The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | The Woods, Dream Police, Bee and PuppyCat, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, and The Eltingville Club

First Impressions | The Woods, Dream Police, Bee and PuppyCat, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, and The Eltingville Club
Published on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 by
Click through to read our reviews and multi-page previews of The Woods #1, Dream Police #1, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0, The Eltingville Club #1, and Bee and PuppyCat #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.

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

  • Woods_001_coverAStory: James Tynion IV
  • Illustrations: Michael Dialynas
  • Colors: Josan Gonzalez
  • Cover: Ramón Pérez
  • Publisher’s summary: On October 16, 2013, 437 students, 52 teachers, and 24 additional staff from Bay Point Preparatory High School in suburban Milwaukee, WI vanished without a trace. Countless light years away, far outside the bounds of the charted universe, 513 people find themselves in the middle of an ancient, primordial wilderness. Where are they? Why are they there? The answers will prove stranger than anyone could possibly imagine.

If I were to imagine the elevator pitch for writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas’ The Woods, I think it might have been something like “John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club-meets-Stephen King’s The Mist.” Tynion does more than just gather a bunch of stock high school characters and throw them into a sci-fi/fantasy/horror context, however. For one thing, the book’s multiple protagonists, while descended from the same six or so archetypes so often used in popular entertainment featuring high school students, do have individual and relational nuances to them. The book’s putative “jock,” for example, isn’t a typical jock at all but is instead a socially withdrawn, overweight, reluctant athlete, and the brilliance of the “brain” seemingly doesn’t translate into conventional academic success. It’s also worth noting that, at least for now, they aren’t cast as natural enemies.

Tynion does a good job of providing each major character with at least one sequence that helps define some of his or her basic characteristics, which is especially impressive given the issue’s large cast, the page count restrictions of the “floppy” format, and the fact that he also has to introduce the story’s core mystery and conflict. And while I’ve been out of high school for so long that I have only a vague idea of how today’s teens talk amongst themselves outside of pop culture portrayals, the dialogue does come off as reasonably naturalistic, relatively low on the grating, overwhelming precociousness that infects the script in many comics featuring younger characters.

Dialynas’ art exhibits a clarity of visual storytelling and his choice of rendering style strikes a good balance between stylization and representation, qualities that I first noticed in his work on the Dark Horse-published Amala’s Blade. That said, there aren’t any panels, sequences, or pages that stood out to me as particularly spectacular, although I am perfectly satisfied with his demonstration of technical competence and solid craft this time out.

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

  • dreampolice01Story: J. Michael Straczynski
  • Illustrations: Sid Kotian
  • Colors: Bill Farmer
  • Cover: Sid Kotian with Bill Farmer
  • Publisher’s summary: Dream Police Detectives Joe Thursday and Frank Stanford have been partners for as long as they can remember, patrolling the alternate universe of dreams, nightmares, and the great void beyond, an alternate but very real dimension of changelings, echoes, wisps, ethers, and nightwalkers, those who died in their sleep and wander the dreamscape forever. They’ve seen it all. But when Frank steps away and disappears… and the woman who returns says she’s Joe’s partner, that she’s always been Joe’s partner… he begins a journey into the unknown that will shake the dreaming down to its very foundations.

Thus far, J. Michael Straczynski’s resurrection of his Joe’s Comics imprint under the Image Comics banner has resulted in a genre-diverse family of titles of differing levels of quality. Ten Grand, launched May 2013, is entrenched as the imprint’s flagship brand by virtue of being the relaunch’s inaugural title and its consistently solid craft. The superhero-themed Sidekick (launched August 2013) and Protectors, Inc. (launched November 2013), while interesting in their own right, have yet to truly distinguish themselves from the current glut of “superhero deconstruction” comics. The recently concluded four-issue Apocalypse Al miniseries is entertaining, ready-for-adaptation-as-a-film-or-TV-series fluff.

The latest addition to the revived Joe’s Comics publishing line-up is also, ironically, its oldest. Dream Police got its start as a one-shot published in June 2005 by Marvel under its Icon imprint, featuring art by Mike Deodato, Jr. Never having read that one-shot, I don’t know if this issue, featuring solid art by the Apocalypse Al team of Sid Kotian and Bill Farmer, is a remake or if it is a continuation of the prior story. Whatever the case, this issue is surprisingly accessible, especially given its bizarre, “mad ideas” premise of a law enforcement agency tasked with policing the “dreamscape” and ensuring that threats like lucid dreamers do not upend the fantastical status quo.  The dreamscape isn’t just an excuse to drop fantastical elements into an urban setting, however. A sort of dream (il)logic holds sway over the world: the props, scenes, and even characters of Dream Police are fluid, changing midstream without warning and explanation, just as they do in actual dreams. It’s an imaginative set-up absolutely brimming with potential, and the issue’s end hints at an intriguing mystery that I can’t wait to see unraveled in future issues.

The Eltingville Club #1 (of 2; Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • EltingvilleClub1aStory & art: Evan Dorkin
  • Cover: Evan Dorkin
  • Publisher’s summary: After twenty years, three Eisner Awards, and a smattering of hate mail, the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club is finally breaking up. When Bill’s dream job in a comic shop turns into a nightmare for the club, more than bridges and membership cards are burned in a fiery, fan-tastic finale!

The angry, hateful, and obsessive fanboys who serve as The Eltingville Club‘s protagonists may be extreme caricatures, but that is because they represent a distillation of the worst aspects of Evan Dorkin’s experiences with comics fandom as a lifelong comics fan himself and as a comics industry professional: Dorkin worked as a comics retailer for several years before becoming an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning comics creator. As Dorkin explained last year at NYCC, The Eltingville Club is a comedy about “[f]our people who hate themselves, hate each other and live through their hobby,” the creation of which was spurred by a colleague’s experience of receiving death threats from a number of fans who violently disagreed with the way he wrote a certain DC Comics title.

In all honesty, when I first read this most recent Eltingville Club comic some three weeks ago—the first issue of a two-part miniseries Dorkin says will be the last Eltingville Club story—I thought that the material was somewhat passé. Dorkin’s jokes at the expense of the cast still land more often than not, but I reasoned to myself that comics geekery had entered the pop culture mainstream in the years since Dorkin introduced them to readers, and the characterization of the “comic book guy”—that socially maladjusted basement-dwelling troll with questionable hygiene and skewed life priorities—was no longer culturally salient except as a dated stereotype: low-hanging comedy fruit to be picked for cheap laughs.

But that was before I read about what happened to former DC editor Janelle Asselin.

In light of that sequence of events and others like it, I think the fandom-skewering satire employed by Dorkin in The Eltingville Club and similar titles is as relevant as ever: It allows the comics community to laugh at itself whilst also criticizing its most unsavory qualities, helping, in its unique way, open up the discussion for how the community can become better for all concerned.

Bee and PuppyCat #1 (kaBOOM!, $3.99)

Cover A

  • Story: Natasha Allegri, Garrett Jackson
  • Art: Natasha Allegri
  • Additional story & art: Madeleine Flores
  • Cover: Natasha Allegri
  • Publisher’s summary: It’s a quirky new take on the magical girl genre with Bee, the forever unemployed main character who can’t seem to figure out life, and the mysterious PuppyCat, a stray… whatever it is… that she stumbled across who has a powerful secret. Fighting bad guys has never been so funny.

Based on the popular animated web short created by Adventure Time character designer and storyboard revisionist Natasha Allegri, Bee and PuppyCat #1 picks up right where the animated video left off. That’s great for readers who’ve already seen the Bee and PuppyCat video and/or those already familiar with its somewhat unconventional, Sailor Moon-inspired spin on the “magical girl” conceit, as it gives them all-new material to read without having to wade through a redundant recap. Those coming into the comic cold will find only a minimum of exposition to help ground the story, however, but this is probably a minor issue, all told. I imagine most people picking this comic up will have already seen the video on YouTube—the original two-part episodic version and the full-length single-video version have over 7 million views between them as of this writing—and it’s a simple enough matter for those who haven’t seen it to spend the ten minutes it takes to watch the short. (I’m a little disappointed that the person responsible for the publication design did not think to put a link on the inside cover pointing to the YouTube video, though.)

The fact that Allegri is directly responsible for the writing and art on this comic should allay any concerns that something will be fundamentally lost in the translation from animation to comic the way it sometimes happens with other comics adaptations of animated shows. The move to a silent medium does emphasize how integral the voice work of Allyn Rachel (who portrayed Bee in the original cartoon) and the music by Will “Baths” Wiesenfeld were to my enjoyment of the cartoon. All in all, this issue should be a fun little diversion for those who enjoy Allegri’s off-kilter humor, although I will admit that it feels somewhat slight, although again, that could just be an effect of the transition from one medium to another.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0 (IDW, Free Comic Book Day title)

  • FCBD_TFvGIJ-pr-001Story: Tom Scioli, Tom Barber
  • Art: Tom Scioli
  • Cover: Tom Scioli
  • Publisher’s summary: Two of the most popular comic book franchises of all-time, TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE, will be going head-to-head in a brand-new ongoing series debuting next summer! Written and drawn by comic luminary Tom Scioli (Godland, American Barbarian) with co-writer and TRANSFORMERS veteran John Barber (TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE, FALL OF CYBERTRON), these classic characters will explode off the page like never before! Based on the iconic Hasbro brands, this stand-alone series is set to explore the intriguing encounter between these starkly different teams. Cosmic in scale, the series will utilize Scioli’s unique artwork to traverse the perils of space and pit the G.I. JOE team against the ominous threats of CYBERTRON. Featuring the characters synonymous with both TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE this will be a team-up for the ages!
  • Click here to read our interview with John Barber about Transformers vs. G.I. Joe.

Give Tom Scioli and John Barber this, at least: Their take on two of Hasbro’s most popular “boys toys” properties looks and reads nothing like previous Transformers and G.I. Joe crossovers.

Let’s start with the obvious. Scioli’s stock in trade in the comics industry is his Jack Kirby-influenced art style as seen in the recently-concluded Gødland as well as 2005’s Freedom Force(a tie-in comic to the 2002 video game of the same name that paid homage to Silver Age superhero comics) and the American Barbarian webcomic. In those works and others, the retro-cool flair to Scioli’s rendering matches the decidedly recollective subject matter. On Transformers vs. G.I. Joe however, the mix of Scioli’s art and 1980s toy properties is more dissonant. It’s the visual equivalent of listening to a lounge version of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right (To Party)”—it’s fun and funny and silly at first blush, but one is left debating afterwards if there’s more to it apart from the novelty of the combination. That’s more of a reader problem than a failure to deliver on the intended execution, though, as it’s clear that “fun and funny and silly” is what Scioli is going for here.

The issue’s dialogue harks back to the unnatural-sounding, exposition-heavy, occasionally platitudinous ramblings of a bygone era of comics scripting, but again, this is clearly a deliberate stylistic choice on the part of the creative team, intended to separate these versions of the characters from their prior comics incarnations. As with the art, there’s a nostalgic charm to the writing, but I wonder if the whole stylistic conceit of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe—a comic drawn and co-written by a comics creator known primarily for aping Jack Kirby at his psychedelic peak and featuring 1980s toy-based properties whose adult fans are stereotypically portrayed as being unusually possessive of the commercial entertainments of their childhood—is actually intended to be a meta-commentary on real and imagined pop culture nostalgia and how it informs creative expression.

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