranger destroys an el train, Ghost makes a deal with a devil for the chance to uncover her own mysterious past. The perfect issue to join this action-packed superhero title!

Launched in December 2013, the newest Ghost series builds directly on the events of 2012’s Ghost: In the Smoke and Din, the four-issue miniseries by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Phil Noto that introduced the Comics’ Greatest World character to the current Dark Horse Comics shared superhero universe and established her as one of its flagship company-owned characters alongside fellow Comics’ Greatest World refugee X, recent creations like The Occultist, and acquired properties like Captain Midnight.

New readers need not be knowledgeable about prior Ghost publications to enjoy this first issue, however—a succinct recap on the inside cover page provides sufficient detail for those unfamiliar with the character’s history to hit the ground running. DeConnick returns to pen the character’s latest adventure, this time sharing writer duties with her Captain Marvel collaborator Chris Sebela. The new status quo has Ghost taking on the somewhat ironic role of a “ghostbuster” or exorcist of sorts, hunting down the many demons that remained in possession of human bodies at the end of In the Smoke and Din, including that miniseries’ big bads. In addition, there’s a running subplot about the amnesiac Ghost’s continuing quest to learn about her prior life and identity, before she became an avenging revenant imbued with the powers of teleportation and intangibility. The element of DeConnick and Sebela’s writing that really stood out to me in this issue is the dialogue. It’s peppered with enough exposition to keep things proceeding smoothly, but it is nevertheless entertaining and funny at the right spots and conversational in tone overall.

Ryan Sook’s work, stylistically, is a major departure from Noto’s art in In The Smoke and Din, but it is, in its own way, every bit as expert in its rendering: Faces and character silhouettes are distinct and varied, props and backgrounds are packed with detail. In terms of the visual storytelling, the dynamic opening fight sequence and the extended chase scene that dominates the issue’s final eight pages are what will likely stick with readers, but Sook also does great work in the book’s quieter moments, changing up perspectives and distances during talking head sequences to keep things visually engaging, something of an underrated ability in comics art.

A solid, entertaining read all around, worth seeking out for old and prospective Ghost fans.

Revelations #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99)

  • Revelations_01_rev_Page_1Story: Paul Jenkins
  • Illustrations: Humberto Ramos
  • Colors: Leonardo Olea, Edgar Delgado
  • Publisher’s summary: A potential successor to the dying pope is killed at the Vatican. Long-time atheist and hard-edged London detective, Charlie Northern, is put on the case by a Vatican priest, and long forgotten friend. He must solve the case that the local police cannot, coming face to face with hundreds of years of conspiracy and corruption in the seat of the world’s wealthiest religion.

A side project created while Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos were collaborating on Marvel’s Spectacular Spider-Man, Revelations actually pre-dates Fairy Quest: Outlaws, the first Jenkins-Ramos comic to be published by BOOM! Studios. Originally released in 2005 by Dark Horse Comics, this new edition of Revelations seems to be a straight-up reissue based on what I’ve seen thus far, with no notable changes to the content or the format—the 2005 release was also a six-issue miniseries.

The story, as revealed thus far in this issue, seems to be of a piece with much of popular “church conspiracy” fiction (think Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code). In Charlie Northern, you’ve got a protagonist with lapsed religious convictions (or in Jenkins’ quippy turn of phrase, “a prolapsed Catholic”), there’s a murder on church grounds that is being covered up by high-ranking clergy with the cooperation of corrupt law enforcement, and of course, there’s your requisite secret society lurking in the background. While these elements may strike some readers as rote, it’s all well-executed and entertaining.

Ramos’ particularly stylized art does seem like a bit of an odd fit for Revelations‘ darker themes and more naturalistic bent. It’s not bad by any definition of the word, but the artist’s preference for certain set facial structures and body proportions makes some characters look somewhat too youthful for their purported age. Charlie Northern, for instance, is supposed to be a grizzled veteran investigator nearing middle age, but without reading the dialogue, one could very well mistake him for a young man in his early twenties. That inconsonance is further exaggerated by the fact that many other characters who are supposed to be old are actually depicted in a manner befitting their age. This is a minor complaint, though, in light of how well the storytelling works and the solid rendering overall.

Black Dynamite #1 (IDW, $3.99)

  • BlackDynamite_01-pr-001Story: Brian Ash
  • Pencils: Ron Wimberly
  • Inks: Sal Buscema
  • Colors: J.M. Ringuet
  • Publisher’s summary: HE’S A POWDER KEG OF BLACK FURY THAT’S ABOUT TO EXPLODE!  The baddest kung-fu cat to ever appear on screen is coming to comics so you suckers better duck!  Former CIA agent, international ladies man, and sworn ass-kicking enemy of The Man… he’s BLACK DYNAMITE-and he’s about to walk into the most dangerous journey of his life!

A spin-off of the 2009 spoof feature film of the same name written by and starring Michael Jai White (comic book movie fans may remember him as Al Simmons in 1997’s Spawn), IDW’s Black Dynamite trades in the same kind of blaxploitation parody as its cinematic predecessor, with a lead who is a combination send-up of characters like Jim “The Dragon” Kelly’s Black Belt Jones and Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft.

Writer Brian Ash (Chozen, Black Dynamite: The Animated Series) does a good job of translating the humor of the Black Dynamite film and cartoons to print, although how much readers will enjoy it depends on their capacity for the occasional (and intentionally) groan-worthy one-liners. Ash also makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the events of the Black Dynamite: Slave Island one-shot published by Ape Entertainment in 2011 but for the most part, this is a comic book that can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of pre-existing Black Dynamite media. While I’m not penalizing the comic for what it isn’t, I do wonder if Ash will take a more medium-specific approach to the parody as the series progresses: I’d probably be more interested in reading his skewering of comics’ own 1970s blaxploitation-style trends (think of Marvel’s old Luke Cage: Hero for Hire comics or Strange Tales-era Brother Voodoo) than a print recreation of the source material’s blaxploitation film-themed spoofing. The fact that he throws in a “Sweet Christmas!” line (see the preview below) makes me hopeful that this will be the case with this miniseries moving forward.

There’s no second-guessing the art by Ron “D-π” Wimberly (Prince of Cats, Prophet), however. It’s dynamic but still unambiguous and coherent, made all the more so by industry legend Sal Buscema’s strong ink line. Colorist J.M. Ringuet’s four-color palette and use of simulated Ben-Day style overlays gives the issue an appropriate Bronze Age of Comics look, but not to the point of distraction.

Deadly Class #1 (Image Comics, $3.50)

  • deadly-class-01Story: Rick Remender
  • Illustrations: Wesley Craig
  • Colors: Lee Loughridge
  • Publisher’s summary: It’s 1987. Marcus Lopez hates school. His grades suck. He has no money. The jocks are hassling his friends. He can’t focus in class, thanks to his mind constantly drifting to the stunning girl in the front row and the Dag Nasty show he has tickets to. But the jocks are the children of Joseph Stalin’s top assassin, the teachers are members of an ancient league of assassins, the class he’s failing is “Dismemberment 101,” and his crush, a member of the most notorious crime syndicate in Japan, has a double-digit body count.

    Welcome to the most brutal high school on Earth, where the world’s top crime families send the next generation of assassins to be trained. Murder is an art. Killing is a craft. At King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, the dagger in your back isn’t always metaphorical, nor is your fellow classmates’ poison.

    Join writer RICK REMENDER with rising star WESLEY CRAIG (Batman) and legendary colorist LEE LOUGHRIDGE (Fear Agent) to reminisce about the mid-1980s underground through the eyes of the most damaged and dangerous teenagers on Earth.

Here’s how Deadly Class was described when it was first revealed to the public during last summer’s Image Expo:

Deadly Class is about a high school for assassins AND about the things Remender has seen while growing up hardcore… drawn by Wesley Craig, who Remender found by surfing the net and digging through blogs and portfolios… Craig was a scenester in the mid-’80s and he know exactly what Remender was getting at in Deadly Class… Remender and Craig want to avoid the cliches of the era and instead approach the truth of the time.

Now granted, I experienced the 1980s half a world away from where Remender did, but offhand, I don’t remember “the truth of the time” involving teenaged assassins engaged in a secret war.

I kid, of course. The “teenaged-social-outcasts-training-to-be-world-class-killers-for-hire” conceit of the book is really just the superficial “high concept hook” of an offbeat project with more personal, quasi-autobiographical undertones, something Remender seems to specialize in with much of his creator-owned work, if stuff like Strange Girl and Fear Agent are anything to go by.

There’s really not much to go on with this first issue, it’s fairly slow-paced and largely devoted to introducing the protagonist and his difficult living circumstances prior to getting caught up in the hijinks described in the marketing copy reproduced above. Right now, certain plot and character elements—the down-on-his-luck “loser” who has a chance of becoming a hero, the seemingly unattainable potential love interest, an enigmatic, exotic mentor—feel a little too familiar, but I do believe this is all intentional on Remender’s part, and that he plans on radically subverting tropes and reader expectations down the line.

Wesley Craig’s art is solid stuff, it’s invitingly loose and sketchy but not sloppy or unpracticed. Some of the more ambitious panel arrangements and double-page spreads almost border on confusing when read on a digital platform, however (I reviewed the PDF copy provided by Image Comics that I assume is formatted the same way as the version being sold on the Image Comics digital store), but these instances aren’t deal-breakers, and will probably go unnoticed by most readers. Lee Loughridge, who seems to be supplanting Dave Stewart as the current holder of “the guy who is coloring every comic book out there” title, turns in similarly satisfying work. It seems like these days, too many colorists give in to the temptation to over-render and abuse lighting and gradient effects, so it’s a pleasure to see color art that is measured and judicious in their use.

Skyman #1 (Dark Horse, $2.99)

  • skyman01coverStory: Joshua Hale Fialkov
  • Pencils: Manuel Garcia
  • Inks: Javier “Bit” Bergantiño Menor
  • Colors: Marta Martinez Garcia
  • Cover: Freddie Williams II with Dan Scott
  • Publisher’s summary: After an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Captain Midnight, a drunken Skyman accidentally kills an innocent man! Turns out he’s not only an overly patriotic zealot; he’s also a dangerous PR nightmare. Needing a new face for their initiative ASAP, the Skyman Program turns to US Air Force Captain Eric Reid: a wounded veteran on the ropes, looking for a new lease on life. Reid must fight off his personal demons to have any chance of surviving the potentially deadly initiation.

Joshua Hale Fialkov confronts the issue of the politicization of race head-on in Skyman #1, the first installment in a four-issue miniseries that introduces a new version of the eponymous character who last appeared as a villain in the pages of Captain Midnight.

This issue sees the current Skyman kicked out of the federal superhero development program after a video that shows him spouting racist epithets and killing an innocent civilian while in a drunken rage goes viral. The government bypasses all the other highly-qualified reserve members of the Skyman Program (all of whom just happen to be white) and chooses disabled Global War on Terror veteran Eric Reid to don the Skyman suit, in a desperate bid to reform the Program’s public image. As readers can well imagine, this doesn’t go down too well with the Skyman Program reserves, who feel that Reid landed the lead Skyman position because of the color of his skin, and not because he is qualified to serve as the US military’s premier supersoldier.

It’s fair to say that Fialkov is working with some pretty heavy-handed, capital letter “M” Metaphors here that will no doubt have some readers rolling their eyes—for example, while wearing the Skyman suit, Reid can be remotely controlled by his government handler like a puppet—but subtlety has never been the superhero genre’s hallmarks. To the writer’s credit, the core issues of US race relations and race-based employment equity that inform the story are never really trivialized, despite being couched in capes-and-spandex caricature. Fialkov pulls this off by crafting a substantial, fleshed-out character in Eric Reid. Reid is neither a one-note aggrieved victim of institutional racism nor a cardboard-flat, flavorless “black superhero.” Instead, he’s a man who makes the most of his situation—he’s savvy and self-aware enough to know that he received the Skyman suit because of political expediency, but he isn’t about to let the opportunity to become an inspiration for Americans everywhere go to waste, and he is driven and skilled enough that he might yet win over the miffed Skyman Program reservists. The miniseries is off to a good start, writing-wise, but there is still ample potential for missteps and clumsy polemics in the next three issues, potential that I hope will remain unrealized.

The line art by Manuel Garcia and Javier “Bit” Bergantiño Menor does the job of telling the story through visuals well enough, although it does look like fairly standard superhero comics art, for better and for worse.

The Brave and Handsome Squad (print-to-order via Big Cartel, £4.00)

  • Brave and Handsome Squad, The-001Story & art: David B. Cooper
  • Publisher’s summary: The first comic book adventure of the Brave and Handsome Squad! Abner and Bruno have noticed the streets have been pretty empty lately…what happened to all the citizens? And why won’t Neptune leave his room?

While the look of David B. Cooper’s The Brave and Handsome Squad might remind readers at first blush of a particular subgenre of bizarre animated comedies intended for adults (think Jim Fortier and Dave Willis’ Squidbillies or Greg Lawrence’s Kevin Spencer), the comic book’s humor, whilst offbeat with its fair share of non sequitur elements, is of a relatively conventional bent that should make it more accessible to younger readers, although I’d probably draw the lower limit of the appropriate readership at nine or ten years old.

The Brave and Handsome Squad did get me laughing at points, although it was really more like a subdued tittering than full-out guffawing. It’s not exactly comedy gold—comedy zinc or comedy copper would be better metaphors—but I can’t really come down hard on this comic, because it does accomplish the task of getting a reader to laugh by design. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

Penny Palabras Episode 01 (Amazon/Kindle ebook, $2.86)

  • Penny Palabras 001_001Story: James B. Willard
  • Art: Patrick K. Beavers
  • Publisher’s summary: Penny Palabras, 17, has experienced the paranormal for years. She knows that things aren’t always what they seem. Now, she’s tormented by a malevolent entity called the Straw Man. As she searches for ways to banish him from her life, she’s haunted by more than ghosts. Her nightmares won’t let her sleep, her friends and family can’t understand, and the Straw Man is getting more powerful every day.

“Magically-empowered teen girl fighting against the supernatural” is practically its own indie comics subgenre these days, what with the proliferation and continued popularity of titles like Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin (arguably the codifier of the contemporary subgenre), Tom and Nimue Brown’s Hopeless, Maine, Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchison’s Aurora Grimeon, and more. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The best examples of these comics provide a perfect antidote to the glut of male protagonist-dominated comics that revolve around physical conflict.

James B. Willard and Patrick K. Beavers’ Penny Palabras Episode One begins in medias res, dumping the reader in the middle of a story that has Penny already dealing with the daily torments of a ghost only she can see called the Straw Man. It’s an intriguing premise and Penny, as written, is an interesting protagonist. Willard’s trust in the reader’s ability to fill in the blanks as the comic progresses is refreshing (I especially liked the issue’s opening page), but I do wonder if he is giving his audience perhaps a little too much credit and not enough exposition, although the copy on the inside cover does help in establishing context. The dialogue and storytelling are clear enough that a reader will never feel entirely lost in the proceedings, but a complete grasp of the setting is somewhat elusive.

Beavers’ employment of a (simulated?) gray wash on the art gives it a measure of depth and volume that it otherwise would not have had he opted for hatching or screentones.

DayBlack #1 (Rosarium Publishing, $1.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • DayBlack Issue 1.1-001Story & art: Keef Cross
  • Publisher’s summary: Four hundred years ago, a slave was picking cotton when he was viciously attacked by a vampire. Ever since that moment, Merce has struggled between his conscience and his deadly thirst for blood. Only now, as a tattoo artist, has he figured out a compromise that he and his victims can live with. However, the hunger is strong. So strong, it even haunts his dreams.

Written and illustrated by Metro Atlanta-based tattoo artist Keef Cross, DayBlack is a funny, imaginative, and beautifully drawn work that is as much illustrated storybook as it is a comic. This debut issue is devoted to a first-person narration of the origins of the vampire protagonist Merce, from his early years as a 17th century slave to his current occupation as a tattoo artist in the fictional Georgia town of DayBlack. There’s a droll, slightly sardonic, observational aspect to the humor of Cross’ writing that provides some insight into the life of a professional tattoo artist.

It is the art however, that really makes this title stand out. I’m not familiar enough with the world of tattooing and tattoo art to say whether or not Cross’ distinct style of illustration is informed by tattooing-specific influences and techniques, but I am confident in stating that it is quite striking work with an appeal that goes beyond mere novelty. Cross doesn’t get to show his storytelling abilities too much this issue—the majority of the pages are single panel “splash” images, hence the illustrated storybook comparison I made earlier—but it isn’t really an issue as the story and dialogue as written doesn’t really lend itself to a lot of multi-panel pages.

Dr. 2 #1 (Amazon/Kindle eBook, $1.94)

  • Dr2Issue1ChiangTieryas-001Story: James Chiang, Peter Tieryas
  • Art: James Chiang
  • Publisher’s summary: Shanghai, WWII Internment Camps, and a bizarre New York City murder case involving purple blood intersect in the first issue of DR. 2, a kinetically visceral thriller set in a frightening, yet eerily plausible, future. A physician with a mysterious background, Dr. 2 is the most sought after expert on “unsolvable” crimes. But nothing can prepare him for the maelstrom of chaos that awaits as he’s forced to delve into a world of passion, destruction, and tragedy, all connected to a woman from his own past. This issue serves as an introduction to DR. 2: A FEAST OF SCENTS, the full graphic novel, that will be releasing at a future date.

James Chiang and Peter Tieryas channel a little of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, if not in execution, at least in scope, tone, and atmosphere, in Dr. 2 #1, a full, issue-length teaser for the upcoming Dr. 2: Feast of Scents graphic novel.

Chiang and Tieryas certainly do enough to pique the casual reader’s interest in this issue: there’s an enigmatic forensic investigator lead possessed of what appears to be the power of psychometry (or maybe just very, very good forensic intuition), a century-spanning mystery that is tied to a series of contemporary (relative to the book’s near future setting) murders, a distinct art style, and a “WTF?”-worthy “to be continued… ” conclusion.

As with Deadly Class #1 reviewed above, and really, a majority of first issues, there’s not enough story material in Dr. 2 #1 for a fair reviewer to form a conclusive assessment of the book’s overall merits going forward, but what there is here is enough to leave me hopeful for a satisfying future read.

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