The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | MPH, WEIRD Love, Jack Kraken, Nailbiter, Madame Frankenstein, and more

First Impressions | MPH, WEIRD Love, Jack Kraken, Nailbiter, Madame Frankenstein, and more
Published on Friday, May 30, 2014 by
Join us as we share our quick reviews and multi-page previews of MPH #1, WEIRD Love #1, Nailbiter #1, Madame Frankenstein #1, the Jack Kraken one-shot, 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.

MPH #1 (of 5; Image Comics, $2.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • MPH_01Story: Mark Millar
  • Illustrations: Duncan Fegredo
  • Colors: Peter Doherty
  • Cover: Duncan Fegredo
  • Publisher’s summary: The all-new Millarworld Universe kicks into high gear with the launch of Millar and Fegredo’s fast and furious miniseries. When a group of hard-luck teens in Motor City stumble upon a street drug called MPH, they gain the power of super speed. Will they use it to save the world? Hell no! Not when there’s dolla, dolla bills to be had, y’all. A high-octane urban adventure, MPH brings you super speed like you’ve never seen before! This launch features a variant cover by Jock, a blank cover variant, and a special series of linked cover variants by Fegredo showcasing the book’s cast.

Writing superheroes with the power of super-speed can be a tricky and difficult thing, as veteran superhero comics scribe Peter David wrote in a question and answer session on his old website several years ago:

If you’re going to play him true to his power’s potential, [The Flash is] unbeatable. The moment someone sees him coming, it’s too late. You shout, ‘It’s the Flash!’ and you haven’t even got ‘It’s’ out before you’re done.

We don’t get to see enough of protagonist Roscoe Rodriguez flashing (heh) his super-speed powers in this debut issue for any of the problems they can introduce into the narrative to spring up, but what feats of super-speed are depicted by artist Duncan Fegredo in this issue is visually interesting, inventive stuff reminiscent of how the late artist Seth Fisher depicted the Flash’s relativistic perception of the world while moving at high speed in 2002’s The Flash: Time Flies.

What we do get to see a lot of here is character development and grounding in the setting. In a lot of ways, Roscoe Rodriguez is a stock character: he’s a drug dealer with a heart of gold, driven to sling “yayo” partly because of socio-economic circumstances beyond his control and partly because of an ambition to cross over into what he calls “that other America.” The depiction of a visible male minority like Rodriguez succumbing to the temptation of crime as a vehicle for social and economic mobility is potentially problematic, but Millar takes pains to establish context—Detroit’s economic collapse and the determination of many of its residents to tough it out is employed well as the story’s narrative backdrop—and he gives reasonably meaningful motivations for many of the book’s characters, mitigating (although not completely) concerns that he is falling back on lazy or even offensive stereotypes.

MPH, with its urban crime drama spin on the basic conceit of DC’s Flash is of a piece with a lot of Millar’s creator-owned work in recent years, which seem to be “remixes” of superhero concepts and character designs from DC Comics, spun with a contemporary sensibility: Wanted subverts the DC superhero mythos, Superior updates the Billy Batson/Captain Marvel duality, Nemesis is the Joker-on-steroids, Jupiter’s Legacy extrapolates on the relational dynamics of the Justice League, and Starlight refreshes the pulp/sci-fi superheroics of Adam Strange. The best of these “Millarworld” titles such as Starlight and Jupiter’s Legacy exhibit a maturity of perspective and an evolution of craft that were missing in many of Millar’s earlier attempts at refurbishing classic superheroics for today’s readers. It’s too early to tell if MPH will join Starlight and Jupiter’s Legacy in that regard, but this first issue certainly shows the potential for it.

WEIRD Love #1 (IDW, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Weird Love #1 copyStory: Joe Gill, Norman Nodel, and others
  • Art: Sam Citron, Norman Nodel, José Luis García-López, Ogden Whitney, Vince Colletta, Alberta Tewks, Art Peddy, Dick Beck, Bernard Sachs
  • Cover: Ogden Whitney
  • Curated and edited by: Clizia Gussoni, Craig Yoe
  • Publisher’s summary: From the people that bring you the acclaimed Haunted Horror comic comes a horror like no other… WEIRD LoveWEIRD Love presents the most sexy, bizarro, sick, twisted, politically incorrect, kinky “romance” comics of the 1950s and beyond. In this OMG-I-Can’t-Believe-This! first ish, you are going to be astonished to read luridly illustrated pulp comics fiction like “Love of a Lunatic,” “I Fell for a Commie,” “The Taming of the Brute,” the wacko “You Also Snore, Darling,” and more! This collector’s edition which begins the WEIRD Love series “ends” with a pre-code comics ode to the female derrier(!). No wonder the censors wanted this stuff banned! Sure to be a must-have big-buzz comic—and it’s bargain-priced!
  • Click here to read our overview of 20th century romance comics.

Comics historian and publisher Craig Yoe has been doing his part to preserve and share comics through the professionally restored collections of classic material released through the Yoe! Books imprint at IDW Publishing. Yoe’s latest project, masterminded with wife and studio partner Clizia Gussoni, is WEIRD Love, a new bi-monthly anthology series that collects some of the most offbeat stories from the romance comics of the pre-Comics Code era and featuring rarely-seen art from industry legends like José Luis García-López, Ogden Whitney, and Vince Colletta.

With titles such as “I Fell for a Commie” and “The Love of a Lunatic,” the stories Yoe and Gussoni have collected in this inaugural issue offer a unique peek at the cultural mores of Cold War America in the thick of post-World War II rebound workplace chauvinism—an era when a husband spanking his wife across his knee was not only unheard of, but was considered a normal disciplinary measure in many communities (as opposed to a form of domestic violence) and women were generally regarded as flighty, irrational, helpless creatures unable to function in the world without a strong, dominating man at their side. It’s one thing to read about the curious state of the male-female romantic relations of some sixty years ago, but it’s an entirely different experience altogether seeing certain regressive (and repressive) societal norms reflected in the popular entertainment of the time. This is fascinating stuff for both comics fans and cultural historians alike that also happens to be flat-out hilarious read straight or in a satirical context.

It’s clear that Yoe and Gussoni respect the material collected in WEIRD Love while at once pointing out how absurd popular attitudes towards women and romance in general were in those bygone years—the choice of material reproduced in the comic provides a rare opportunity to laugh with, and at, the subjects being skewered—although in light of recent events, in the comics community and the larger world, I sometimes wonder if we’ve really progressed that much as a society.

Nailbiter #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • nailbiter-1Story: Joshua Williamson
  • Illustrations: Mike Henderson
  • Colors: Adam Guzowski
  • Cover: Mike Henderson
  • Publisher’s summary: Buckaroo, Oregon has given birth to sixteen of the vilest serial killers in the world. An obsessed FBI profiler investigating the town has suddenly gone missing, and now an NSA Agent must work with the notorious serial killer Edward “Nailbiter” Warren to find his friend and solve the mystery of “Where do serial killers come from?”

One could complain that the “use a killer to catch a killer” conceit is a bit overplayed these days, what with the proliferation of popular entertainment featuring characters like Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter and Jeff Linday’s Dexter Morgan, never mind the dozens upon dozens of similar villain protagonists and anti-heroes to be found in popular fiction, comics, television, and film.

Originality and novelty can be overrated qualities in a comic, though, and as writers Frank Gibson and Ed Brisson stressed during their panel at last week’s Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, given sufficient skill in execution, any idea can be brought to greater heights as commercial entertainment and a creative endeavor. It’s too early to tell if Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson can take Nailbiter to its full potential, but even within the abbreviated space of a first issue largely devoted to introductions and the necessary-if-cumbersome task of exposition, they’ve laid down elements for future success: Interesting characters, an intriguing mystery, dialogue and visuals that don’t sacrifice clarity for shameless “aren’t-I-clever?” contrivances, and just good old solid craft and sharp technique.

Jack Kraken one-shot (Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • jackkos1p0Story: Tim Seeley
  • Illustrations: Ross Campbell, Tim Seeley, Jim Terry
  • Colors: Carlos Badilla
  • Cover: Tim Seeley with Carlos Badilla
  • Publisher’s summary: Jack Kraken is the best agent the Humanoid Interaction Agency has. Using his extranormal powers, Jack protects humans and humanoids alike from those who would kill them. Follow Jack’s adventures rescuing kids and stopping the things that go bump in the night.

Dark Horse continues to expand the roster of its pulp superhero comics line with the addition of Jack Kraken. Joining Comics’ Greatest World refugees like Ghost, X, and the cast of Catalyst Comix, reclaimed Golden Age properties like Captain Midnight and Skyman, and creator-owned IPs like Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood’s Dream Thief, Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton’s The Answer!, and Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Beetle is this creation by Tim Seeley of Hack/Slash and Revival renown. Seeley’s design for Jack Kraken strikes me as a bit anachronistic, like a holdover from the early 1990s. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will likely depend on the reader’s opinion of the character designs from that era.

This one-shot is an anthology issue featuring three stories written by Seeley, each illustrated by a different artist, including Seeley himself. It’s all solidly entertaining stuff and taken together, the stories do a competent job of introducing readers to the character and the comic’s superheroes-meets-the-supernatural premise in a non-linear fashion, although I personally didn’t really find the characterizations particularly memorable. I really liked the art in the opening story drawn by Ross Campbell (Glory, Wet Moon), though (see the preview gallery below for examples).

I’m not super-intrigued by the character after reading this introductory one-shot, but I enjoyed it enough that I’d be open to reading more Jack Kraken material in the future.

Madame Frankenstein #1 (of 7; Image Comics, $2.99)

  • MadameFrankenstein_01Story: Jamie S. Rich
  • Art: Megan Levens
  • Cover: Joëlle Jones with Nick Filardi
  • Publisher’s summary: In 1932, Vincent Krall sets out to create his perfect woman by reanimating the corpse of the love of his life. He’ll soon discover, however, that man was never meant to peer beyond the veil between life and death. Mixing vintage horror with mythic drama, this new series by writer JAMIE S. RICH (YOU HAVE KILLED ME) and smashing newcomer MEGAN LEVENS is guaranteed to send chills through even the warmest of hearts.

As with Nailbiter #1 above, Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens’ Madame Frankenstein #1 is an issue that devotes much of its space to the basic tasks of introduction and set-up, trading on the hope that readers will find the promise of future character development enough of a hook for them to come back next month. The eventual character development payoff is potentially huge, given that one of the co-protagonists is the tabula rasa that is Galatea, the book’s so-called “Madame Frankenstein.”

Artist Megan Levens will probably be a new name to many readers as this is perhaps her highest-profile work to date, but she has actually contributed to a number of print comics publications since 2010 (including a previous collaboration with Rich for Oni Press) and for a time, wrote and illustrated a webcomic entitled Somewhere in Between. The breadth of her experience is on full display here, in stark black & white art. Despite the fact that the interior art doesn’t employ screentones, the visuals do not lack for implied texture nor volume, and her masterful use of contrast and negative space is especially evident in the book’s closing pages, when Galatea has to contend with the threat of fire.

The visual storytelling is also worth noting—I love how the book employs gradual, measured zoom in and zoom out in key sequences (see the first page in the preview gallery below for an example), giving them a touch more emotional gravity. Brilliant stuff.

Lil #1 and #2 (Free to read at lilcomic.co.uk)

  • lil01_00Story and art: Marc Crane, Mike Young
  • Publisher’s summary: Set someplace deep in the US, Lil’s life is as stark and empty as the vast deserts that surround her… She is a thirty-four year-old waitress, down on her luck with an appetite for destruction and a desire for death. However, in the lead up to Lil’s thirty-fifth birthday, a seemingly chance encounter sets in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever…

Taken together, the first two issues of Lil comprising the “Pulling at Strings” storyline, form what would be the first 22-page issue in a conventional comic book series.

Creators Marc Crane and Mike Young certainly have a good handle on the stylistic conventions of the modern noir, even if the execution of the art can be a bit too raw at times. The result is an introduction to a darkly moody and atmospheric world with a sufficiently sympathetic protagonist who remains at enough of an emotional remove from the reader that she retains an element of intrigue and danger. This is competently delivered, character-driven work.

If I do have a major misgiving about the comic, it is on the technical side of things. The digital version of the comic is hosted on PDF-to-Flash platform FlipSnack, which can be a bit buggy depending on the user’s browser and display resolution. I found that the widget controls didn’t work when reading the comic using Chromium-based browsers like Opera v15 and Google Chrome on a netbook running Windows 7, although they worked seamlessly on Firefox, on a desktop PC running Ubuntu. An alternative method to read the comic, such as through plain JPEG files, could greatly improve reader access to the comic and facilitate its discovery by new audiences.

Tales from the Con: Year One (Image Comics, $3.50 print, $2.99 DRM-free digital)

  • TalesFromTheConYear1Story: Brad Guigar
  • Illustrations: Chris Giarrusso
  • Cover: Chris Giarrusso
  • Publisher’s summary: If you’ve been to a comic convention, you’ll recognize the scenes in TALES FROM THE CON, the irreverent webcomic that has appeared on the Emerald City Comicon website since 2012. Written by Eisner-nominee BRAD GUIGAR (HOW TO MAKE WEBCOMICS, Evil Inc.) and illustrated by CHRIS GIARRUSSO (G-MAN, Mini Marvels), TALES FROM THE CON is an uproarious take on the world of comic books and conventions. Fanboys, fangirls, cosplayers, retailers, volunteers, and pros repeatedly collide on the convention floor (and beyond) to prove that comic conventions are one part festival, two parts group therapy. Collects the first year of TALES FROM THE CON strips along with bonus material.

A collection of the the first year of the Tales From the Con “gag-a-week” webcomic strips on the Emerald City Comicon website, the humor in this comic is broad enough that the jokes, when they work, should elicit at least some smiles and a few giggles for any reader who has attended a sufficiently large comics convention or even a reader who has only attended comics conventions vicariously through blogs, YouTube videos, documentaries, and reportage from websites like the Comixverse.

As with most gag strip collections, this issue has its fair share of groaners, but Guigar and Giarrusso’s self-deprecating, self-aware approach to the comedy is effective on the whole.

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