Today’s First Impressions features reviews and previews of Fiction Squad #1, G.I. Joe #1, George Peréz’s Sirens #1, Butterfly #1, Brides of Helheim #1, Metaphysical Neuroma #0, Grimm Fairy Tales 2014 Halloween Special, and Oddly Normal #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.
Fiction Squad #1 (of 6; BOOM! Studios, $3.99)
- Story: Paul Jenkins
- Illustrations: Ramon Bachs
- Colors: Leonardo Paciarotti
- Cover: Ramon Bachs with Edgar Delgado
- Availability: 01 October 2014
- Publisher’s summary: Fablewood is a pretty dangerous place, but no area is more dangerous than the City of Rimes, deep in the heart of the Children’s Realm. After transferring in from the realm of Mystery, a failed detective from an unfinished prose novel, Frankie Mack, is about to uncover a conspiracy that could unmake storytelling itself. After Humpty Dumpty is pushed to crack and Jack (of Jack and Jill) goes AWOL, Frankie and his partner, Simple Simon, are put on the case.
- Click here to read about the Fiction Squad Kickstarter campaign.
Zedric Dimalanta: A spin-off of the Kickstarter hit Fairy Quest, Fiction Squad has Eisner Award-winning comics creator Paul Jenkins revisiting the magical world of Fablewood, where characters from fiction reside. As with Fairy Quest, Fiction Squad‘s publication was also made possible by generous Kickstarter contributions from readers—Fiction Squad tallied an impressive $63,325 in pledges by the time the fundraising period had ended (although that is relatively dwarfed by Fairy Quest‘s $95,100 take).
Those who’ve yet to read Fairy Quest need not worry that they might be missing out a whole lot of the backstory in Fiction Squad, as it’s clear from the outset that this is meant to be a standalone miniseries that can be enjoyed entirely on its own, and Jenkins provides a succinct explanation of the title’s fantastical setting and context in the issue’s first page, besides.
Fiction Squad tells the story of Frankie Mack, an abandoned and forgotten character from an obscure hardboiled crime novel who has crossed the genre border from the Realm of Mystery to work as an investigator in the Realm of Children’s Stories—his is a literal recreation of the detective’s “outsider” role in the American hardboiled crime novel. The case at the heart of Fiction Squad involves an attempted murder of Humpty Dumpty, which Mack suspects is tied into a brewing gang war over territory between the Queens (from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books) and the Witches (from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books).
Jenkins isn’t the first comics writer to repurpose public domain characters from children’s fiction and use them in a crime story, but what he’s done with this first issue is an absolutely delightful job of melding the whimsy of fairy tales, the beats and conventions of the hardboiled detective novel, a healthy helping of self-referential humor (although readers with a low tolerance for puns will find their capacity for the form tested), and commentary on children’s and crime literature. Some readers may be tempted to compare Fiction Squad (and Fairy Quest, for that matter) to Bill Willingham’s highly-acclaimed Fables or even Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales line of titles, but Jenkins is clearly doing something very different here, and he makes it quite easy to enjoy the work on its own terms. This is fun (and funny) stuff and Jenkins’ love for the source material is evident everywhere in the writing. I was reminded of how Robert Zemeckis so effectively utilized elements of crime fiction and children’s entertainment as part of a cohesive, entertaining whole in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
The nature of the crime involved gives the proceedings a contrasting sense of gravity, keeping it from becoming—for this issue, at least—a throwaway, one-note reimagining. Make no mistake, however: Despite the violent incident that serves as the catalyst for the narrative (it’s worth noting that the attempted murder occurs off-panel), this isn’t a “grim and gritty” take on beloved children’s stories with the sex and violence dialed up for cheap thrills. As in Fairy Quest, whatever darkness Jenkins turns up in his metafictive exploration of classic children’s fiction is that which is already implied in the original works, and he doesn’t exaggerate those qualities to the extent that the title, read straight, would be unsuitable for an all-ages audience. If anything, it might be the jokes and allusions which will fly over younger readers’ heads.
Providing the illustrations for the series is Spanish artist Ramon Bachs, whose cartoonishly-stylized renderings, like Ramos’ in Fairy Quest, fit in perfectly with the tone Jenkins is going for and whose visual storytelling is impeccably executed. Leonardo Paciarotti does a commendable job with the coloring, as well. Of the new comics I’ve read this year so far, Fiction Squad #1 stands as one of the better examples of an eminently complementary collaboration between a writer and an artist: Jenkins’ words do just enough to provide the information Bachs’ visuals cannot and vice versa—leaving no storytelling gaps between them—and with neither one dominating (or worse, obscuring or even contradicting) the other. Excellent stuff.
G.I. Joe (Season 4) #1 (IDW Publishing, $3.99)
- Story: Karen Traviss
- Illustrations: Steve Kurth
- Colors: Kito Young
- Cover: Jeffrey Veregge
- Availability: 24 September 2014
- Publisher’s summary: DOES THE WORLD NEED G.I. JOE? Cobra had become an international peacekeeping force… and the future of G.I. JOE looks bleak. SCARLETT leads what’s left of America’s ultimate fighting force-but will she be able to keep hew team together? Real-world action and politics collide… and nothing will be the same.
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.dpufIn 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
Troy Osgood: G.I. Joe returns with a new #1 issue with this release. I don’t really mind the “season” or volume concept that IDW follows with the title these days as it seems to be a pretty common practice in the industry now. I’m just glad that the continuity stays the same. This new volume, written by novelist (and Territorial Army and Royal Naval Auxiliary Service veteran) Karen Traviss (City of Pearl, Star Wars Republic Commando: Hard Contact), starts out five years after the events of Season 3. She does a good job setting up the current status quo and apprising readers of the new situation facing the elite special missions force. Traviss makes sure that readers know what the Cobra terrorist organization has been doing and we know the current Joe status, even if she doesn’t yet explicitly reveal how everything’s come about. There’s not much in the way of action, the focus of the issue is mostly on politics, but Traviss handily walks readers through that particular minefield and keeps everything interesting despite the proliferation of talking head sequences with some sharp dialogue and character development.
I wasn’t all that thrilled when Steve Kurth, the original artist on Josh Blaylock’s Devil’s Due Press G.I. Joe book, came on board the previous Fred Van Lente-written G.I. Joe volume. I never really liked Kurth’s Devil’s Due work and while I think his art on the last G.I. Joe volume is much improved from his older work, I still wasn’t what you would call a fan. Kurth continues to provide the illustrations here but it looks like the art is being shot (or scanned) straight from the pencils and colored by Kito Young, and the resulting look is significantly better than anything I’ve seen from him as far as G.I. Joe comics go. It almost looks like it’s been drawn by an altogether different (and better) artist from the one whose works I’d previously sampled. Everything looks tighter.
G.I. Joe holds a special place for me in comics—it was my first ever comic book—and I will always give it the benefit of the doubt and a looser noose then any other title on my pull-list, but having said that, Traviss and Kurth are off to a great start and can’t wait to see where they take the title.
George Pérez’s Sirens #1 (of 6; BOOM! Studios; $3.99)
- Story & Illustrations: George Pérez
- Colors: Leonardo Paciarotti
- Cover: George Pérez with Blond
- Availability: 17 September 2014
- Publisher’s summary: As an intergalactic force enslaves planets across the galaxy, the legendary team known only as the Sirens must reunite to save the galaxy—but is that even possible when the Sirens themselves don’t even remember who they are? And the rest of the universe only remembers them as… villains? A six-issue miniseries featuring your new favorite comic book team, written and drawn by the master himself, George Pérez (Wonder Woman, JLA Vs. Avengers) begins his greatest story yet.
Zedric: George Peréz, like the aforementioned Paul Jenkins (see the Fiction Squad review above), is another one of BOOM! Studios’ recent marquee “free agent signings.” And like Jenkins, the fan-favorite New Teen Titans and Avengers artist had quite a bit to say about the current creative environment at DC and Marvel on his way to signing a staff artist contract with BOOM! Studios. Given the reputation and goodwill he has earned over 40 years working in comics, anticipation was high in the comics community as to what would be Peréz’s first new work to be published now that he was free from what he saw as the creatively-stifling conditions at the Big Two.
For this project, Peréz drew on members of his family and his friends for inspiration in creating the title’s female protagonists, with most of the people Peréz modeled the characters after being involved with the cosplay scene in one way or another. The mystic Fanisha is modeled after Peréz’s dancer wife Carol Flynn (her second appearance in a Peréz-drawn series after appearing as the belly-dancing assassin Phoenicia in Deluxe Comics’ Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents almost 30 years ago to the day) while the Sirens’ leader Highness is based on cosplayer and fitness trainer Margie Vizcarra Cox. Ammo, the Sirens’ resident weapons expert, is based on cosplayer (and Peréz’s niece) Milla Bishop while pro wrestler and fitness model April Hunter served as the inspiration for Agony, the team’s designated bruiser. Martial arts expert Kage was fashioned after model and adult film actress Akira Lane while the energy-wielding Bombshell is a transplant from Peréz’s aborted Crimson Plague comic (published by Event Comics in 1997 and later picked up by Image Comics) and is based on cosplayer Chan Graves-Everest. Rounding out the cast are cosplayers Miracole Burns, Jen Richards-Spooner, and Sherita Dunbar, who provided the design basis for the Sirens characters Skywire, Figurine, and Interface, respectively. This is comics creator-reader interaction and cross-media pollination on another, more participatory level and the whole Sirens enterprise is fascinating to ponder simply for the fact that it reflects how the concept of the comic book fan has changed over the decades from a passive consumer of comics to an active (if indirect) participant in their formulation.
Basing the characters on real comics fans serves more than just an “Easter egg” for readers-in-the-know. In a medium where artists are often (and deservedly) criticized for employing a limited and predictable range of faces and body types when designing characters, the members of the Sirens all look reasonably distinct from one another in terms of their faces and silhouettes. Those familiar with Peréz’s extensive portfolio of comics art will know what to expect with Siren‘s visuals—detailed linework, solid storytelling, a somewhat naturalistic bent to the rendering, and a unique and whimsical aesthetic that blends elements of fantasy and science-fiction with the real world. And if the art alone isn’t enough to impress the reader, there’s also this: Peréz drew the comic while dealing with a progressive loss of vision due to diabetic retinopathy. That’s right—even with just one functioning eye, Peréz can still draw with the best of them, and his fundamentally sound style is as effective at the task of telling a story through pictures as it ever was.
This first issue’s narrative is quite frenetic, though, almost to a fault. There’s a lot going on, with the story jumping back and forth through time, on Earth and off-planet. Coupled with the introduction of the nine members of the Sirens roster, it can get overwhelming quick, and repeat reads might be necessary to catch everything that Peréz is throwing the reader’s way. A more clearly delineated audience surrogate character could have helped with the clarity. It’s a shame, too, that the densely-packed dialogue balloons cover up a fair bit of Peréz’s art in a number of pages and the non-linear approach to the exposition adds a layer of obfuscation with limited dramatic payoff.
I did come away with what I think are the basics of the story: the Sirens are a group of time and galaxy-hopping adventurers, although at the beginning of the issue, they’ve been disbanded for some as-yet unrevealed reason and the memories of their association largely erased from their minds with perhaps the exception of Fanisha, whose focus in this issue is to get the band together again to deal with some dire threat hinted at towards the issue’s end. There’s room only for the broadest of character outlines as Peréz’s primary concern seems to be in putting the pieces in position for the upcoming conflict. The emphasis on plot advancement over character development in this early going that might be jarring and even come off as idiosyncratic to younger or more recently indoctrinated comics readers, but rather than a problem, I think this is a deliberate choice by Peréz. We’re talking about a six-issue limited series, after all, and it’s possible that concessions in character development had to be made to accommodate the larger story. In addition, Peréz seems to be crafting Sirens as something of a stylistic throwback, writing-wise, to certain distinctively plot-driven science-fiction and space opera entertainments of the early and mid-1980s. That in itself is neither a good nor a bad thing, and shouldn’t keep those intrigued by the comic’s unique character design premise and Peréz’s art from giving the title a shot.
Butterfly #1 (of 4; BOOM/Archaia; $3.99)
- Story: Arash Amel
- Script: Marguerite Bennett
- Illustrations: Antonio Fuso
- Colors: Adam Guzowski
- Cover: Phil Noto
- Availability: 24 September 2014
- Publisher’s summary: Butterfly is one of Project Delta’s deep cover agents, no birth certificate, no social security number, a complete ghost. When her cover is blown and she is set up for a murder she did not commit, she is unknowingly led to her father’s doorstep, a man she thought died 20 years ago. Codenamed Nightingale, her father was once a member of the very same Project Delta, a spy in the violent aftermath of the Cold War, and believes they are behind her setup. Trained to trust nothing and no one, Butterfly must decide whether to seek answers with the Project, or believe the man who betrayed her years ago.
Troy: I like spy comics. They can run the range from campy to deadly serious and everything in between. There are spy comics that play with the perception of reality, where even the reader doesn’t know what is and isn’t true, and there are those that trade in pure action and adventure. I wasn’t sure what to make of Butterfly when it was first solicited but it had artist Antonio Fuso on board, whose work on IDW’s G.I. Joe: Cobra I enjoyed, so I knew it would at least look good.
Even having said all that, I was still pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this issue. Fuso’s work is perfect for the title, with a flow to the action that is especially easy to follow, crucial in a story such as this where there are a couple of small moments that hinge on vital details that would be easy to miss if handled by a less thoughtful or skilled artist. This is probably the best work I’ve seen from Fuso. The story by Arash Amel and the script by Marguerite Bennett is what really won me over, however. The plot is intriguing, while the minimalist approach to the dialogue is very effective. The story is laid out in a non-linear fashion with the point of view starting out in the past, jumping to the present, and then back to the past but it all works without being confusing. There’s a surprise revelation in the middle of it all and the writers flip the script, so to speak, and it all adds to the book’s drama without coming off as a cheap stunt.
Definitely a series worth keeping an eye on.
Quick Takes (all capsule reviews by Zedric Dimalanta)
Brides of Helheim #1 (Oni Press, $3.99, available 01 October 2014): The first issue of a sequel series to last year’s Helheim (trade paperback collection reviewed here), Brides of Helheim #1 has the Helheim creative team of writer Cullen Bunn, illustrator Joëlle Jones, and colorist Nick Filardi getting back together to chronicle the continuing story of the tragic (anti-)hero Rikard. Set several years after the “Witch War” of Helheim, the zombie/demon hybrid now wanders the medieval Nordic wastes as a creature of myth, albeit one still in the thrall of the spae-woman he allied himself with at the end of the last miniseries. Most of the issue is spent introducing (or reintroducing, for returning Helheim fans) Rikard to readers through the perspective of the audience surrogate character Sigrid, who is looking to recruit Rikard in her quest to avenge the death of her father at the hands of the monster Mórðvíg—as in Helheim, a major theme in this work seems to be that of revenge and how it can end up hurting those who obsessively seek it out. Artist Jones flashes some serious fight scene choreography chops in the issue’s action set-piece, a knockdown, drag-out fight between Rikard and a brown bear. A fun read for fans of the previous miniseries, and a reasonably accessible entry point for those new to the world of Helheim.
Metaphysical Neuroma #0 (600poundgorilla via Comixology, $0.99, available 10 September 2014): There are your usual “gag-a-day” humor webcomics, and then there are webcomics like Attila Adorjany’s Metaphysical Neuroma, a sprawling, digressive, personal work created with an altogether different level of professional polish. Metaphysical Neuroma #0 is both a compilation and an elaboration of the early installments of Adorjany’s webcomic about an amnesiac protagonist caught between life and death, trapped in his own mind, struggling to piece together his identity and the series of events that led to his current situation. I’m not entirely sure that this issue succeeds in making that all clear to the novice reader, however. The deliberately disjoint and surreal presentation prevents a distinct narrative through line from emerging, although the visuals—somewhat reminiscent of Jonathan Hickman’s graphically-informed approach to the art in his breakthrough comic The Nightly News—are impressive. Adorjany uses all manner of clever, cheeky, and creative graphical gimmicks and tricks, such as the incorporation of diagrammatic representations of the molecular structures of popular pharmaceuticals, in the visual storytelling. Despite my misgivings about the way this particular issue is structured, I can give nothing less than a full-throated recommendation for its webcomic counterpart (which is up to 142 pages as of this writing). It’s frequently bizarre (sometimes to the point of impenetrability), but it is always interesting and well-drawn, and that’s something that can’t be said for many, more popular webcomics.
Grimm Fairy Tales 2014 Halloween Special (Zenescope, $5.99, available 01 October 2014): Zenescope’s post-Age of Darkness revamp of its flagship title keeps trucking along and this month sees the release of the Grimm Fairy Tales 2014 Halloween Special one-shot featuring a story written by Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco, and Pat Shand with a script by Dan Wickline and illustrations by Butch Mapa. This issue has the next generation of Grimm Fairy Tales adventurers figuring in a haunted house story, with the individual characters facing down ghosts (literal and figurative) from their past. Fairly standard stuff, all told, but I really have to give credit to the book’s creative team for emphasizing the character development and committing to the book’s new cast. Mapa’s art does the job of ushering the story along well enough, but it is a bit of a letdown from the playfully stylized variant cover by Mirka Andolfo and Andrea Dotta that came with the review copy of the issue. All in all, probably not a comic that will convert new readers to fans of the ongoing Grimm Fairy Tales title given the premium pricing and fact that it presumes some prior familiarity with the book’s status quo, but it should prove an enjoyable early Halloween treat for existing fans of the series.
Oddly Normal #1 (Image Comics, $2.99, available 17 September 2014): A supernatural comic for the tween set, Otis Frampton’s Oddly Normal fits in the same general niche as titles like Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin and Tom and Nimue Brown’s Hopeless, Maine. This isn’t to suggest that Oddly Normal is derivative, not at all, but the fact that it shares at least some of its thematic remit—the comic features a young, mystically-empowered female protagonist who has to deal with being cast by her peers as an outsider and has to learn to love herself for who she is—with those more well-known titles means that the more experienced young reader may find the comic covering already familiar ground. Still, competent craft serves as the underpinning of this issue—the art is clear and easy-to-follow and the language is appropriate for the presumed pre-teen/tween target readership—and the twist, cliffhanger ending may yet yield novel narrative dividends down the line. A solid all-ages title from the looks of this first issue.