The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Wayward, Hexed, Stumptown, Dark Ages, and more

First Impressions | Wayward, Hexed, Stumptown, Dark Ages, and more
Published on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by
Today’s First Impression features reviews and previews of Wayward #1, Stumptown #1, and Hexed #1 as well as capsule reviews of Dark Ages #1, Godzilla: Cataclysm #1, Grimm Fairy Tales # 101, and Howtoons: [Re]Ignition #1. 

First Impressions is our (more-or-less) regular and largely spoiler-free look at first issues, one-shots, and other “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.

Wayward #1 (Image Comics, $3.50 print/$2.99 digital)

  • Wayward_01_p00Story: Jim Zubkavich (credited as “Jim Zub”)
  • Illustrations: Steve Cummings
  • Colors: John Rauch, Jim Zubkavich (credited as “Jim Zub”)
  • Cover: Steve Cummings with Ross Campbell
  • Availability: 27 August 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER FOR A NEW GENERATION! Rori Lane is trying to start a new life when she reunites with her mother in Japan, but ancient creatures lurking in the shadows of Tokyo sense something hidden deep within her, threatening everything she holds dear. Can Rori unlock the secrets of her power before it’s too late? JIM ZUB (SKULLKICKERS, Samurai Jack), STEVE CUMMINGS (Legends of the Dark Knight, Deadshot), and JOHN RAUCH (INVINCIBLE) team up to create an all-new Image supernatural spectacle that combines the camaraderie and emotion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the action and mystery of Hellboy. Don’t miss it!

Wayward is billed in the official promotional materials as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a new generation” and it’s easy to see why it’s been advertised as such: The book’s youthful female protagonist, supernatural conflict conceit, and strong emphasis on character and “slice-of-life” plot elements alongside adventure does hark back to Joss Whedon’s popular TV series and its spin-off comics. Outside of that potential audience however, Wayward—owing to its Tokyo setting and use of Japanese folklore to inform its original mythology—may also appeal to Western comics readers interested in trying out manga but have found, for whatever reason, the form’s stylistic and cultural idiosyncrasies too much of a barrier to overcome. But beyond those two groups, Wayward offers solid craft and intriguing content for just about any comics fan.

I don’t mean to suggest that Wayward is of a piece with so-called “OEL manga” or “Amerimanga”—the title isn’t so overt or obvious in its appropriation of manga’s mannerisms and has all the surface features of a “Western comic” in both Jim Zubkavich’s writing and Steve Cummings’ art. Instead, Wayward is more subtle in how it conveys its Japanese comics inspiration, with perhaps the exception of the introduction of what looks like a nekomimi-style supporting character.

Zubkavich (Skullkickers, Samurai Jack) dials down the teen angst and emotional melodrama commonly associated with certain subgenres of serial shōnen fiction, imparting a more American comics sensibility (for lack of a better term) to the character exposition. While a central pillar of the narrative is protagonist Rori Lane’s grappling with the identity issues of adolescence (further complicated by her mixed Japanese/Irish heritage and non-traditional family upbringing), it doesn’t derail or overwhelm the proceedings the way comparable situations occasionally do in similarly-themed manga such as, say, Kazuo Katō’s Blue Exorcist. Wayward #1 also employs the more lively tempo of certain contemporary American superhero comics instead of the decompressed pacing in the opening chapters of many manga serials—I couldn’t help but be reminded of G. Willow Wilson’s mastery of character, tone, and momentum in Ms. Marvel #1 as I read through the issue.

Cummings’ art definitely falls more on the Western side of the comics/manga divide, although character design quirks and the highly dynamic panel staging and hyperactive “camera” betray a manga influence—I don’t think it out of line to compare his work here with Marcus To’s renderings on Archaia’s licensed Cyborg 009 graphic novel or Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona’s slightly manga-tinged art on Marvel’s Runaways. Wayward‘s clean visuals (for which colorists Zubkavich and John Rauch should also receive credit) work really, really well: It’s at once familiar to the North American comics reader in its immediate impression while bearing an uncommon energy in its storytelling.

It’s no surprise that Zubkavich and Cummings have been able to pull off this task of cultural hybridization—the former’s résumé includes stints writing officially licensed comics featuring characters from Japanese video game properties such as Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, and Wonder Momo, he has written episodes of the Wonder Momo anime series, and strains of manga and anime influences are evident, to varying degrees, in his work on the Image Comics-published Skullkickers, IDW’s licensed Samurai Jack title, and the UDON Studios-produced Makeshift Miracle comic. The Tokyo-based Cummings, for his part, has contributed to UDON’s Super Street Fighter hardcover, DC Comics’ manga-inspired Ame-Comi Girls series, and TokyoPop’s Pantheon High and Star Trek: The Manga OEL manga. The pair are as qualified as anybody in the “mainstream” North American comics industry to deliver the West-meets-East comics ethic.

Wayward #1 is a first issue done right: It tantalizes with its novelty and promise while still delivering enough content to satisfy. Wayward may just be Image Comics’ next breakout hit if the creative team continues to deliver expert craftsmanship.

Stumptown (Vol. 3) #1 (Oni Press, $3.99)

  • Stumptown 001_01Story: Greg Rucka
  • Illustrations: Justin Greenwood
  • Colors: Ryan Hill
  • Cover: Justin Greenwood
  • Availability: 10 September 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: Greg Rucka’s fan favorite private eye is back in a new ONGOING series illustrated by Justin Greenwood (Image Comics’ THE FUSE)! Things never go according to plan for Dex Parios—it doesn’t matter whether it’s work or play. When a weekend of soccer fun (both playing and watching!) turns ugly, it’s up to Dex to get to the bottom of the violence before a heated rivalry transforms into an all out war!
    In the far distant future, the sun’s premature expansion has irradiated Earth, sending humanity to the lowest depths of the seas, hidden within radiation-shielded cities, while probes scour the universe for inhabitable worlds to relocate to. After tens of thousands of years, a single probe returns, crashing on Earth’s surface, a now-alien place no human has seen for many millennia. Frequent collaborators RICK REMENDER (BLACK SCIENCE, Uncanny Avengers) and GREG TOCCHINI (Last Days of American Crime, Uncanny X-Force) dive into an aquatic sci-fi/fantasy tale following two teams from the last remaining cities undersea as they race to the most unexpected alien world of all—the surface of Earth. Special introductory issue features 30 full pages of painted art! – See more at: http://imagecomics.com/store/comics/low-1#sthash.9rZJM0Ta.dpuf
    In the far distant future, the sun’s premature expansion has irradiated Earth, sending humanity to the lowest depths of the seas, hidden within radiation-shielded cities, while probes scour the universe for inhabitable worlds to relocate to. After tens of thousands of years, a single probe returns, crashing on Earth’s surface, a now-alien place no human has seen for many millennia. Frequent collaborators RICK REMENDER (BLACK SCIENCE, Uncanny Avengers) and GREG TOCCHINI (Last Days of American Crime, Uncanny X-Force) dive into an aquatic sci-fi/fantasy tale following two teams from the last remaining cities undersea as they race to the most unexpected alien world of all—the surface of Earth. Special introductory issue features 30 full pages of painted art! – See more at: http://imagecomics.com/store/comics/low-1#sthash.9rZJM0Ta.dpuf

In an especially illuminating backmatter essay in Stumptown (Vol. 2) #2, four-time Eisner Award-winner Greg Rucka wrote of the role the private investigator plays in American fiction: “The PI is here to comment on our society. The PI is here to root out the truth, ugly though it may be, and direct the light of knowledge, if not the fire of cleansing.”

It remains to be seen what ugly, inconvenient truth will be unearthed by Portland, Oregon-based private investigator Dexedrine “Dex” Parios in this newest Stumptown series but if the past two miniseries are anything to go by, Rucka will undoubtedly be able to imbue the narrative with high drama and genuine pathos despite Stumptown‘s tradition of relatively low-level crime stakes.

Readers new to the Stumptown comics expecting a play-along-at-home whodunnit may very well be put off by this first issue, much of which is devoted to establishing the role the sport of soccer inhabits in the recreational lives of Dex Parios and her Down’s Syndrome-afflicted brother Ansel. The storytelling demands of the traditional mystery—the perfunctory exposition and the transparent setting up of the puzzle pieces, as it were—have always been secondary to character and story in Stumptown, however, and where some readers may see filler, those more familiar with Rucka’s crime comics oeuvre will see the vital cultivation of personality and setting: There’s the budding romantic/sexual tension between Parios and a newly-introduced character, further exploration of Dex and Ansel’s big sister-little brother relationship, and a fleshing out of the character of the city of Portland by way of an interesting depiction of soccer culture in the Pacific Northwest (I always imagined Parios as a Portland Fire fan myself, although there’s nothing that says being an MLS fan and being a WNBA fan are mutually exclusive properties). The mystery proper doesn’t really get rolling until the issue’s closing pages, ending it on a (literally) bloody cliffhanger, a first for Stumptown, which has previously featured crimes of a largely non-violent nature.

This third Stumptown series is also the first without original Stumptown artist Matt Southworth, a development which might disappoint returning fans of the comic, although they really shouldn’t be. Justin Greenwood is an excellent choice to succeed Southworth—he certainly works in a distinctly different rendering style but he brings to Stumptown the same solid storytelling chops and attention to panel-to-panel continuity that informs his acclaimed work on Oni Press’ Wasteland and Image Comics’ The Fuse. I’m also really digging Greenwood’s take on Dex Parios—I’ve only ever seen the character drawn by Southworth and seeing her drawn by a different artist has enriched my mental image of the plucky private eye.

Hexed (Vol. 2) #1 (BOOM! Studios; $3.99)

  • Hexed_001_COVER-AStory: Michael Alan Nelson
  • Illustrations: Dan Mora
  • Colors: Gabriel Cassata
  • Cover: Emma Rios
  • Availability: 13 August 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: Luci Jennifer Inacio Das Neves (most people just call her “Lucifer”) is a supernatural thief-for-hire, stealing wondrous objects from the dark denizens of the netherworld for her mentor/mother figure, Val Brisendine. But when Lucifer accidentally unleashes a terrible evil from one of the paintings hanging in Val’s art gallery, will any of the tricks up her sleeve be enough to stop it?

Like Wayward (see our first review above), Hexed has been described by its publisher in Buffy terms—in this case, the solicitation copy from BOOM! Studios refers to Hexed as “the perfect mash-up of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lara Croft.” That’s actually not too inaccurate, as the comic does offer a blend of supernatural action-adventure and Tomb Raider-style relic heist shenanigans, served with a healthy helping of quippy dialogue.

This is the second BOOM! Studios comic to bear the Hexed title—a Hexed miniseries was published in 2008—and the third featured solo outing for protagonist Luci Jennifer Inacio Das Neves, (Lucifer, for short), who was first introduced to readers by creator Michael Alan Nelson in the third book of the Fall of Cthulhu metaseries.

Despite the somewhat surprising length of the lead character’s prior publication history, a familiarity with the Hexed or Fall of Cthulhu comics isn’t absolutely necessary for the reader to get into the swing of things in this issue, although it will of course help. Lucifer has always been depicted as a bit of a mystery—a character with rather nebulous supernatural powers, a yet-to-be-revealed origin shrouded in the occult, and whose tough, cocky, shit-talking exterior belies a more sensitive and compassionate side—and her enigmatic nature ensures a relative parity of experience for both new and old audiences coming into this issue. Nelson also includes just enough context cues in the dialogue to ensure that the novice reader will be able to fill in the comic’s backstory and supporting mythology without miring the conversations in “expospeak.”

Those context clues are crucial, because there’s a lot going on in this issue, and it’s all happening at a breakneck pace—the comic opens with a five-page action sequence right off the bat and doesn’t let up. Readers will have their hands full keeping track of what’s going on within Hexed #1’s 22 story pages: New characters, returning cast members, the issue’s designated MacGuffin, and a cliffhanger ending that is a genuine shocker in its graphic depiction.

But while the comic is absolutely dense with plot and characters, it is by no means impenetrable. That’s due in part to the practiced clarity of Nelson’s writing, but recognition must also be accorded to artist Dan Mora. Just as the original Hexed miniseries introduced North American readers to the talents of Spain’s Emma Rios (who has gone on to provide the art for such notable titles as Marvel’s Strange and Spider-Man and Image Comics’ Pretty Deadly and returns to provide the cover art for this issue), so might this title serve as a showcase for one of Costa Rica’s best up-and-coming comics illustrators. The Comic Book Database lists only one other previously-published American comics work for Mora (Quixote #1 from the studio-style comics lettering and production house AndWorld Design), but his work on this issue features a veteran’s grasp of dynamic anatomy, perspective, and storytelling. Definitely a name worth keeping an eye out for.

Quick Takes

dkages1p0Dark Ages #1 (of 4; Dark Horse, $3.99): It’s Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven-meets-John Carpenter’s The Thing in this medieval period piece/sci-fi/occult horror mash-up written by Dan Abnett (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hypernaturals). Interesting and darkly humorous premise with solid visuals provided by artist Ian “I.N.J.” Culbard (2000 AD, The New Deadwardians).

godzillacataclysm01Godzilla: Cataclysm #1 (of 5; IDW, $3.99): Writer Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun, Helheim) and artist Dave Wachter (The Guns of Shadow Valley, Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem) offer up a post-apocalyptic tale set in the ruins of a Japan still recovering from the titanic kaiju vs. kaiju battles of the past century, told from the ground-level perspective of a struggling community of survivors. The issue’s first half is a bit of a slog—there’s the expected slow build-up of tension and momentum-sapping exposition—but the action rapidly ramps up past the halfway mark and the payoff at the issue’s end, with Godzilla facing down a fan-favorite kaiju from the late 1980s, should be worth the wait for fans of Toho’s giant monsters.

GFT101coverGrimm Fairy Tales #101 (Zenescope, $2.99): Zenescope gets a lot of flack from certain segments of the comics community and even when the occasional comics critic throws praise the publisher’s way (as The A.V. Club‘s Oliver Sava did recently), it’s often done begrudgingly and backhandedly. From what I’ve read of the company’s most recent output, however, I do think the publisher is actively taking strides to shed its image as a relic of the 1990s’ “bad girl comics” trend, its continuing penchant for sexy pin-up style covers aside. Grimm Fairy Tales #101 is intended to be an “entry point” comic, ideal for readers new to the Grimm Fairy Tales universe. On that score, it’s mission accomplished for lead writer Pat Shand: The issue does a great job of laying out the basics of the new post-Age of Darkness crossover status quo (this issue actually marks what could be described as a “soft relaunch” of the title) and introducing the next generation of Grimm Fairy Tales heroes. Artist Andrea Meloni also does a solid job with the book’s visuals.

HowtoonsReignition01_Page0Howtoons: [Re]Ignition #1 (Image Comics, $2.99): A lot of comics ostensibly marketed towards younger readers read more like publications written for the “ironic” or nostalgic enjoyment of adults or as shameless marketing materials meant to push related media and merchandise onto young consumers. Writer Fred Van Lente (The Incredible Hercules, Action Philosophers) and artist Tom Fowler (MAD, Venom) elevate Howtoons above the dreck by offering genuine age=appropriate edutainment—this first issue addresses the topics of climate change and responsible energy use intelligently and with just the right amount of detail within the context of an overarching sci-fi story. In addition, the comic also features the signature instructional Howtoons diagrams which teach children (and their parents) basic physics and practical engineering principles in the process of explaining how to make simple projects—this issue features diagrams detailing how to make a blowgun from PVC pipes and an improvised, working flashlight made from a toilet paper roll cardboard tube, among other things. Highly recommended for primary school age readers, school libraries, and tinkerers of all ages.

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