The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | The Fade Out, Concrete Park, POP, and more

First Impressions | The Fade Out, Concrete Park, POP, and more
Published on Thursday, September 4, 2014 by
Today’s First Impression features extended reviews of The Fade Out #1 and Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1 as well as capsule reviews of God Hates Astronauts #1, Cloaks # 1, POP #1, and the Monster Motors one-shot. 

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.

The Fade Out #1 (Image Comics, $3.50 print/$2.99 digital)

  • FadeOut01_coverStory: Ed Brubaker
  • Illustrations: Sean Phillips
  • Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
  • Cover: Sean Phillips
  • Backmatter essay (“The Lonesome Death of Peggy Entwistle”) by: Devin Faraci
  • Research assist: Amy Condit
  • Availability: 20 August 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: The first project from their groundbreaking five-year deal at Image will have ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS fans, old and new, at the edge of their seats, as they weave an epic crime story unlike anything they’ve done before. Hollywood—1948. A noir film stuck in endless reshoots. A writer plagued with nightmares from the war and a dangerous secret. An up-and-coming starlet’s suspicious death. And a maniacal Studio Mogul and his Security Chief who will do anything to keep the cameras rolling before the Post-War boom days come crashing down. THE FADE OUT is the most ambitious series yet from the award-winning Noir Masters. Bonus: This 40-PAGE FIRST ISSUE features more story pages, as well as exclusive back pages articles that are only in these single issues!

After the sprawling, genre-bending supernatural noir of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale, their more grounded and traditional mid-20th century noir The Fade Out feels most welcome. Don’t get me wrong, Fatale is good, great even, and I think it would have won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards had it not been for the unfortunate timing that had it cresting creatively just as the whole world was falling in love with Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga. Fatale was the Karl Malone to Saga‘s Michael Jordan.

Anyway.

The Fade Out has Brubaker and Phillips returning to what I would describe as the “locative” noir-style that informed their work on 1999’s Scene of the Crime (previously reviewed here). Detailed recreation of period and setting has always been an important feature of Brubaker and Phillips’ best collaborations—it’s part of what made Fatale‘s time-jumping conceit so effective and the pastiche Center City of the Eisner Award-winning Criminal feel like a living, breathing, real-world locale—but those aspects are especially pronounced in The Fade Out #1’s narrative and visual design (Los Angeles Police Museum manager Amy Condit actually serves as a researcher for the comic).

Much of the issue is devoted to painting a portrait of Hollywood in 1948: it’s a sleazy, corrupt, sexist, and racist industry that chews up and spits out writers and exploits starlets. More than just a comment on the film industry however, The Fade Out‘s Hollywood is also a dark reflection of American society in the years immediately after the end of World War II, a time and place that saw entrenched power structures exploiting anti-Communist paranoia for their own ends and pushing back the gains earned by women and minorities for their contributions to the war effort (in this sense, The Fade Out is perfect companion reading alongside Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s Satellite Sam—reviewed here—which is set in a similar period and tackles related themes and issues). What’s particularly impressive about the writing on The Fade Out is that Brubaker is able to suggest all this without resorting to explicit exposition—the worldbuilding, if you wish to call it that, is built discreetly into the plot, narration, and dialogue.

There is a rule-of-thumb of sorts in comics art that says that there is something of an inverse relationship between rendered detail/naturalism and effectiveness in visual storytelling. That is, the more “realistic” and/or detailed the art style, the stiffer and more awkward the simulation of figures’ movement. Sean Phillips is that rare artist who has managed to maintain a detailed rendering style without making concessions in the storytelling department. Phillips is able to do that because he has preeminent skill in suggesting intent, momentum, and weight through poses and also because he is never content to let his “camera” linger in the typical fixed distances and perspectives or resort to the same rote establishing shots. Note how the shifts in perspective and distance complement the characters’ movements in the page below:

FadeOut01_preview24

This is something that can be much more easily done with a less detailed rendering style—artists don’t have to worry too much about staying on-model with various perspectives and pose changes if there aren’t that many details to account for in the first place—but it looks doubly impressive in this case because of Phillips’ decision to stick with a naturalistic rendering style and how he maintains panel-to-panel continuity and dynamism in even mundane scenarios through the use of “mini-storytelling” details like protagonist Charlie Parish going through the actions of lighting a cigarette over the course of the page’s final four panels. Helping with the clarity of sequences such as this is colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser, whose more subdued palette choices ensure that the pages, already teeming with Phillips’ detailed linework, don’t appear too busy.

A murder mystery figures centrally in all this, of course, but on that front, this first issue really just offers the set up for the whodunnit and the barest of plot details. Not that it’s a problem. The mood, atmosphere, characterization, and top-notch level of craft established here (not to mention the annotations from Brubaker and a bonus essay written by Devin Faraci on the death of Hollywood starlet Peggy Entwistle) should have readers coming back for more.

Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1 (of 5; Dark Horse, $3.99)

  • ConcreteParkRESPECT01Story: Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander
  • Art: Tony Puryear
  • Color assists: Alicia Burstein, Alexandra Quimby
  • Cover: Tony Puryear
  • Concrete Park created by: Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, Robert Alexander
  • Availability: 03 September 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: A troubled young outcast from Earth awakens on a distant desert planet that’s gripped by gang war. Will the exiles of Scare City destroy each other or create something surprising, beautiful, and new? Concrete Park returns with volume 2’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T arc—a sexy sci-fi saga by Tony Puryear (Eraser) and Erika Alexander!
    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

The timing of the release of Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1 is a little curious. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is actually the second book in the Concrete Park saga—the first book, You Send Me, was serialized from 2011 through 2012 in the pages of the Eisner Award-winning Dark Horse Presents comics anthology series (the individual chapters of Concrete Park: You Send Me were published in Dark Horse Presents #7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, and 17). A hardcover compiling the Concrete Park: You Send Me chapters is due for an early October 2014 release, but I think traditionally, the strategy would have been to put out the first Concrete Park volume before launching Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, especially since the latter’s story picks up immediately after the events of the former and that readers unaware of the property’s prior existence as a Dark Horse Presents serial might find themselves a little lost with Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T‘s story and setting.

Then again, it’s possible that Dark Horse is confident enough in the potential of Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T that the publisher thinks it might drive sales of the Concrete Park, Vol. 1: You Send Me hardcover. After reading the first issue of the miniseries, I can understand Dark Horse’s optimism. Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1 does a great job of contextualizing and summing up the events of Concrete Park: You Send Me—the inner cover recap and the in-story dialogue actually did a lot to clear up some of the lingering confusion I carried over from reading the original Dark Horse Presents serial and should work as a perfectly serviceable introduction to the world of Concrete Park for readers new to the property.

Written by the husband-and-wife team of screenwriter and digital modeler Tony Puryear (Eraser) and actress Erika Alexander (Deja Vu, Living Single) with art by Puryear, Concrete Park is heavily informed by the Afrofuturism movement, although whether or not this was a conscious creative choice, I wouldn’t know. Within the “exiled gangsters in space” framework of the larger Concrete Park narrative, Puryear and Alexander address notions such as alienation, tribalism and internecine conflict in marginalized communities, and the forced displacement and resettlement of whole cultures. This particular issue isn’t weighed down by these themes though—there actually isn’t a lot of room in this issue for the kind of exposition, thematic exploration, and in-depth character development seen in You Send Me—as the emphasis in this debut is on action and setting up the pieces for the next stage in the brewing conflict between the story’s rival gangs. It’s gripping for the reader already familiar with the events and characters from the prior chapters, but might be a touch too frantic for the novice reader.

The best comparative description I can muster up for Puryear’s art style on the comic is “Los Bros. Hernandez-meets-Mike Allred.” It’s effective in its storytelling if a little repetitive with its angles and I love the diverse body types seen in the character designs (not to get too hung-up on it, but I’m digging co-lead Luca’s sturdy proportions, it’s an interesting departure from the usual waifish look artists go for when designing action-oriented female characters).

All in all, Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1 succeeds in making an already ongoing story accessible to new readers and rewarding those who’ve been following Concrete Park in Dark Horse Presents all this time.

Quick Takes

MonsterMotors01Monster Motors one-shot (IDW, $5.99): A fun 48-pager that features automotive versions of characters from the classic monster films of the last century (Cadillacula, Frankenride, The Invisible Sedan, Mr. Hybrid, Minivan Helsing, Wheelwolf, Lagoon Buggy), the Brian Lynch-penned Monster Motors is an excellent showcase for the rendering and visual storytelling talents of artist Nick Roche. Roche displays the same skill for imbuing “living machines” with an organic feel that he previously exhibited on a number of IDW’s Transformers comics. Roche’s layouts and panel compositions are quite dynamic and despite the title’s all-ages-friendly remit, there’s enough going on with the art and the dialogue’s winking humor that even older readers will find Monster Motors entertaining reading.

pop1p0POP #1 (of 4; Dark Horse, $3.99): While Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie imagine pop music as a boon from the gods in The Wicked + the Divine (first issue reviewed here), writer Curt Pires (Theremin) and artist Jason Copland (Murder Book, Kill All Monsters) go the opposite route in POP, a sci-fi comic which frames pop stars as quite literally the pod-raised, mass-produced commodities created by a shady multinational business concern. There’s a lot of cynical, absurdist humor in play here—readers sick and tired of hearing about the exploits of a certain floppy-haired Canadian pop star will surely find some measure of relief in seeing a pastiche of said star get his violent comeuppance courtesy of a hitman duo apparently consisting of Joey Ramone and Joan Jett (these two deserve a spin-off comic of their own). POP isn’t just about the skewering of celebrities, though. Pires is clear in his intent to humanize the pop star with the story of pod-escapee Elle Ray (a thinly veiled reference to pop singer Lana Del Rey, perhaps?) trying to flee her handlers and melt into the general population. There’s the glimmer of a romantic subplot as well but it’s a bit early in the miniseries to tell if Pires plans to do anything more with it. An intriguing first issue.

Cloaks01_coverACloaks #1 (of 4; BOOM! Studios, $3.99): Based on an idea by actor David Henrie (Wizards of Waverly Palace, How I Met Your Mother), Cloaks is the story of teenaged magician Adam and his double-life as something of a modern-day Robin Hood, using his prodigious skills to steal from the investment bankers and other fat cats in his New York audiences and donating the proceeds to a local orphanage. Caught by a team of elite, covert government agents in the middle of his latest heist, Adam is then offered the choice to join the group or face imprisonment. Writer Caleb Monroe (Steed and Mrs. Peel, Hunter’s Fortune) and artist Mariano Navarro (Protocol: Orphans, Descendant) execute Henrie’s concept with flair and professional polish—Adam’s attempt to escape his captors towards the end of the issue is particularly striking in terms of its visuals—but I’m not yet sold on the narrative’s basic premise or the long-term appeal of the main character.

GodHatesAstronauts01_coverGod Hates Astronauts #1 (Image Comics, $3.50 print/$2.99 digital): A continuation of Ryan Browne’s Kickstarter-funded graphic novel God Hates Astronauts, Vol. 1: The Head That Wouldn’t Die (reviewed here), this new series carries on its predecessor’s absurdist superhero comedy tradition. Much of the book’s humor comes from its non sequitur gags and the satirical treatment of the conventions of superhero fiction—think Williams Street’s Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law or John Kricfalusi’s The Ripping Friends, or even a modern, post-Watchmen spiritual successor to MAD‘s Superduperman. Browne’s impressively detailed art adds another layer of appeal to the book: Has any humor comic of recent vintage ever looked this good?

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