The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Dead Letters, Nightcrawler, Shutter, The Field, Carry Me, and more

First Impressions | Dead Letters, Nightcrawler, Shutter, The Field, Carry Me, and more
Published on Thursday, April 17, 2014 by
Join us as we share our reviews and multi-page previews of Dead Letters #1, Nightcrawler #1, Shutter #1, The Field #1, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1, Carry Me, Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks #1, Flash Gordon #1, and more. 

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.

Dead Letters #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

Cover A

  • Story: Christopher Sebela
  • Illustrations: Chris Visions
  • Colors: Ruth Redmond
  • Cover: Chris Visions
  • Publisher’s summary: Waking up in a fleabag motel with bandaged arms and a revolver on his desk, Sam doesn’t remember a thing – not how he got here, where here is, or who he is. But the armed men knocking on his door do and Sam will have to use every trick from his forgotten repertoire to outrun and outsmart his way through a hardboiled wonderland of gang wars, femme fatales and big secrets.

Zedric Dimalanta: Dead Letters marks Christopher Sebela’s debut as a solo lead writer on a high-profile print comic from a major publisher, although he is by no means a neophyte as a comics scribe. His past writing credits include collaborations with Kelly Sue DeConnick (on Dark Horse’s current Ghost series and Marvel’s Captain Marvel), Matt Fraction (on Fantastic Four), game developer Harold Sipe (on the Image Comics-published Screamland), a serial (“Cruel Biology”) on the Eisner Award-winning Dark Horse Presents anthology, and a short (“Lucky Charm”) in a special anthology-style issue of Valiant Entertainment’s Shadowman. In addition, his Monkeybrain digital comic High Crimes was just announced earlier this week as one of the Eisner Award nominees for Best New Series.

Dead Letters starts off ostensibly as just another contemporary crime/espionage comic, with the amnesiac protagonist Sam waking to find himself the target of unknown assailants, but—like the film version of Ludlum’s Jason Bourne—somehow gifted with the innate reflexes and sharpened fighting skills to more than hold his ground, even as he has no memory of how he acquired his abilities. The opening pursuit sequence, shown in part in the preview gallery below, offers ample opportunity for artist Chris Visions to show off his visual storytelling and panel composition chops and boy, does he make the most of it. Visions switches up panel views but it’s never gratuitous, with every instance of a “Dutch angle” and forced perspective employed in the service of dynamic-but-clear sequential art. Visions also creates what might be my favorite single page of the month (if not the year, although it is still early in 2014), superimposing two panels on the sides of two buildings in the foreground of a third, “background” panel—it’s difficult to explain but you can see for yourself how it works out in the third page of the preview gallery. It’s somewhat gimmicky and threatens the clarity of the sequence, but I love it when artists depict a succession of scenes in a way that is essentially novel to the comics medium. Also worth noting is Ruth Redmond’s vibrant coloring, which matches the kinetic quality of the illustrations.

The comic, as it turns out, is more than just the typical, modern-day crime/espionage work or even the Yojimbo/For a Fistful of Dollars pastiche it seems it might be about halfway through the issue. The off-kilter character designs and what at first seemed like an error with the narration’s throwaway mention of “the taste of cordite” (let veteran comics writer Chuck Dixon explain why references to cordite in guns and ammunition is really only appropriate in period stories) are actually hints that point to a more bizarre, and indeed, a more supernatural grounding, and the twist reveal at the issue’s end is bound to have readers coming back for more.

Nightcrawler #1 (Marvel, $2.99) EDITOR’S PICK]

  • NIGHTC2014001-CVRStory: Chris Claremont
  • Illustrations: Todd Nauck
  • Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
  • Cover: Chris Samnee with Matt Wilson
  • Publisher’s summary: NIGHTCRAWLER IS BACK! Newly-returned from the afterlife, veteran X-Man Kurt Wagner finds himself in a world that’s a far cry from the one he left: Professor Xavier is dead, Cyclops is on the run, and the X-Men are divided. But determined not to let his new lease on life go to waste, Nightcrawler hits the road alongside Wolverine, eager to right some wrongs and safeguard the future mutantkind…and he’s going to do it by the means he loves most: swashbuckling, lady-charming and—of course—BAMFing!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy Osgood: One of my favorite X-Men is back and the person that has written probably 75% of his adventures is at the helm. First, a comment about Chris Claremont: Any time he’s returned to writing the X-Men, it hasn’t been anywhere near as good as his 16 year-long original run that spanned from 1975 to 1991. It’s hard to recreate that stellar work. The X-Men haven’t been the same since his time with them, but his attempts to revisit the characters he helped turn into some of comics’ most-beloved and profitable properties haven’t gone so well.

Until now, that is. With Nightcrawler #1, it feels like he never left. Claremont, rightly, doesn’t skip over any of the recent developments in Nightcrawler’s (or the X-Men’s life), he focuses on them. There’s a lot of Bamfs (the creatures, not the sound effect, even though there is a lot of that), and Claremont makes great use of them.

The swashbuckling, light-hearted but occasionally serious fuzzy blue elf is back and so is Amanda Sefton, for which I’m very glad. I’ve always liked the pairing of Amanda and Kurt and I can’t wait to see what Claremont has cooked up for the couple. Kurt Wagner has never seemed one to dwell on the past, and Claremont does just enough to establish history and context, setting up Kurt’s current mental state and his motivation before launching into a story that reminds fans of what makes Nightcrawler such a fun character in the right writer’s hands.

I wasn’t sure that I’d like Todd Nauck’s art for this series but it works pretty well. He does a great job with the Bamfs and his Nightcrawler has just the right look and feel.

I haven’t been this excited for a new series in a while.

Shutter #1 (Image Comics; $3.50 print, $2.99 DRM-free digital) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Shutter01_CoverAStory: Joe Keatinge
  • Illustrations: Leila del Duca
  • Colors: Owen Gieni
  • Cover: Leila del Duca
  • Additional story material by: Ryan Alexander-Tanner, Ryan Ferrier
  • Additional art by: Catherine Peach, Felipe Torrent, Anthony Gregori, Mike Spicer
  • Publisher’s summary: INDIANA JONES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY! Marvel Knights: Hulk and GLORY writer JOE KEATINGE teams up with artist extraordinaire LEILA DEL DUCA for her Image Comics debut in an all-new ongoing series combining the urban fantasy of Fables and the globe-spanning adventure of Y: The Last Man. Kate Kristopher, once the most famous explorer of an Earth far more fantastic than the one we know, is forced to return to the adventurous life she left behind when a family secret threatens to destroy everything she spent her life protecting.

Zedric: Set in a world familiar enough so as to not require overly-detailed worldbuilding but new and inventive enough so as to inspire appeal based on novelty, writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila Del Duca’s Shutter features a mix of science-fiction and fantasy elements readers will have come to associate with the “New Weird” movement in fiction. Strip away the ghost ninjas, talking robot alarm clock cats, businessminotaurs, and lizard women in this first issue however, and what you will find is a character-driven story about a successful professional caught in stultifying routine and edging into a quarter-life crisis, wondering where the inspiration and enthusiasm of her younger days has gone. As in his work on Glory, Keatinge employs the fantastical and the bizarre and the promise of all-out action-adventure as means to address familial bonds and other aspects of the human condition, to great effect. It’s too early to tell how well the conceit will work long-term given that this first issue is mostly devoted to character introductions and tasteful exposition, but the narrative is promising in every respect.

Leila Del Duca is fairly new to the larger comics industry—a quick Google search turned up a couple of digital comics as the extent of her previously published comics work, and one of them was an Image Expo primer featuring preview art from this issue—but you wouldn’t know it based on the quality of the art in this book. Del Duca acquits herself well in the character design and rendering department and her use of varying perspectives, along with colorist Owen Gieni’s choice of palette, gives an uncommon depth to the book’s panels.

It’s also worth noting that this issue features two back-up shorts: a whimsical robot vs. kaiju story by Ryan Alexander-Tanner and the late Catherine Peach and a one-page gag strip by Ryan Ferrier and Felipe Torrent featuring Ferrier’s Tiger Lawyer character.

Carry Me one-shot (Great Beast; £5.99 print£0.69 PDF$0.99 comiXology[EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Carry Me-CVRStory & art: Dan Berry
  • Publisher’s summary: Carry Me by Dan Berry is a beautiful, wordless, and incredibly affecting visual metaphor for love, fear, life and death. A man carries his infant daughter through an overgrown field where they are pursued relentlessly by a growling dog. Illustrated by Berry’s loose pen and lush colour washes, Carry Me is a sublime example of pure visual storytelling.
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Zedric: A powerfully affecting work of sequential art, Dan Berry’s wordless comic Carry Me touches on the bond between parent and child, the challenges of growing up, the inevitability of old age and death, and the cyclical nature of life, all within an efficient and beautifully-rendered 24 water-colored pages.

Much of Carry Me‘s success lies with Berry’s ability to evoke emotion through the facial expressions and gestures of his two-person cast. When father and daughter first come upon the rabid dog while exploring a field, their anxiety is palpable. When the daughter defends her father and fights back, the look of resolve on her face will have the reader cheering. When parent and child become separated, the sorrow painted on the child’s face is heartbreaking.

It’s difficult for me to articulate exactly why Carry Me provoked such a profound emotional response, but I suspect that, like beautifully composed instrumental music, it’s because the comic’s reliance on pure visuals affects the reader on an abstract, almost visceral, level. Not that Carry Me isn’t intellectually engaging, mind you—readers will no doubt spend time parsing the metaphor represented by the comic’s narrative elements—but it is the emotional immediacy that really elevates this modern parable. A sterling example of the power of sequential art, very highly recommended.

The Field #1 (of 4; Image Comics; $3.50 print, $2.99 DRM-free digital) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • field_1Story: Ed Brisson
  • Illustrations: Simon Roy
  • Colors: Simon Gough
  • Publisher’s summary: A man wakes in a field wearing nothing but his underwear. He’s got no idea who he is or how he got there. His only connection to the outside world a cell phone on which he receives mysterious texts warning him of impending danger. Danger like Christian, an ex-bible sales-man in the middle of crime spree fueled by Christian Rock, dirty sex, meth, murder and keeping this underwear clad, nameless and pastless man close by his side.

Zedric: Ed Brisson has been on a bit of a writing tear lately: The Field marks the third creator-owned series that he has successfully launched at Image Comics (with Comeback and the critically-acclaimed Sheltered being the other two), he was recently installed as the regular writer on BOOM! Studios’ Sons of Anarchy, and next week will see the launch of a new 24 series from IDW, penned by the Vancouver-based comics creator. He’s also written a panoply of one-shots, shorts, fill-ins, and back-ups for Marvel, BOOM! Studios, IDW, and fellow Image Comics creators in the past two years. And as he revealed in our recent exclusive interview, Brisson will be reviving his Shuster-nominated digital comic Murder Book later this year with an eventual print collection tentatively scheduled for a March 2015 debut. Not bad for a comics creator who, up until a couple of years ago, was primarily known as a letterer to comics readers outside of Canada.

The Field, at least with its first issue, appears to be more of a piece with Sheltered and Murder Book than the science-fiction Comeback, in the sense that the setting and central conceit seems to be more mundane. That said, The Field isn’t lacking in its own idiosyncrasies: If Sheltered is a thriller featuring small-town survivalist paranoia run rampant and Murder Book is a collection of standalone modern noir stories, then The Field is a David Lynch production committed to comic book form, with bizarre characters and dreamlike scenes and sequences that intrigue more than illuminate at this early juncture. It’s not clear where Brisson is taking readers with this tale of an amnesiac protagonist on the run from a biker gang who finds himself in the company of a homicidally violent meth-head with a thing for Christian rock, but it makes for some engaging black comedy.

Artist Simon Roy—who has been wowing readers and critics alike with his work on the Eisner-nominated Prophet for some time now—gets to show off his ability in rendering real-world settings in this issue and he proves equally adept at drawing Saskatchewan wheat fields and the interiors of middle-of-nowhere diners as he is far future alien worlds and space ships. And while the script calls for extended “talking head sequences” in between the more action-packed scenes, Roy keeps things from falling into tedium with animated facial expressions and judicious shifts in distance and perspective.

Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks #1 (of 14; Oni Press, 99¢)

  • ArcherCoeThousandNaturalShocks01-CVRStory: Jamie S. Rich
  • Art: Dan Christensen
  • Publisher’s summary: Archer Coe is a professional hypnotist whose performances will “pierce the eggshell of your brain and stir up the yolk.” This has lead him to unexpected places, and made him the focus of unforeseen attention. After one of his shows, he’s confronted by a mysterious man who wants to know if Archer makes house calls. The answer to the question, and the strange conspiracy it will unlock, is only the beginning of Archer Coe’s troubles.
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: When bought this issue, I didn’t know that it was only 16 pages long (a typical floppy has around 22 pages). Brevity aside, it was an interesting read. The opening (partially seen in the gallery below) was great featuring a well-timed and perfectly laid-out comedy sequence. There wasn’t much room to really show what this series will be about, as much of it was taken up by Archer hypnotizing someone to quit smoking, but I’m intrigued by the book all the same, and the art looks quite good. With the next issue costing only 99 cents, it’s hard to say no to checking out the rest of Archer Coe’s story.

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial one-shot (Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • eappbCVRAdaptation & illustrations: Richard Corben
  • Colors: Beth Corben Reed, Richard Corben
  • Adapted from the original stories by: Edgar Allan Poe
  • Publisher’s summary: The fear of being buried alive is presented in two horrifying Poe adaptations by Eisner Hall of Fame inductee Richard Corben—”The Premature Burial” and “A Cask of Amontillado.”
  • Click here to read our review of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher #1.

Zedric: This isn’t the first time horror/fantasy comics legend Richard Corben has adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic horror short fiction for comics. With long-time collaborator Rich Margopoulos, he previously adapted ten Poe stories for the three-issue Haunt of Horror: Poe miniseries published by Marvel under its MAX imprint in 2006 and in more recent years, Dark Horse has published Corben’s comics adaptations of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” and “The Masque of Red Death” (the latter two being collected in a single one-shot).

As with his previous Poe adaptations, Corben employs frame narratives that introduce this one-shot’s adapted stories, “The Premature Burial” (originally published in 1844) and the Gothic horror classic “A Cask of Amontillado” (first published in 1846). I imagine it is these frame narratives that will determine whether or not those familiar with the original Poe works will enjoy the comic. More than just a structural and stylistic contrivance, the frame narrative also adds an ironic epilogue to the original and in the case of the lead story, it also provides a prologue that significantly alters the character and motivation of the protagonist. I personally had no issue with these changes—I think they give the comic a welcome Tales from the Crypt vibe and only minimally distract from the main tales. If I wanted to read the originals, I would have just looked them up on the Internet or at the public library.

Corben’s distinct art style—with its emphasis on characters’ cartoonish proportions and exaggerated affect—further enhances the air of macabre, ironic humor instilled by the frame narratives.

Flash Gordon #1 (Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99)

  • flashgordon01CVRStory: Jeff Parker
  • Illustrations: Evan “Doc” Shaner
  • Colors: Jordie Bellaire
  • Cover: Gabriel Hardman
  • Publisher’s summary: Flash Gordon never fit in on Earth. But on the bizarre planet MONGO, Flash’s thirst for thrills and daring danger makes him the perfect weapon against world-breaking Ming the Merciless and his awful inter-planetary swarms of terror! Can the cocksure Man From Earth funnel his overconfidence into saving worlds, or will the universe fall to Ming? Don’t miss out on THE most exciting ongoing series of 2014 by dream team Jeff Parker (Batman ’66, Aquaman), Evan “Doc” Shaner (Deadpool, Ghostbusters) and Jordie Bellaire (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel)!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: I’m not what you’d call a huge Flash Gordon fan, although I’ve enjoyed what Flash Gordon comics I’ve read through the years. The pulp-themed concept is timeless and what isn’t to like about the premise of a guy, his best gal, and his friend getting zapped to an alien world?

Writer Jeff Parker grounds this version of the character in the modern day by using the retirement of the Space Shuttle to place it in time and the result is that it gives us a fresh interpretation of Flash Gordon and his mythos. The execution of the actual story, though, is a bit odd. There’s very little explanation of how Flash and company got to the alien world of Mongo, and very little explanation of what exactly is Mongo. Apparently, all the different areas Flash has visited in his adventures are now separate worlds accessed through portals, or somesuch thing. It was hard to get into the story because of how it started with minimal explanations. I’m sure a lot will be filled in with flashbacks, but as of this issue, there’s not a lot for the reader to grasp onto.

Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire’s art is excellent, though. I really liked it, particularly the depiction of Arboria.

I’ll give this series at least a few more issues to reel me in, but this first issue didn’t provide a solid hook.

Inhuman #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • INHUM2014001_CVRStory: Charles Soule
  • Illustrations: Joe Madureira
  • Colors: Marte Gracia
  • Cover: Joe Madureira with Marte Gracia
  • Publisher’s summary: The newest super heroes of the Marvel Universe are born! A cloud of Terrigen mist is moving around the world turning regular people into Inhumans with amazing powers. But not everyone thinks this is a good thing. Discover the secret history of the Marvel Universe and get in at the ground floor of the next big Marvel franchise!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: This really should have come out when it was first solicited (with Matt Fraction originally set to write) several weeks ago. With the delay, the events portrayed in this issue are out-of-step with the rest of the All-New Marvel NOW! books, the Terrigen Mist that is a central element in this issue has already come and gone in the other titles, and we already know that the Mist is not having a major impact on the Marvel Universe because it’s been a couple of months and the only books that really mention it are Ms. Marvel and New Warriors. I do like the new character Lash and how Soule seems intent on exploring the religious aspects of Inhuman society and how it relates to the Terrigen Mist.

The art by Joe Madureira is what it is. You either like his stylized “Amerimanga” approach or you don’t.

I am interested in seeing where Soule takes this but I have a feeling it’ll be like other Inhuman series and be short-lived. Some characters work better as members of a supporting cast, and I think the Inhumans fall into that category.

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • Iron-Fist-TLW-1-CVRStory & art: Kaare Andrews
  • Cover: Kaare Andrews
  • Publisher’s summary: High above the city, in a multi-million dollar penthouse, Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist, “The Living Weapon,” is haunted by the consequences of choosing death over life. A message from Iron Fist’s mystical homeland of K’un-Lun brings Danny back to his blood soaked origin of betrayal and vengeance! Revenge is a weapon that cuts both ways… Will Danny survive the bloodletting? A one-of-a-kind kung fu action epic directed by the inimitable Kaare Andrews!
  • NOTE: This comic was purchased by the reviewer.

Troy: This issue features an interesting take on Danny Rand, one that has him as depressed and mentally out of sorts. Kaare Andrews does a good job of portraying Rand on the edge: The sequence that shows him disinterestedly talking to a reporter, staring blankly, sitting stiff, even the one of him having sex in basically the same position; it all points to a Danny Rand that isn’t quite right in the head. The flashbacks help explain and set that up.

Andrews does a good job of maintaining that edge throughout the story, except for an instance of cheesy dialogue that takes the reader out of the the moment. His art on this title, however, is top-notch stuff. Moody and exciting in all the right places.

Still, I’m not sure if the premise and atmospheric art are enough to get me to pick up the later issues. It feels like it’s missing a certain draw.

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