The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Silver Surfer, Empowered, All-New Ghost Rider, Real Heroes and more

First Impressions | Silver Surfer, Empowered, All-New Ghost Rider, Real Heroes and more
Published on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 by
Join us as we share our reviews and multi-page previews of All-New Ghost Rider #1, Empowered Special: Internal Medicine, Real Heroes #1, Sovereign #1, Monster & Madman #1, and Silver Surfer #1. 

First Impressions is our (more-or-less) regular 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.

All-New Ghost Rider #1 (Marvel. $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • All-New Ghost Rider001000Story: Felipe Smith
  • Illustrations: Tradd Moore
  • Colors: Nelson Daniel, Val Staples
  • Cover: Tradd Moore with Laura Martin
  • Publisher’s Summary: A street race leads a young man on the FAST and FURIOUS road of destiny. Amid an East Los Angeles neighborhood running wild with gang violence and drug trafficking, a war brews in the criminal underworld! With four on the floor, Marvel’s newest GHOST RIDER puts vengeance in overdrive!!!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Zedric Dimalanta: The “All-New” in All-New Ghost Rider #1’s title isn’t just meaningless rebranding based on Marvel’s All-New Marvel NOW! publishing campaign. Forget Johnny Blaze (the original Ghost Rider from the 1970s and the version of the character Marvel defaults to when introducing the character to other media), 1990s Ghost Rider Danny Ketch, and even Alejandra, the female Ghost Rider spawned from the 2011 Fear Itself “comics event”—the book’s protagonist, East L.A. teen Robbie Reyes, is a freshly minted avatar for the Spirit of Vengeance. Gone, too, is the flaming motorcycle that was the character’s signature conveyance through over four decades of publishing history. Reyes’ demonic ride takes the form of a souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger housed in the garage where he works as a mechanic.

While the radical redesign of the character’s vehicle is perhaps controversial for fans of the classic Ghost Rider design—a truly iconic one, in my opinion, imbued with transcendent cool—on a certain level, it aligns with Marvel’s recent attempts to update its characters to fit modern cultural sensibilities and diversify its appeal to readers. Blame “reality” TV shows like American Chopper and Biker Build-Off, the economy, or whatever else, but in recent years, the “chopper”-style motorcycle has gone from 20th century symbol of danger, youthful rebelliousness, and free-spirited independence (think of biker films like 1953’s The Wild One or 1969’s Easy Rider) to one associated with luxury and weekend tough guy types. FX’s Sons of Anarchy may be doing its part to maintain the mystique of the biker and the chopper in popular culture, but I suspect that in many places, the image of the biker as a figurative (and even literal) outlaw has been supplanted by the biker as the middle-aged business executive on his day off, parading his expensive toy for all the neighborhood to see (and hear).

Then again, the more cynical among us may not be wrong in thinking that the shift from motorcycle to muscle car might have more to do with Marvel distancing itself from the original chopper-riding Ghost Rider design in the wake of the years-long legal battle between the publisher and writer Gary Friedrich who, depending on the account, either created Ghost Rider by himself or co-created the character with artist Mike Ploog and editor Roy Thomas. Yes, Marvel and Friedrich eventually settled out-of-court for undisclosed terms, but not before things got real ugly: Friedrich was painted at times during the legal proceedings as an alcoholic who unwittingly signed away his rights to the character in a drunken haze, while Marvel ended up looking for all the world like the big bad corporate bully, picking on the (reportedly) destitute Friedrich and preventing him from earning modest sums of money on the comics convention circuit where he billed himself as Ghost Rider’s creator and sold signed Ghost Rider comics and merchandise. Perhaps even more significantly, the legality of the language of its 1960s and 1970s contracts with freelancers was legitimately called into question by an appellate judge, a potential avenue for more lawsuits from other 1960s and 1970s Marvel freelancers that has been, at least temporarily, closed off with the settlement.

So what about the actual comic? For all the outward changes to the Ghost Rider character, All-New Ghost Rider, like G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s new Ms. Marvel, actually signals a return to the classic Marvel solo superhero formula that pre-dates even the original Ghost Rider’s 1972 first appearance. There’s the alliterative name—“Robbie Reyes” follows the tradition of Stan Lee-created 1960s monikers such as Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Matt Murdock, and Stephen Strange—and there’s the origin rooted in personal struggle: Reyes apparently lives on his own (no parental figures appear in the issue), juggles school with his work for an unscrupulous employer at a local garage, and also takes care of his younger brother, who seems to be afflicted with cerebral palsy or a similar disorder. Like Peter Parker and the protagonist of the aforementioned new Ms. Marvel comic Kamala Khan, Reyes is still a typical teen at his core, prone to bouts of poor decision-making and it is during one fateful night while taking part in an illegal street race in the secretly “borrowed” Dodge Charger that he manifests the Ghost Rider persona and a mystic connection is forged between him and the possessed car.

The story beats are familiar, but they are no less entertaining and engrossing under the control of writer Felipe Smith. Smith, one of a handful of Western comics creators to have his original work (the comic Peepo Choo) serialized in the notoriously insular Japanese manga industry (by industry-leading publisher Kodansha, no less), efficiently establishes the book’s context and the basic character outlines with minimal narrative-stopping overt exposition, instead trusting the reader to fill in the gaps in the story’s background with what they can glean from character interactions.

It is perhaps Tradd Moore’s art, however, that readers may find most memorable from this issue. It’s highly-stylized in its figure rendering, but the clean, flowing linework keeps it from becoming needlessly busy-looking or confusing. Worth noting, too, is his skill in depicting cars in motion through the urban cityscape, a particularly important ability given that Reyes’ Dodge Charger is practically a supporting character in and of itself. I also appreciate the fact that the cars featured in this issue, while clearly based on real world references for accuracy, are still hand drawn and stylized in a way consistent with the book’s overall aesthetic—my concerns in the lead-up to this issue’s release that Moore would simply trace over images of 3D renders, as many artists now seem to do when it comes to props, proved to be unfounded.

I harbor suspicions that we’ll probably see a return to the biker-themed Ghost Rider at some point in the future—it’s somewhat rare that these kinds of changes to established character features stick when you think about it, even Spider-Man’s marriage eventually got undone—but for now, All-New Ghost Rider is poised to be a decently entertaining superhero read, for at least as long as the current creative team is on the title.

Empowered Special: Internal Medicine one-shot (Dark Horse, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • EmpoweredInternaMedicineStory: Adam Warren
  • Art: Brandon Graham (color pages), Adam Warren (black & white pages)
  • Cover: Brandon Graham with Adam Warren and Rob “Robaato” Porter
  • Publisher’s Summary: At the Purple Paladin Memorial Hospital’s terrifying Suprahuman Treatment Wing, Dr. Big McLarge Huge recruits costumed crimefighter Empowered and her best friend Ninjette to save a five-mile-wide alien mothership’s parasite-infested babyship—if, that is, our heroines can even survive the elevator ride up to the operating room!
  • Click here to read a review of Empowered, Deluxe Edition Vol. 1.
  • Click here to read a review of Empowered, Deluxe Edition Vol. 2.
  • Click here to read an interview with Empowered creator Adam Warren.
  •  A review of Empowered, Vol. 7 can be found here.
  • A review of Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette can be found here.
  • A review of Empowered, Vol. 8 can be found here.

Zedric: Internal Medicine, the sixth in the series of self-contained Empowered one-shots that serve as companions to the Empowered serial graphic novels—seventh, if you count the limited edition Extra Sketchiness special published by Stuart NG Books in 2011—has Empowered creator Adam Warren working with Eisner Award-winning King City and Multiple Warheads creator Brandon Graham.

It’s a pairing of two of the more prominent veteran names in the creator-owned comics field, and the collaboration is also interesting for the contrast of art styles: Both Warren and Graham are known for creating comics visuals with a strong manga influence, but the way that manifests in their work are nonetheless distinct from each other. Warren is perhaps the more conventionally “manga-esque” in his character designs and rendering, while “manga-isms” are more readily evident in the quirks of Graham’s visual storytelling. Graham gets the main stage here in terms of the art, and he doesn’t disappoint with a take on the characters and worlds of Warren’s “sexy superhero comedy” that features sparer linework and a “camera” that more frequently “pulls out” to establish scenes in contrast to the Warren standard.

Beyond all that however, Internal Medicine features an entertaining, sci-fi/superhero action-comedy that should be reasonably accessible to readers unfamiliar with the long-running Empowered, unlike the previous Empowered Special which was more geared towards long-time fans of the property, although given Graham’s “guest artist” role on the comic, it’s not what exactly what I would consider an ideal introduction to the property. None of this is to say that the comic is totally divorced from the ongoing continuity of the Empowered serial graphic novels: Fan-favorite supporting character Ninjette plays a prominent role in the story alongside Empowered, and long-time fans will be rewarded with what could be a peek at the future of the title and—consistent with the somewhat abrupt change in the tone of Warren’s writing halfway through the most recent Empowered graphic novel—it’s looking like dark days are ahead for our heroine and her allies. Exciting, intriguing stuff if you’ve been following the comic all these years.

Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • SilverSurfer001000Story: Dan Slott and Mike Allred
  • Illustrations: Mike Allred
  • Colors: Laura Allred
  • Cover: Mike and Laura Allred
  • Publisher’s Summary: The universe is big. Bigger than you could ever imagine. And the SILVER SURFER, the lone sentinel of the skyways, is about to discover that the best way to see it… is with someone else. Meet the Earth Girl who’s challenged the Surfer to go beyond the boundaries of the known Marvel U– into the strange, the new, and the utterly fantastic! Anywhere and Everywhere… Hang On!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Zedric: Is there a better representation of the unprecedented creativity (and occasional contentiousness) that typified late Silver Age-era Marvel Comics than the creation of the Silver Surfer? Jack Kirby’s design of a bald, chrome-skinned humanoid alien able to fly through space on a cosmic single-finned longboard struck a fine balance between the gee-whiz, Space Age sci-fi positivism of his late 1950s/early 1960s work and the more stridently bizarre extraterrestrial concoctions to come in his 1970s Fourth World work for DC (the Black Racer reiterated the same cosmic-being-meets-recreational-sport recipe as the Silver Surfer, with decidedly less effective results). The Silver Surfer is Exhibit A in the argument that sometimes, the rare ineffable quality of genuine-if-random “coolness” can trump a more thoughtful sense of character design logic (Ghost Rider may very well be Exhibit B).

Stan Lee initially did not like Kirby’s introduction of the character as a herald for the planet-eating villain Galactus in the pages of Fantastic Four #48—the Fantastic Four writer-editor thought that Kirby had “gone too far” with his quirky designs, calling the Silver Surfer “a nut on some flying surfboard”—but the creation quickly became something of a personal favorite, and the story goes that Lee invoked editor-in-chief’s privilege and, with a few exceptions, restricted other staff writers and freelancers from using the character in their stories during his tenure. Unfortunately, the Silver Surfer also figured in the eventual professional and personal split between Kirby and Lee, as the former felt that the latter had taken the character away from him and appropriated it as his own. By the time the first Silver Surfer solo series launched in 1968, it was John Buscema on penciling duties and Kirby had started negotiations to leave Marvel Comics to join crosstown rival DC Comics (Kirby would finally sign with DC in late 1970).

While credit for the Surfer’s visual design is unquestionably and wholly Kirby’s, It was under Lee’s pen (or typewriter ribbon) that the Surfer’s characterization as a platitude-spouting, galaxy-trotting knight-errant and occasionally tragic Christ-like figure became realized, and most Silver Surfer writers since have followed the template Lee established, for better and for worse. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the character when written that way, but in the hands of most writers, there seems to be only so many issues of an ongoing Silver Surfer comic that can be produced before the awe and wonderment inspired by Surfer’s space-faring exploits descend into the tedium of cheap space opera and insufferably self-serious navel-gazing philosophy—even the original Lee-written Silver Surfer series only lasted 18 issues before being canceled due to low sales, much to Lee’s chagrin.

Joint storytellers Dan Slott and Mike Allred aim to avoid that fate with their work on the new Silver Surfer title by grounding the narrative with the story of a human co-lead, Dawn Greenwood, a young woman who has lived her whole life in the small New England town of Anchor Bay and helps run her family’s bed-and-breakfast. The endearing homebody Dawn offers a striking contrast to the restless, universe-roving Surfer (who seems to be in the Lee-standard, “accidental messiah” mode here), and while the plot mechanism through which she becomes involved in a plot to coerce Surfer to fight in the defense of an extradimensional state known as The Impericon is somewhat contrived, it fits in well with the book’s lighter tone. The Allreds’ art helps reinforce that mood, as their 1960s pop art-infused style calls to mind comics from a much more innocent time. They also emulate the visually dramatic quasi-psychedelia of late 1960s/early 1970s Kirby in their depictions of the issue’s outer space/extradimensional scenes.

The Surfer-Dawn dynamic, even with the brief play it gets in this first issue, already looks like a partnership filled with the potential for some fun and affecting stories, especially given the disparity between their characterizations. I do wonder how much mileage Slott and Allred can coax out of the pairing in an ongoing series format (as opposed to a miniseries format), but that concern is really irrelevant in terms of the enjoyment I derived from reading this first issue.

Sovereign #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • Sovereign_01-1Story: Chris Roberson
  • Illustrations: Paul Maybury
  • Colors: Paul Maybury, Jordan Gibson
  • Cover: Paul Maybury
  • Publisher’s Summary: An epic fantasy in the tradition of Game of Thrones, SOVEREIGN is set in a world which once knew gods, demons, and magic, and to which all three are returning. New York Times bestselling author CHRIS ROBERSON (Edison Rex, iZombie) joins artist PAUL MAYBURY (POPGUN, Catalyst Comix) to tell the story of masked undertakers facing the undead with swords, of civil wars and cultures in collision, of ancient threats emerging from the ashes of history to menace the future…

Troy OsgoodI usually love fantasy comics (Dan Mishkin and Jan Duursema’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is still the best!) and  I usually like Chris Roberson’s work, so I was really looking forward to Sovereign.

Having read it, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Roberson takes some risks using this debut issue to tell three separate tales (which seem like they will intersect at some point in the future) in a comic of normal page count. It’s a risky exercise because the reduced space devoted to each story can potentially lead to a failure to establish story context and engage in the all-important task of fantasy world-building, and that seems to be what happened here. The expository text piece at the end helps, but just barely. There doesn’t seem to be anything that ties the three stories together, as they’re written very differently. Combined with the lack of context, it almost seems like the three stories are happening in three different worlds.

That said, the writing in each individual story is entertaining and the art looks interesting. I have faith that Roberson can bring it all together eventually—it seems like Roberson is already building up to something big at this early stage—but there’s no “wow” moment in this first issue that really grabs my attention. Because of the issue’s format, any momentum built up in reading one story is squandered as the book jumps to the next, completely different one.

Monster & Madman #1 (of 3; IDW, $3.99)

  • MonsterMadman01_cvrStory: Steve Niles
  • Art: Damien Worm
  • Publisher’s summary: Contrary to popular belief, the story of the Frankenstein Monster did not end at the end of Mary Shelley’s famous novel. Now, Steve Niles and Damien Worm have uncovered the shocking fact of the time the Monster met… Jack the Ripper. Read if you dare!

Joe Milone: Where to begin… I will say that Daniel Worm’s art is very, very good. It’s dark and moody, a perfect fit for the subject matter. It looks very different from the comics I usually read, and that is not a bad thing at all.

On the flipside, there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in this issue. It’s mostly devoted to the Frankenstein Monster being all introspective. I realize that this is just the first issue, and there’s sure to be some more plot progress in future issues, especially with Jack the Ripper being introduced as the seeming villain towards the issue’s end, but the lack of any sort of action made for a patently unsatisfying read. I’m not saying that the miniseries as a whole won’t be good, but it might be a better idea to just wait for the inevitable trade paperback and read it all in one go instead of in piecemeal installments such as this one. 

Real Heroes #1 (Image Comics, $3.99)

  • RealHeroes_01-1Story & pencils: Bryan Hitch
  • Inks: Paul Neary
  • Colors: Laura Martin
  • Cover: Bryan Hitch
  • Publisher’s Summary: They are the six most famous actors in the world and together they play The Olympians, the biggest superhero movie franchise in history. Would you ask them to save the world? They may be our only hope…

Troy: I love Bryan Hitch’s work, so I’m naturally interested in any project with his involvement. I liked his work illustrating Jonathan Ross’ America’s Got Powers but the story wasn’t that good. When I heard about Real Heroes—with its America’s Got Powers-like celebrity superheroes premise—my enthusiasm for Hitch’s art was tempered with genuine concerns about the quality of the concept and writing.

Real Heroes is  not your standard “celebrity superhero” book and it’s not really about superheroes serving as a metaphor for celebrities. It looks great, obviously, but Hitch, who has had a handful of joint writing credits in comics prior to this outing, has crafted something a little different with a story about actors that play superheroes in blockbuster movies and what happens when they are brought to a world where the characters they play are real. The writing is fairly decent although there are some groan-inducing lines, some really corny and cheesy ones. And while the main cast is composed of pastiches of popular superheroes, there’s some room for them to grow into their own characters.

I’m interested in seeing where Hitch takes this. It’s always great to see his artwork and his debut as a solo comics writer is pretty solid overall. (I really do have and find this issue’s Travis Charest variant cover, though. I miss Charest.)

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