The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Tomb Raider, Undertow, New Warriors, City: Mind in the Machine and more

First Impressions | Tomb Raider, Undertow, New Warriors, City: Mind in the Machine and more
Published on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by
For Part Two of our First Impressions look at the #1s of February, Troy and Zedric review Tomb Raider, Undertow, New Warriors, City: Mind in the Machine, The Remains, Wolverine, The Mercenary Sea, Fantastic Four, Vandroid, and Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy. [Click here to read Part One of our comprehensive look at the #1s of February 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.

Tomb Raider #1 (Dark Horse, $3.50)

  • tombraider012014Story: Gail Simone
  • Pencils: Nicolás Daniel Selma
  • Inks: Juan Gedeon
  • Colors: Michael Atiyeh
  • Cover: Dan Dos Santos
  • Publisher’s summary: Superstar writer Gail Simone picks up Lara Croft’s story where the smash hit Tomb Raider game left off—in a new ongoing comics series! Following the game acclaimed for its bold and sophisticated new vision, this series launches Lara Croft on the formative adventures that will change her life forever!

Troy Osgood: I’ll start off by saying that I haven’t played the recent Tomb Raider game, and that does prove to be a hindrance to getting the most enjoyment out of this comic. I do appreciate that Gail Simone rewards the game’s players by directly picking up the game’s original story—written by Rhianna Pratchett—where it leaves off, but she should really have approached it as if the reader hadn’t played the game, as many of the people picking this up will surely have not, given that Tomb Raider protagonist Lara Croft’s popularity extends beyond video games and into film, animation, and yes, comics.

I love the Indiana Jones-esque angle of Tomb Raider. I think it’s a great premise for a comic book and video game. But I’m not a gamer. I read comic books of all sorts and that a title is based on a game isn’t really much of a consideration for me: I pick comics to read based on my expectations for the story.

So, if it’s not clear yet, I was a bit disappointed in the comic’s execution, particularly for a “#1″ issue. The comic starts off with Lara having nightmares about events that I’m assuming happened in the game, without even a token attempt at an explanation as to what they’re about. Simone, who is something of a hit-and-miss writer for me but whose technical craft I recognize, could easily have managed some basic exposition for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the specifics of Square Enix’s game and still kept the story fresh and exciting for readers who’ve already played through Tomb Raider. The story fumbles the introduction of the principals and the setting. We don’t know where Lara is when the story opens and, just who that is living with her? Who is Jonah? What did they do on the island? None of it is made clear and it’s to the detriment of the comic. Being a continuation of the game is great, but it needs to be able to stand on its own and this first issue doesn’t do that. Hopefully the next few issues manage to fill in the backstory.

The line art by Nicolás Daniel Selma (pencils) and Juan Gedeon (inks) is decent, if somewhat unremarkable. Lara’s build seems to arbitrarily change in a number of panels and pages, though, which is odd. I think Selma, whose work here already shows improvement from when the Comixverse last reviewed his work on Dark Horse’s S.H.O.O.T. First, has the talent to become an even better illustrator and visual storyteller but right now, I’m a little surprised that Dark Horse didn’t go with a more established artist as their choice for such a high-profile licensed comic book.

Undertow #1 (Image Comics, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • undertow-01Story: Steve Orlando
  • Art: Artyom Trakhanov
  • Publisher’s summary: Atlantis is the world superpower, and Redum Anshargal is its worst enemy. If you want to break free of the system, he can offer you a place at his side, exploring the wild surface world in his watertight city barge The Deliverer. He and his hostage-protege Ukinnu Alal hunt the Amphibian, a legend that could be the key to an air-breathing life on land. But as they become the hunted, can Anshargal’s team survive long enough to turn the tables on the godlike beast they set out for? A brand new pulp monster adventure with Ray Harryhausen at its heart and a look at Atlantis like never before from the up-and-coming team of writer STEVE ORLANDO (Mystery in Space) and artist ARTYOM TRAKHANOV.

Zedric Dimalanta“There is nothing new under the sun” comes the refrain from Ecclesiastes, but writer Steve Orlando and artist Artyom Trakhanov may have just found an oh-so-rare brand of novelty beneath the waves of the Paleolithic seas in Undertow, an inventive and offbeat tour de force that combines elements of sci-fi pulp, high fantasy, and military thrillers.

I went into Undertow having forgotten about the solicitation text provided by Image Comics in the weeks prior to its release, so going by just the cover, I fully expected an underwater “superhero opera” along the lines of an Aquaman or a Namor the Sub-Mariner comic. So I was more than pleasantly surprised, then, to find in Undertow #1 the beginnings of what promises to be a narrative with military and political themes set in a fantastical prehistoric underwater setting. Oh, there are things that readers will find worth quibbling about—the science major in me reflexively questioned why an advanced aquatic race would have evolved with a humanoid body plan and hands instead of tentacles, for example, and the wonky physics can be distracting—but on the whole, this is a comic that makes it easy for the reader to set aside their fantastical fiction hang-ups in the interest of enjoyment.

Russian artist Artyom Trakhanov, who handles the line art and the coloring on the title, should be a new name to most Western readers—the most notable prior work I can find from him is the Russian webcomic Mad Bladebut he is clearly no novice at this. His use of a high contrast red-green palette and more dynamic “camera” angles in the underwater sequences is more than just a stylistic visual gimmick—they are also effective visual cues that inform the reader where a scene or sequence is occurring.

Undertow combines a novel, mad ideas premise with terrific craft and execution in its debut. I’m hoping that carries over into the succeeding issues.

Wolverine #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • WOLV2014001-CvrStory: Paul Cornell
  • Pencils: Ryan Stegman
  • Inks: Mark Morales
  • Colors: David Curiel
  • Publisher’s summary: WOLVERINE NO MORE? After the events of KILLABLE, Wolverine has something to prove. Before he can take on Sabretooth again, he’ll need to build himself back up, get better and stronger than he’s ever been…but it’s not as easy as he thought, and he’ll soon find himself turning to other means of revenge when the normal channels don’t seem to be working fast enough. Can he fight back his demons, or is this the beginning of a Wolverine who’s gone to the dark side?
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: Out of all the recent stops and restarts that Marvel has been doing with their books, and this new “season” concept, Wolverine feels the most natural. Cornell set up a good season-ending hook to the last volume and this issue opens just like a new season, with some time passing and a bit of a status quo change.

That said, this comic’s protagonist just feels like a different character. It’s not that I don’t like the new status quo Cornell introduces in this issue, it’s just that Wolverine’s “voice” is off. It doesn’t sound like the Logan that Cornell had been writing previously. I’ll stick with it for a bit longer, just to see if Cornell finds the right tone again, but overall it just didn’t work for me. I normally like Cornell’s writing and I like Wolverine, but the combination just didn’t work for me in this issue.

I’ve never been a big Ryan Stegman fan and that didn’t change with this issue. Technically, I suppose the art is sound, with sensible layouts and solid character work. Stegman’s style just isn’t one that appeals to me on a personal level.

I am curious to see where this goes, and how long Marvel lets Logan go without his healing factor (wouldn’t a blood transfusion from X-23, or DNA sampling, help fix his healing factor?), but this book has moved down the list from “enjoying” to “on the bubble.”

City: Mind in the Machine #1 (of 4; IDW, $3.99)

  • City01_cvrStory: Eric Garcia
  • Illustrations: Javier Fernandez
  • Colors: Mark Englert with Felix Serrano
  • Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards
  • Publisher’s summary: Ben Fischer helped build the world’s greatest surveillance system, Golden Shield, which utilizes every camera, cell phone, and computer in San Francisco to battle crime. There is only one problem: Golden Shield can’t work without a human mind to operate it, resulting in a controversial melding of man and machine. Writer Eric Garcia (Anonymous Rex, Matchstick Men) delivers an action-packed story that questions the roles of security and technology in our modern society.

Zedric: I’m somewhat surprised and a little disappointed that there aren’t more comics out there meaningfully tackling the issues of surveillance and the erosion of digital and physical privacy in current times. The most notable contemporary comics work built on this theme that I can think of is Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s The Private Eye, and that’s a self-published, digital-only comic.

Eric Garcia and Javier Fernandez’ City: Mind in the Machine is poised to potentially change that, but there are issues with the miniseries debut’s premise and execution that keeps me from giving it a full-throated recommendation. Without giving too much of the story away, I will just say that what looks to be the main narrative thrust of the comic—one that sees a man fused with a distributed surveillance network after an injury—could potentially veer into clumsy superhero-esque caricature instead of the thoughtful questioning of the role of security and technology in modern society that the solicitation text promises. There’s nothing in this first issue to reliably indicate which way Garcia is leaning towards with his treatment of the story, which is good in a way, but that also gives me enough reason to temper my enthusiasm for the book going forward.

New Warriors #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • New Warriors201401-CvrStory: Christopher Yost
  • Illustrations: Marcus To
  • Colors: David Curiel
  • Publisher’s summary: Warriors Reborn! Adventurers Speedball and Justice have come together with a group of young heroes including Nova, Sun Girl, and Hummingbird (and even a couple of new faces) to stop the latest threat to the Marvel Universe-the Atlanteans, Inhumans, clones and hundreds of other so-called “superior” beings are living among the humans of the Marvel Universe, but not everyone is pleased about it. The High Evolutionary has raised an army to combat the evolution of humanity, and the New Warriors are locked in his sights!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: I’ve always been a New Warriors fan, at least when Fabian Nicieza and later, Evan Skolnick, were involved in the writing. The Nicieza and Skolnick New Warriors comics from the 1990s are actually some of my favorite superhero comics. I’ve never been able to get into subsequent writers attempts to write New Warriors comics, however.

Because of my attachment to the team concept and title, I invariably end up reading every New Warriors relaunch. This latest “All-New Marvel NOW!” version is off to a good start. It doesn’t have exactly the same feel as the original, but it’s better than a lot of the other attempts to update the title. Writer Christopher Yost (television’s X-Men: Evolution and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) has a good feel for the cast—it obviously helps that two of the cast members are characters he is also writing in Scarlet Spider—and the premise and set-up is interesting. It’s an organic gathering of the troops, with the story circumstances dictating character encounters and interactions and the New Warriors team’s eventual formation, instead of the other way around.

The issue features a great use of a group of Z-listers with the Salem’s Seven and it seems to me that Yost is keen on them having a recurring role in the book—I think there might even be hints that of a Salem’s Seven series. I’m real interested in where Yost will take this, and I hope it ends up as strong and as memorable as the original series.

The original 1990s New Warriors introduced readers to some great artists like Darick Robertson and Patrick Zircher, two of my top ten favorites, and this new series is no different. I’m a big fan of Marcus To, so I was glad he was getting this book. He turns in solid, exciting work with clear layouts.

Marvel has had a bit of a spotty record sustaining these second-tier books that don’t feature A-list Avengers or X-Men, and the chances of this title lasting beyond 12 issues is slim if books like the canceled Fearless Defenders are any indication, but I really hope Yost and To’s New Warriors bucks that trend.

The Mercenary Sea #1 (Image Comics, $3.99)

  • MercenarySea-01-coverStory: Kel Symons
  • Art: Mathew Reynolds
  • Publisher’s summary: Action and adventure set in 1938—The South Seas. Japan has invaded China. War in Europe is imminent. Ex-bootlegger Jack Harper captains The Venture, a refitted German U-Boat, with a crew of expats, mercenaries and treasure hunters. They do whatever it takes to stay afloat, often running up against pirates, headhunters, spies, and soldiers. They’re always one step away from the greatest score of their lives…or their certain demise.

Zedric: The individual elements that make up Kel Symons and Mathew Reynolds’ The Mercenary Sea—the “South Seas-on-the-brink-of-World War II” setting, the book’s action-adventure conceit, the cast of pirates, mercenaries, spies, and other assorted larger-than-life characters—promise an intriguing read but never really cohere together as a compelling whole in this premiere issue. The problem is primarily one of staging and inaction: With such an interesting setting, it is unfortunate that the characters spend far, far too much time talking about what they did, what they’re doing, and what they’re going to do. I appreciate the fact that Symons has put in the work to establish plot and character, but aside from a brief uptick in action about halfway through the issue, the narrative follows a leisurely arc that only picks up again in the cliffhanger ending.

Reynolds turns in competent work, but as with the writing, I can’t help but feel that it could have used more variety and dynamism. Part of the problem, I think, is the quality of the linework: In a number of panels, the unvarying width of the figure outlines gives the impression of stiff cardboard cutouts set against flat backgrounds, instead of what should be a simulation of three-dimensional people moving around in a stage with depth, caught in mid-motion. The stultifying uniformity of the visuals extends to the storytelling, too, as Reynolds’ “camera” is fixed at a straight-ahead, largely ground-level perspective, changing only in distance, never changing in tilt or angle—a basic no-no in multipage comics storytelling and scene composition. There isn’t a single high-angle, low-angle, or otherwise variable-angle shot to be found in the issue—further compounding the problem of flat-looking panels.

The Remains #1 (Monkeybrain Comics, 99¢) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • REMAINS-01-00Story: Cullen Bunn
  • Illustrations: A.C. Zamudio
  • Colors: Carlos Nicolas Zamudio
  • Publisher’s summary: Birdie and her younger sister Abigail live on a struggling farm. Their mother is several months pregnant and their father suffers from crippling rheumatism. When an itinerant farmhand appears, the children should be relieved. Instead, they find their lives spiraling into nightmare. The hired man regards Birdie with menacing desire. To make matters much worse, wherever he goes, the dead grow restless. As the horror threatens to consume her home and her family, Birdie haunted by a chilling warning: Some secrets are meant only for the dead.
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: I’ll be honest, the only reason I checked this out was because it had Cullen Bunn writing it. I’m a big fan of Bunn’s The Sixth Gun (Oni Press) and while a lot of his other stuff has been hit-or-miss for me, I tend to give something a shot based on his involvement alone—that’s how much cachet his work on The Sixth Gun has earned with me. So I picked The Remains up on that basis and I’m really glad I did.

Bunn does a great job with the pacing in this issue—there really isn’t that much that happens as far as plot progress, but it never feels like he’s padding the page count. The unhurried pace adds to the atmosphere of the book. The only thing I didn’t really like was how quickly Birdie and Abigail’s father takes Jensen (the “itinerant farmhand” mentioned in the publisher’s copy above) on as a farmhand.  I sure wouldn’t be willing to take that man on with two young daughters.

A.C. Zamudio’s art is a good fit for the comic’s style and genre and the rat killing (and re-killing) sequence (it makes sense when you read the issue) is nicely laid out.

I’m interested in seeing where this goes.  From the opening page to the last, The Remains is an interesting and intriguing new book.

Vandroid #1 (of 5; Dark Horse, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • vandroid01coverStory: Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith
  • Illustrations: Dan McDaid
  • Colors: Melissa Edwards
  • Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards
  • Vandroid created by: Nic Nicola, Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, Dan McDaid
  • Publisher’s summary: When Palm Springs Entertainment studios burned to the ground in 1984, the most definitive motion picture of a generation was lost before its time. Thirty years later, the extraordinary talents of Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, and Dan McDaid unite to resurrect this lost epic.

Zedric: The “kayfabe” story behind the Vandroid comic is that it’s based on the screenplay of an unreleased 1984 grindhouse film bearing the same title, the master shots to which were allegedly lost in a studio fire. The commitment of Vandroid‘s creators to the comic’s fictional origins is such that they even created a website that purports to house digital copies of the surviving promotional materials from the lost Vandroid movie as well as a snippet of the film’s restored score.

(The real story behind the Vandroid film is slightly more mundane: It’s actually a short live-action film tribute to 1980s action films that Nic Nicola, Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, Dan McDaid began working on in North Carolina in late 2012.)

Vandroid, the comic, is a cheeky love-letter to 1980s action B-movies. The eponymous killer-robot is the creation of down-on-his-luck mechanic Chuck Carducci, looking to regain his lost prestige and stature in the world of van customization (To our younger readers: I wish I could explain this better, but trust me, back then, nothing was cooler than a sweet-ass custom van, preferably with a huge barbarian graphic on the side panel. Bonus points if it was a sexy lady barbarian. In bikini armor. Fighting a dragon.)

Edwards and Smith absolutely nail the rhythm and pacing of the 1980s B-action flick: I could almost imagine appropriately energizing 1980s montage music playing in the background as Chuck labored to create his greatest invention, an autonomous humanoid killer-robot with a mullet, a thing for aviator sunglasses, and a serious case of identity crisis. The great thing about the humor in Vandroid is that despite poking fun at the signifiers of the decade (so many mullets, and naturally, cocaine and waist-up female frontal nudity figure in the comic at some point), the creative team’s genuine affection for 1980s pop culture shows through in the work. This isn’t so much a mean-spirited satirical skewering as it is a good-natured parodic celebration of disposable 1980s entertainment.

Dan McDaid, with Melissa Edwards, does a great job with the art. I was initially disappointed when I first heard that Edwards would only be writing the book and not illustrating it (I loved his work on the Marvel 1985 graphic novel) but now that I’ve actually read the comic, I’ve come around to thinking that McDaid’s more stylized approach to the rendering is a better fit for the book’s tone than Edwards’ more naturalistic tendencies.

Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • FANFOUR2014001-00Story: James Robinson
  • Pencils: Leonard Kirk
  • Inks: Karl Kesel
  • Colors: Jesus Aburtov
  • Publisher’s summary: The world’s greatest comics magazine begins anew with Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four! But as the brilliant MR. FANTASTIC, the compassionate INVISIBLE WOMAN, the ever lovin’ THING & the hot-headed HUMAN TORCH embark on a strange mission, they aren’t met with new beginnings, but an untimely end! As the family of cosmic explorers head towards their darkest hour, who could possibly be behind their downfall? And how is one of their oldest enemies, the sadistic dragon known as Fing-Fang-Foom involved? Prepare for the fantastic!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: I like James Robinson’s writing. I like Leonard Kirk’s art. I usually like the Fantastic Four. A book with all three together sounds like something I would like. And—no surprises here—I did like Fantastic Four #1.

It’s almost expected that any writer working on a Fantastic Four book will use a conflict that strains the team’s familial bonds. The FF have always been about family, and their adventures have always played on the theme of how that family sticks together through times of darkness and despair. Robinson doesn’t mess with that classic formula here—the issue opens with Sue writing to her children explaining how the family got to such a dark place—but he is quick to give it his own spin while still building on the events from Matt Fraction’s run on the previous Fantastic Four series. I emphasize that point because I hate nothing more in ongoing comics than seeing a new writer ignore the character development and plot progress that has come before. Robinson’s characters sound right, and they act like I expect them to. There’s even an appearance by the Future Foundation kids, which is always a good thing as I find them pretty fun (except when written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Mike Allred). I’m on board with this new start for Marvel’s First Family, and even though it seems like we’ll be seeing the same themes as previous takes on the FF, I’m confident that Robinson will find a way to make them fresh again.

Kirk is one of my favorite artists and he doesn’t disappoint in this outing. His attention to little details make his work really stand out and shows the handle he already has on the team. I especially liked sequence with Reed talking to Nick Fury, Jr. and the former’s neck was extended, likely subconsciously. There was no reason for it, but it shows that Reed just stretches, almost by reflex. It was a nice touch.

The Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy #1 (of 6; Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • termenemyofmyenemy01Story: Dan Jolley
  • Pencils: Jamal Igle
  • Inks: Ray Snyder
  • Colors: W. Moose Baumann
  • Publisher’s summary: In 1984, Kyle Reese protected Sarah Connor from a cyborg that would stop at nothing to terminate her. In 1985, Skynet targets a scientist whose discoveries threaten its future, but this time there is no resistance fighter sent back to face it! With only enemies around her, what chance does Elise Fong stand against the perfect killing machine?

Zedric: While Vandroid (reviewed above) looks back on 1984 with a cheeky and winking self-awareness, Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy plays its take on the 1980s action movie straight, albeit with some tweaks to the Terminator formula that mark it as a contemporary, 21st century creation.

Reunited with his Firestorm collaborator Jamal Igle on pencils, writer Dan Jolley subtly but meaningfully updates the original Terminator conceit in Enemy of My Enemy. While the first Terminator film’s Sarah Connor was one of a handful action movie heroines at the time, she was still ultimately reduced to a whimpering damsel-in-distress in need of a male savior in the person of the self-sacrificing Kyle Reese near the film’s end. By contrast, the first of Enemy of My Enemy‘s two female protagonists, the ex-military/ex-CIA agent and current freelance troubleshooter Farrow Greene, is a character more in the mold of the Sarah Connor of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day: A card-carrying, gun-toting, muscle-flexing badass who can take care of herself and, armed with enough weapons and supplied with enough ammunition, can conceivably hold her own (at least for a bit) against the T-800. Besides that new wrinkle, there aren’t too many surprises in this first issue for those already familiar with the Terminator films—Skynet sends a naked human-skinned robot back in time to kill someone integral to the future Resistance, etc., etc.—although the ending does portend an extra twist to the proceedings that will likely justify the Enemy of My Enemy subtitle.

Click here to read Part One of our comprehensive look at the #1s of February 2014
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