The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Birthright, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Thor, Wytches, and more

First Impressions | Birthright, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Thor, Wytches, and more
Published on Friday, October 10, 2014 by
Today’s First Impressions features reviews and previews of Birthright #1, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1, Thor #1, Wytches #1, The October Faction #1, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #1, and Punks: The Comic #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.

Birthright #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • birthright01Story: Joshua Williamson
  • Illustrations: Andrei Bressan
  • Colors: Adriano Lucas
  • Cover: Andrei Bressan with Adriano Lucas
  • Availability: 08 October 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: For the Rhodes family, losing their son was the most devastating thing that could’ve ever occurred… but it couldn’t prepare them for what happened when he returned. Skybound’s newest original series turns fantasy into reality in this EXTRA-SIZED FIRST ISSUE for just $2.99, by creator/writer JOSH WILLIAMSON (GHOSTED, NAILBITER) and artist ANDREI BRESSAN.
  • SPOILER WARNING: As opposed to the usual First Impressions reviews, our review of Birthright #1 features significant spoilers. We’ve marked off the portion of the review discussing these details so you can avoid them if you wish to do so.

Zedric Dimalanta: With comparatively little fanfare relative to that accorded to his more popular peers, writer Joshua Williamson has been producing some of the more entertaining, genre-diverse, and solidly-crafted comics of the past year or so: Over at Dark Horse Comics, his revival of the radio serial and Golden Age of Comics character Captain Midnight (first issue reviewed here) offers an action-packed take on the pulp superhero-out-of-time concept that balances camp/imagined nostalgia with modern superhero comics trends. On BOOM! Studios’ RoboCop (first issue reviewed here), Williamson addresses contemporary concerns about gun crime and gun ownership against the backdrop of the original film’s parodic vision of Reagan-era Detroit. In Image Comics’ Ghosted (first issue reviewed here), the writer has crafted a winning combination of supernatural thriller and Hollywood heist movie, and with Nailbiter (also published by Image Comics, first issue reviewed at this link), Williamson is attempting to refresh—and perhaps subvert—the “use-a-killer-to-catch-a-killer” formula in crime fiction.

If its first issue is going to be any indication of its quality moving forward, however, Birthright may just be the work that catapults Williamson from severely underrated talent to comics’ next big thing.

 

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What ostensibly starts out as a missing child case—a young boy named Mikey disappears while playing with his father at the park—takes a fantastical twist when that child reappears a year later, fully-grown, claiming to be a veteran of armed conflict on another dimension, a champion of a parallel world who has been granted by his superiors the chance to see his Earth family before embarking on a campaign to hunt down war criminals from his adopted home.

For all of the off-the-wall inventiveness of the premise, however, it is the portrayal of the toll the disappearance of Mikey takes on his family that gives the issue its punch. Over the span of the comic’s first eleven pages, the creative team covers Mikey’s disappearance and the year subsequent to it and how it has affected his parents and his brother. It’s a particularly effective and efficient demonstration of how well comics storytelling can be used to show the passage of an extended period of time without resorting to captions, stylized “flashback-style” panel borders, or other obvious tools—there are enough contextual clues in the dialogue and the art to inform the reader of what is going on. It is also to Williamson’s ultimate credit that the family drama depicted over that period is not at all forced—the parents’ anguish and feelings of helplessness, the brother’s valiant effort to retain some optimism about Mikey’s return, the paranoia and finger-pointing, are all things that come off as genuine and psychologically plausible.

Worth appreciating, too, is the underlying metaphor for how the current model of military intervention in foreign conflict affects families: Mikey, the very picture of joyful youth, potential, and innocence, is taken from his family to join a war in a distant land being fought for reasons that are not at all clear, and comes back changed—maybe irrevocably—by what he has seen and done, a stranger to his family that has tragically lost out on the experience of seeing him grow into adulthood. Is it too on-the-nose? Perhaps, but the execution of the metaphor is so artful that the theme will be problematic only to the most unreasonably difficult-to-please readers.

 

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Birthright #1 is as good a series debut as I’ve read all year. I know I’ve been saying that about a lot of titles lately, but hey, what can I say, outside of the usual “event-driven” superhero cash-in nonsense (and we don’t really overly concern ourselves with that here on the Geeksverse), it’s been a great year for new comics.

Thor #1 (Marvel Comics, $3.99)

  • THor01preview_000Story: Jason Aaron
  • Illustrations: Russell Dauterman
  • Colors: Matthew Wilson
  • Cover: Russell Dauterman with Frank Martin
  • Availability: 01 October 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: The great hammer MJOLNIR lies on the moon, unable to be lifted by anyone in all the heavens! Even THOR! Something dark has befallen the God of Thunder, leaving him weakened and for the first time in forever… UNWORTHY! But when Frost Giants invade the Earth, the hammer will be lifted and an all-new Thor will arise! A Thor unlike any we’ve ever seen before! Who is this new GODDESS OF THUNDER? Not even Odin knows! JASON AARON teams with hot up-and-coming artist RUSSELL DAUTERMAN (CYCLOPS) to create a bold new chapter in the storied history of Thor!
  • NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer.

Troy Osgood: I’ll probably be the only one around but I didn’t like this issue. I really enjoyed Aaron’s run on Thor: God of Thunder and I was really looking forward to what he had up his sleeve with this new, much-hyped Thor—I find the idea of a female Thor to be intriguing and was raring to see Aaron examine what it means to be Thor and how “Thor” is more of a concept and a title than any one specific person, an idea Walt Simonson previously explored during his lauded stint handling the character in the 1980s.

I have to say, however, that the writing on this issue doesn’t carry the same epic feel as Aaron’s previous Thor work: There’s always been a level of intentional hokiness to Thor dialogue, especially in scenes set in Asgard, but it feels especially pronounced in this issue. Worse, characterizations are inconsistent and are all over the place, with Malekith’s behavior at odds with that seen in his recent appearances and Odin’s conflict with Frejya coming off as annoying and petty. And the new female Thor? She only really shows up in the last page, and I think I’ve already got her identity figured out.

Dauterman does well with the issue’s art, though, and it’s the one aspect of the issue that I unreservedly enjoyed.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 (Archie Comics, $3.99)

  • sabrina01p1StoryRoberto Aguirre-Sacasa
  • Art: Robert Hack
  • Cover: Robert Hack
  • Additional writing: George Gladir
  • Additional art: Dan DeCarlo
  • Availability: 08 October 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: Terror is born anew in this dark reimagining of Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s origin. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comic’s latest horror sensation starts here! For TEEN+ readers. 
  • NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer.

Zedric: Archie Comics is capitalizing on the commercial and critical success of Afterlife with Archie by expanding its Archie Horror line with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a new series featuring the company’s popular teen witch, perhaps most familiar to today’s young readers as the eponymous lead of the long-running, continuously-in-syndication live-action sitcom.

Readers thinking that this comic will feature the TV show’s campy teen/supernatural comedy hijinks, be forewarned: The Sabrina the Teenage Witch comics from the 1970s have always had a subversively dark streak beneath their teen comedy exterior, but The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 is an unadulterated horror comic through-and-through. There’s contextual humor to the dialogue, but writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Robert Hack pull no punches when it comes to delivering the horror quotient, and the title’s “TEEN+” rating is very much deserved.

If you’re one of those comics fans who gives all-ages comics and candy to kids trick-or-treating during Halloween, don’t make the mistake of handing out copies of this comic unless you want parents giving you hell for giving their kids nightmares to go along with sugar-induced hyperactivity. Actually, the comic is scary enough that even parents may get nightmares from reading it, although perhaps for different reasons—the depiction of the relationship between Sabrina’s parents and the effects of a lobotomy on a patient are quite disturbing, and are what really stuck with me from my reading, more than Hack’s more overt horror imagery.

This isn’t an unimaginative and stereotypical “grim and gritty” reimagining of a beloved teen comics property, however, nor is it a lazy Buffy the Vampire Slayer knock-off. Aguirre-Sacasa’s love for the character and her surrounding mythology is evident from the mid-1960s period piece setting (a particularly bold choice, in my mind), the care given to the exposition and character development—Sabrina’s adolescent concerns about romance and social acceptance get major play here—and the nods to the regular Archie Comics and the line’s history. I was particularly surprised and thrilled to see Madame Satan cast as the debut story arc’s putative villain. Madame Satan was a Golden Age character whose Pep Comics horror serial was abruptly canceled in 1941 to make way for one featuring a character named Archie Andrews and his teen romance shenanigans—her inclusion here is a delightful Easter egg for comics history geeks, and I can’t wait to see how she will enact her revenge on the characters who “killed” her all those decades ago. Adding to the issue’s value is a Robert Hack sketch gallery and a full reprint of Sabrina’s first appearance in Archie’s Madhouse #22 (October 1982) written by George Gladir and featuring the art of the brilliant Dan DeCarlo.

Wytches #1 (Image Comics, $2.99)

  • wytches01p0StoryScott Snyder
  • Illustrations: Mark “Jock” Simpson
  • Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
  • Cover: Mark “Jock” Simpson
  • Availability: 08 October 2014
  • Publisher’s summary: Across the globe, century after century, men and women were burned, drowned, hanged, tortured, imprisoned, persecuted, and murdered for witchcraft. None of them were witches. They died protecting a terrible and hidden truth: witches, real witches, are out there. They are ancient, elusive, and deadly creatures that are rarely seen and even more rarely survived. This October, superstar creators SCOTT SNYDER (SEVERED, Batman) and JOCK (SNAPSHOT, Batman) unveil WYTCHES, and introduce you to a world of unimaginable horror in a special EXTRA-SIZED FIRST ISSUE with 30 pages of story and no ads for just $2.99

Zedric: Writer Scott Snyder is best known to today’s readers as the current caretaker of DC’s Batman, but what fans who do not stray beyond the confines of superhero comics may not know is that he is also one of the medium’s better horror writers. On Severed (hardcover collection reviewed at this link), Snyder demonstrated his ability to channel prime Stephen King and Ray Bradbury and while much of the attention lavished on The Wake was (deservedly) because of Sean Murphy’s exquisite art, the DC/Vertigo-published limited series also showed Snyder’s ability to fuse horror with other, related genres such as science-fiction and out-and-out fantasy.

Wytches sees Snyder and veteran 2000 AD artist and Batman collaborator Mark “Jock” Simpson masterfully manipulating the horror fiction quality that 19th century novelist Ann Radcliffe described as “terror,” or the dread a reader feels in anticipation of an event. The creative tandem understand that the reader’s imagination, given expert prodding and stimulation, can offer up frights more personally salient than just about anything they can cook up on their own—much of our worst fears are self-inflicted. The creative team provides just enough detail in both the words and the visuals to aid readers into effectively scaring themselves witless. Snyder’s script doesn’t overwhelm with exposition and demonstration, slowly doling out tidbits of characterization and history only when necessary—a background subplot framed in parental fears for an adolescent daughter entering a new school in the wake of a public scandal provides an extra layer of queasiness to the whole affair. In a similar fashion, Jock’s illustrations, aided by colorist Matt Hollingsworth moody palette, leave room for the reader to visualize bespoke horrors lurking in the dark woods.

Wytches‘ true test will come when Snyder and Jock will inevitably have to reveal more aspects of the sinister, elemental “wytches” that are the comic’s mysterious threat. Will they live up to the abominations they’ve helped readers imagine for themselves? We’ll have to stick around to find out, but given the track record of the creators involved, I’m reasonably confident that readers will be in for a delightfully frightful journey, for however long it lasts.

Quick Takes (all capsule reviews by Zedric Dimalanta)

OctFact0100The October Faction #1 (IDW, $3.99, available 08 October 2014): An expertly assembled supernatural horror-adventure comic by the same team that gave readers the Frankenstein monster vs. Jack the Ripper miniseries Monster and Madman. Writer Steve Niles flashes the practiced craft he’s honed over the years on such horror titles as 30 Days of Night and Criminal Macabre—he uses a familiar “getting the band back together” set-up, judicious expository dialogue, and action-packed flashbacks to equip readers with all they need to enjoy the comic on its own terms. Artist Damien Worm’s work is reminiscent somewhat of that of 30 Days of Night co-creator Ben Templesmith (this is a good thing) and he is good enough that the rendering quirks of his style never interferes with the visual storytelling’s clarity.

StorytellerWitches01_coverAJim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #1 (of 4; BOOM!/Archaia, $3.99, available 17 September 2014): Less of a traditional comic book and more of an illustrated prose tale/comic book hybrid, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #1 features Shane-Michael Vidaurri’s loose adaptation of the Russian fairy tale “The Magic Swan-Geese.” Vidaurri’s facility with imaginary worlds and anthropomorphized creatures is a known quantity—see his work on the 2012 graphic novel Iron: Or, the War After (reviewed here)—as is his watercolor painting skill. With this issue, though, Vidaurri gets to demonstrate his talent for graphic design. Working outside the usual paneled comic book restrictions, Vidaurri makes the most of the opportunity to use text not just as a tool for delivering textual story information, but as an ornamental element as well.

punks-coverPunks: The Comic #1 (Image Comics, $3.99, available 08 October 2014): A brash experiment in photo/collage comics, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain’s Punks: The Comic certainly lives up to its moniker in the sense that it has an undeniable DIY sensibility and that its creators seem to have had a lot of fun making it. Beyond that, the comic’s humor is very much of the non sequitur Adult Swim variety—think Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. An interestingly radical departure from the creators’ usual output, but it won’t be for everyone.

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