The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | The Empty Man, RoboCop, The Wicked + The Divine, Eye of Newt, and Red City

First Impressions | The Empty Man, RoboCop, The Wicked + The Divine, Eye of Newt, and Red City
Published on Thursday, July 3, 2014 by
Join us as we share our reviews and multi-page previews of RoboCop #1, The Wicked + The Divine #1, Eye of Newt #1, Red City #1, and The Empty Man #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.

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

  • Robocop_001_coverAStory: Joshua Williamson
  • Illustrations: Carlos Magno
  • Colors: Marissa Louise
  • Cover: Goni Montes
  • Publisher’s summary: A deadly and charismatic criminal, Killian, is released from jail. He went into the slammer before RoboCop hit the streets. Now he wants to take out the biggest cop in the city. When OCP wants to take guns off the street, Killian sees it as his opportunity to take on the former Alex Murphy!

Writer Joshua Williamson and editors Ian Brill and Alex Galer have found the perfect niche in the RoboCop canon (such as it is) to insert the launch story of the new ongoing RoboCop series from BOOM! Studios. Set between the first RoboCop film and 1990’s RoboCop 2, the book presents the eponymous character, his supporting cast, and the caricatured Detroit setting as they are most likely to be familiar to the casual fan and as they are most fondly remembered by RoboCop devotees.

In writing this issue’s story and dialogue, Williamson could have simply settled for easy nostalgia and a superficial recreation of the black humor of the original film—yes, Bixby Snyder (a.k.a. the “I’d buy that for a dollar!” guy) does make an appearance this issue—and still satisfied the majority of RoboCop fans, but he goes one better. Like the underrated recent film remake directed by Jose Padilha, Williamson takes the socio-political criticism ethos of Paul Verhoeven’s breakthrough film and applies it to contemporary issues. In what is sure to be a contentious subject among readers, Williamson deals with the topic of gun control and places elements of the privatized Detroit City Police Department in a position where they have to enforce an OCP-backed law they do not agree with. Unlike the Padilha remake and to the RoboCop comic’s ultimate benefit, however, Williamson has retained the original’s more overtly satirical bent and he doesn’t have to bowdlerize his work to meet PG-13 standards. Given my experience with Williamson’s previous comics material, I am also reasonably hopeful that he won’t simply regurgitate tired strawman arguments from both sides of the gun control debate as the story moves forward.

Carlos Magno, who previously caught my attention for his work on Deathmatch, does an excellent job in illustrating the RoboCop character—he not only gets the little armor details right, but his poses for the character are spot-on—although I will concede that some might find Magno’s rendering style as gratuitous in its linework and his storytelling to be so decidedly functional to the point of appearing rote. I am not sure if BOOM! Studios managed to secure the rights to the likenesses of the actors from 1987’s RoboCop for use in this series, but in any case, the characters pass the squint test and look enough like their film counterparts that there is no question as to who they should be in context. There are some issues with perspective in certain scenes that seem to be at odds with Magno’s more naturalistic tendencies as an artist, but I suspect that these were deliberate and used for narrative emphasis.

The Empty Man #1 (of 6; BOOM! Studios, $3.99) [EDITOR’S PICK]

  • Empty_Man_001_coverAStory: Cullen Bunn
  • Illustrations: Vanesa R. Del Rey
  • Colors: Michael Garland
  • Cover: Vanesa R. Del Rey
  • Publisher’s summary: It’s been one year since the first reported case of the Empty Man disease, and no drug has been able to slow its progress. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms include fits of rage, hideous hallucinations, suicidal dementia, followed by death, or a near lifeless, “empty” state of catatonia. As murder cults rise nationwide, the FBI and CDC enter a joint investigation of the Empty Man, hoping to piece together clues to stop the cult and uncover a cure.

Revolving around the mystery behind what appears to be an American epidemic of “contagious insanity” that has resulted in numerous deaths, The Empty Man is one part police procedural, one part epidemiological thriller, and one part horror tale.

Despite a premise that requires a fair amount of set-up and introduction—as is the case with much popular entertainment grounded in fictionalized, quasi-medical matters—writer Cullen Bunn is able to seamlessly weave exposition into the storytelling in such a way that the reader never feels overwhelmed by the amount of new background information being introduced every couple of pages. The measured pace with which details are revealed by way of characters’ conversations and first-person narration can result in some confusing sequences, but by and large, Bunn succeeds in creating an atmosphere of suspense and tension as the comic’s putative protagonists, Special Agent Jensen of the FBI and Walter Langford of the CDC, train their investigative acumen on the mystery behind the nationwide rash of bizarre homicidal and suicidal behavior that the public has taken to attributing to the urban myth dubbed as “The Empty Man.”

Artist Vanesa R. Del Rey, whose work we last saw on the crime drama comic Hit, provides an excellent visual counterpoint to Bunn’s writing. Her stylized approach to the rendering and figure work balances out Bunn’s naturalistic leanings in the dialogue, and her judicious use of full-page width panels and roving, varied perspectives lend the comic a cinematic and dynamic feel, even though the issue is largely built on “talking head” sequences.

The Wicked + The Divine #1 (Image Comics; $3.50 print, $2.99 DRM-free digital)

  • Wicked+Divine01_preview-001Story: Kieron Gillen
  • Illustrations: Jamie McKelvie
  • Colors: Matthew Wilson
  • Cover: Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson
  • Publisher’s summary: Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to start a new ongoing superhero fantasy with a beautiful oversized issue. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

The Wicked + The Divine sees the creator duo of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie returning to the “pop music-meets-fantasy” premise they first explored with the 2006 Image Comics miniseries Phonogram and later expounded upon with the series of Phonogram one-shots that were eventually collected in 2009 Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club trade paperback. As Gillen is quick to point out in this issue’s backmatter section, though, The Wicked + The Divine, while sharing some thematic elements with the Phonogram comics, isn’t the long-gestating and long-awaited Phonogram, Vol. 3.

I will admit to feeling somewhat relieved with this bit of knowledge, seeing as how the fact that Phonogram was so heavily steeped in Britpop references served as a barrier—a surmountable one, but a barrier nonetheless—to full immersion and enjoyment for me, since my knowledge of that particular subgenre of music is limited to a pedestrian familiarity with only its biggest associated acts. The Wicked + The Divine swaps out Britpop for a more amorphous and idealized concept of pop music and celebrity, and instead of the magician-musicians (a.k.a. “phonomancers”) of Phonogram, The Wicked + The Divine‘s cast of young and hip protagonists are the magically-empowered human avatars of deities and demons from various belief systems from around the world, who have decided to grace the earthly plane as pop stars. If that sounds a bit silly, that’s because it is—the Egyptian warrior goddess Sakhmet looking like Rhianna and acting like a cat-in-heat is as ridiculous as it sounds, for example—but it also holds the potential for some entertaining comics and biting satire as the series moves forward.

Eye of Newt #1 (of 4; Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • eonewt1p0Story & art: Michael Hague
  • Cover: Michael Hague
  • Publisher’s summary: As a young apprentice wizard embarks on a perilous quest, he encounters marvelous creatures of all shapes and sizes, and learns a dark secret that could shape his entire destiny!

Michael Hague’s Eye of Newt offers up what looks to be a fairly archetypal fantasy adventure set-up—a wizard’s young apprentice undergoes a series of trials overseen by his graybeard master so that he may eventually become powerful enough to battle some malign force that threatens the land that only he can defeat—and it is somewhat hamstrung by an expository writing style.

For Hague fans, however, the draw of this comics miniseries will likely be the opportunity to see the award-winning children’s fantasy book illustrator and painter apply his prodigious talents to the task of making comics. The result still bears its illustrated fantasy book influences, for good and for ill. While impressive in its detail and lush in its coloring and implied texture—for those comics readers unfamiliar with Hague’s fantasy book work, I think Colleen Doran-meets-The Sandman-era Charles Vess might be a reasonably fair description of his approach to rendering—Eye of Newt‘s visual storytelling inhabits a bit of a sequential art no-man’s land between comics and illustrated books: There is no doubt that the comic’s individual pages are artfully composed and staged, but for lack of a better description, there seems to be a much bigger time lapse in the transition from panel to panel in many of the issue’s sequences than one normally expects in comics. This leads to the occasional impression that what one is reading on a page isn’t so much a single event broken down into sequential panels, but depictions of multiple, related events in juxtaposition.

Red City #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • RedCity01_Page0Story: Daniel Corey
  • Illustrations: Mark Dos Santos
  • Colors: Chris Fenoglio
  • Cover: Mark Dos Santos with Steve Downer
  • Publisher’s summary: In the wake of a system-wide civil war, hard-nosed interplanetary investigator Cal Talmage is given a simple mission to find a missing ambassador’s daughter in Mars Central, a.k.a. Red City. The routine case quickly complicates as Cal finds himself in the midst of rival alien mobs, street vendettas and political conspiracies. He struggles with personal demons as he discovers that another war is brewing, and the lives of an entire race hang in the balance.

Writer Daniel Corey shows that he has the basic elements of the classic tech noir down in Red City #1—there’s the charming, rogue-ish protagonist, a potential female love interest/femme fatale type, the exotic setting that just happens to call to mind mid-20th century urban America—but it is in the execution that the comic falls flat. Corey frontloads the exposition, explicitly spelling out character backgrounds and motivations through a combination of unprompted, “as you know, Bob”-style dialogue and intrusive, overly-descriptive, and occasionally redundant first-person narration. It’s good that Corey values clarity and detail in his script, but Red City #1 is overwritten to a fault, and many panels violate the rule-of-thumb that a panel should have, at most, about 35 words, particularly in the issue’s first half. It’s a bit of a shame, because when Corey trusts the art to tell the story in the latter portion of the book, it really picks up.

Red City does have an intriguing mystery at its core, subplots that can potentially enrich the genre narrative, and a solid art team, but it is in need of a tighter, more economical script moving forward.

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