Today’s First Impressions features reviews and previews of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #2, Memetic #1, Deathstroke #1, Charmed: Season 10 #1, Father’s Day #1, Dayglow #1–2, Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate #1, and Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #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.
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #2 (of 4; BOOM!/Archaia, $3.99)
- Story & art: Kyla Vanderklugt
- Availability: 15 October 2014
- Publisher’s summary: Kyla Vanderklugt, artist of SPERA and Archaia’s 2014 Free Comic Book Day LABYRINTH story, tells the beautiful Japanese tale of “The Snow Witch” in a gorgeous horizontal format standalone issue. When an old woodcutter and his young apprentice are caught in a blizzard, a mysterious woman dressed in white appears and freezes the woodcutter to death before eating his soul. She spares the apprentice if he vows never to tell of what he has seen. but keeping his word may not be so easy when he falls in love.
- Click here to read our review of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: The Witches #1.
Zedric Dimalanta: The second issue in a four-issue miniseries of standalone adaptations of witch-themed folk tales from around the world, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #2 features Canadian artist Kyla Vanderklugt’s take on the classic Japanese story of the yuki-onna (literally, “snow woman”) as popularized in the West by 19th century writer Lafcadio Hearn in his book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Below is one version of the folk tale as presented in Wikipedia, for those of you unfamiliar with the story:
A long time ago, there lived two woodcutters, Minokichi and Mosaku. Minokichi was young and Mosaku was very old.
One winter day, they could not come back home because of a snowstorm. They found a hut in the mountain and decided to sleep there. On this particular evening, Mosaku woke up and found a beautiful lady with white clothes. She breathed on old Mosaku and he was frozen to death.
She then approached Minokichi to breathe on him, but stared at him for a while, and said, “I thought I was going to kill you, the same as that old man, but I will not, because you are young and beautiful. You must not tell anyone about this incident. If you tell anyone about me, I will kill you.”
Several years later, Minokichi met a beautiful young lady, named Oyuki and married her. She was a good wife. Minokichi and Oyuki had several children and lived happily for many years. Mysteriously, she did not age.
One night, after the children were asleep, Minokichi said to Oyuki: ‘Whenever I see you, I am reminded of a mysterious incident that happened to me. When I was young, I met a beautiful young lady like you. I do not know if it was a dream or if she was a yuki-onna… ‘
After finishing his story, Oyuki suddenly stood up, and said ‘That woman you met was me! I told you that I would kill you if you ever told anyone about that incident. However, I can’t kill you because of our children. Take care of our children… ‘ Then she melted and disappeared. No one saw her again.
Vanderklugt sticks to the basic structure of the classic narrative, but in true Jim Henson’s The Storyteller fashion, she humanizes the characters and institutes minor changes to the story in such a way that it becomes more emotionally salient for older readers without betraying the original intent or making it any less appropriate for the intended audience. The yuki-onna starts out in the comic as just another obake toying with some hapless humans on a whim, but towards the end of the comic, she has received an impressive amount of character development given the comic’s short-form and narrative style and the story has become as much about tragically lost love as it is about the value of keeping one’s promises.
Worth noting, too, is the art. The comic’s pages are printed in a landscape position and Vanderklugt makes the most of the format, utilizing widescreen panels when appropriate and employing double-page spreads to dramatically punctuate pivotal points of the story. The character designs have a storybook charm to them, with easy to “read” expressions, gestures, and silhouettes, and the visual storytelling is clear despite the unconventional page orientation.
An excellent retelling of a beloved classic tale, Vanderklugt’s “The Snow Witch” by itself should be worth the price of the inevitable Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches trade paperback or hardcover collection, although given the landscape orientation, this may be a case of a comic that might better stand up to repeated readings as a “floppy.”
Deathstroke #1 (DC Comics, $2.99)
- Story & pencils: Tony S. Daniel
- Inks: Sandu Florea
- Colors: Tomeu Morey
- Cover: Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea, Tomeu Morey
- Availability: 22 October 2014
- Publisher’s summary: The DCU’s deadliest assassin stars in his own ongoing series by writer/artist Tony S. Daniel! See him as never before in this explosive new series, with one surprise after another as we see Slade Wilson in the fight of his life!
- NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer.
Troy Osgood: This is what, the second “New 52″ Deathstroke series and the third attempt at a Deathstroke ongoing title overall? I’m not sure what that says about the title and the character. Is it a case of the character not resonating with readers as a comic’s lead or is it a case of the creative teams being a poor fit?
I’ve actually pretty much dropped all of the New 52 DC titles on my pull-list, but the previews for this book looked good and I’ve been a fan of Tony Daniel since his days on Marvel’s X-Force, so I decided to give this first issue a try, despite not being all that familiar with the protagonist.
I’m glad I did. Daniel’s story is paced well with a couple of interesting twists, and Deathstroke’s first-person narration lets readers understand how the character sees himself as more of an adventurer instead of a villain or anti-hero. Daniel also trusts the reader figure out just how much of a badass Deathstroke is from hints in the narration and the dialogue, instead of laying it on thick.
It is Daniel’s art that I found impressive in this issue, however. It sounds contradictory—Deathstroke might be one of the most violent comics I’ve read in a while but it doesn’t come off as excessive in context. A big part of that is because the art team has held back somewhat on the gore. Don’t get me wrong—there are a couple of decapitations, a guy gets a sword’s hilt shoved down his throat, and somebody gets her head blown up by a superpowered punch, but considering how those scenes could have been depicted, the results are relatively tame, especially when compared to what we can see in some comics these days.
I’ll be picking up the next couple of issues, just to see if Daniel can carry this momentum forward. And here I thought I was done with DC and the New 52.
Charmed: Season 10 #1 (Zenescope, $3.99)
- Story: Pat Shand
- Illustrations: Elisa Feliz
- Colors: Valentina Cuomo
- Cover: David Siedman
- Availability: 08 October 2014
- Publisher’s summary: THE WAIT… IS OVER! The Power of Three finally returns in Zenescope’s official continuation of CHARMED! When an ancient evil older than time itself targets the Charmed Ones, they will have to call on help from the magical community… including their estranged sister Prue and the former demon Cole… for help. But will it be enough when an Old One sets its sights on the Halliwells? An all new epic storyline begins, written by Pat Shand (Robyn Hood, Grimm Fairy Tales) and up-and-coming artist Elisa Féliz, edited by Charmed fan favorite Paul Ruditis!
Zedric: Charmed: Season 10 is the second “post-TV” season of the popular Charmed TV series that originally ran on The WB network from 1998 to 2006. Zenescope previously published a Charmed: Season 9 series that began in 2010 and lasted through to 2012, producing 25 issues—a “#0” sourcebook and 24 monthly issues—all written or co-written by Paul Ruditis, an author who specializes in TV series-linked fiction and TV/film guides.
I’m only marginally familiar with the Charmed television series having seen just a handful of episodes during its original pre-syndication run, so prior to reading the comic, I actually spent a couple of evenings streaming a selection of episodes a number of Charmed fan-sites and blogs seem to be in agreement as the series’ best in order to bone up on the show’s continuity. As it turned out, I probably didn’t have to go to such lengths. Even with the in medias res opening, writer Pat Shand—Ruditis is now credited as the series’ editor—does a solid job of making the comic accessible to a reader who isn’t particularly acquainted with the source material or the previous comic book incarnation of the show. Character relationships, traits, and the basics of the series’ backstory and supporting mythology are laid out in the dialogue with a minimum of distracting “expospeak” and infodump-style nattering. The tone of Shand’s dialogue for the characters is also faithful to the tongue-in-cheek, quip-happy, winking conversational style of the TV source material, at least from what I can gather from my limited Netflix viewings of the show. I think Charmed fans will be quite satisfied with what Shand has done here as far as emulating the writing of the TV series and maintaining the familiar voices of the cast.
I do wish that artist Elisa Feliz had elected to do more with her “camera,” although without being privy to the details of the creative process, I have no way of knowing if the comic’s humdrum breakdowns and layouts are due to the script, editorial direction, or Feliz’s visual storytelling choices. The preponderance of ground-level medium shots may have been a deliberate visual design decision meant to evoke the look of a weekly network TV series not particularly known for its visual direction—and if that was the case, I think the creative team succeeded—but the comic’s aesthetics could have definitely benefited from more varied perspectives and framing. In addition, Feliz’s figures, particularly her renderings of the Halliwell sisters, frequently look unnaturally stiff and have a very limited repertoire of facial expressions, likely a side-effect of the extensive use of photo references (and even then, the actresses’ likenesses aren’t particularly strong). There’s nothing wrong with the use of photo references—in fact, they’re essential in a licensed comic based on live-action source material such as this—but Feliz should have taken a cue from Georges Jeanty’s work on Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight and infused the figures with a greater degree of stylization: One of the best ways to imply emotion, momentum, and weight in a static visual medium like comics is to use exaggerated anatomy, perspective, and gesture.
Memetic #1 (of 3; BOOM! Studios, $4.99)
- Story: James Tynion IV
- Illustrations: Eryk Donovan
- Colors: Adam Guzowski
- Cover: Eryk Donovan
- Availability: 22 October 2014
- Publisher’s summary: A meme is an idea that starts with an individual, and then spreads throughout multiple persons and potentially entire societies. Richard Dawkins suggests a meme’s success comes from its effectiveness to the host. But history shows that destructive memes can spread just as rapidly through society. MEMETIC shows the progression of a weaponized meme that leads to the utter annihilation of the human race within 72 hours. The root of this apocalypse is a single image on the internet, a “meme” in the popular sense. A meme that changes everything. MEMETIC is truly an event comic—three oversized, 48page issues detailing the end of the world over the course of three days, and a wholly unique take on the disaster genre. Much like his work on THE WOODS, James Tynion IV and fantastic newcomer Eryk Donovan (THE HOUSE IN THE WALL) will bring horror to a whole new generation and fans of J-horror films like UZUMAKI and THE RING.
Zedric: Here, have a “Good Times Sloth” gif:
Memetic‘s basic premise is this: a “weaponized meme” in the form of the animated “Good Times Sloth” gif has proliferated across the Internet and all manner of electronic devices, eventually driving anyone and everyone who has seen it murderously insane.
The power of writer James Tynion IV’s “weaponized meme” conceit isn’t in its novelty or inventiveness, however—it’s a just a fancy speculative fiction update of “enemy propaganda” and “information warfare.” Rather, what makes it such an intriguing idea to write around is its utility as a tool for satire. Who hasn’t felt like screaming and clawing their eyes out after getting emailed the link to the latest viral video/selfie/animated gif for the fiftieth time in an hour? It’s also a pretty pointed criticism of Internet culture, such as it is. Here we are, equipped with a tool that can revolutionize communication, education, social structures, and communal information processing in a way that hasn’t been seen since the invention of movable type, and we waste it on obsessively checking Facebook and Twitter, surreptitiously looking for leaked naked celebrity pictures on reddit, sharing the “Gangnam Style” video, and writing comic book reviews (Guilty as charged!).
There are putative heroes in all of this in the persons of a color-blind college student and a military veteran who suffers from macular degeneration. Their visual disabilities render them immune to the animated gif’s psychological effects, lending an interesting twist to that old chestnut about how “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Readers will have to wait for the next issue to see how they will come together and save the world (if they ever do, we should note here that the solicitation describes the miniseries as being about “the end of the world”), as most of this first issue is devoted to introducing the primary cast of characters, the setting, context, and impending conflict, all delivered in an entertaining, polished fashion by Tynion and up-and-coming artist Eryk Donovan. With a story that wraps up in just three issues, Memetic sits in a serial sweet spot—it’s long enough to be a satisfying read taken all together, but it’s short enough that a reader on the fence after perusing the first issue will probably have no qualms about picking up the next two installments to see how it all shakes out in the end. “In for a penny, in for a pound” and all that.
All three issues of Memetic are priced at $4.99, pretty high for a “floppy,” but that’s because each issue offers a lot of content—this first issue has 31 pages of story and a six-page appendix featuring character descriptions, production notes, and a concept sketch gallery, all cleverly designed as faux-Facebook pages. The title offers excellent value when one considers that your typical Marvel comic, which usually has 20 pages of story (less if it has multiple double-page spreads), retails for $3.99.
Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate #1 (IDW, $3.99, available 22 October 2014)
Troy: I loved the 2010 Dungeons & Dragons comic series written by John Rogers. It was easily one of the best books I was reading on a monthly basis. It was funny, full of adventure, and it actually felt like you were reading a role-playing campaign in comic form. It even included random encounters. I was very disappointed when it was canceled. IDW has published some Forgotten Realms and The Legend of Drizzt titles since then, but I still missed the old D&D book. When a new D&D title, Legends of Bladur’s Gate, was announced, with Jim “jimzub” Zubkavich attached as the writer, I felt conflicted. Zubkavich has his fans and is a popular writer, but I actually haven’t really enjoyed any of the stuff from him that I’ve read. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong Zubkavich comics.
Anyway, I gave this first issue a shot, but it just didn’t work for me—the Skullkickers-style comedy just isn’t my thing. The art by Max Dunbar is good, though. I’d love to see him work with John Rogers on a Fell’s Five series someday.
Dayglow #1–2 (Publish Enemies via comiXology; $2.99 for issue #1, $1.99 for issue #2; available 30 July/15 October 2014)
Zedric: With the species driven to the brink of extinction by a lethal plague, a select population of the human race, each member equipped with specific skills and knowledge necessary to rebuild civilization (save for an accidental stowaway), goes into cryogenic hibernation, hoping to wait out the plague. Something goes awry, however, and the survivors wake up much, much later than originally planned, to an alien world that might even be more dangerous than the one they left behind. Thus begins Dayglow, a post-apocalyptic comic by David Hahn and Los Angeles-based small press outfit Publish Enemies.
It’s a fine premise for a far-future post-apocalyptic title, and Hahn, for the most part, delivers the goods. Protagonist Javier, the aforementioned stowaway, is the kind of guileless, well-meaning kid readers will want to root for and Hahn clearly knows what he’s doing with they way he sets up the whole affair in the first issue—he equips readers with what they need to know to immerse themselves in the fiction up front, efficiently and with a minimum of faffing about, and he does an excellent job of building the excitement to a crescendo at the end of the first issue with the cliffhanger ending. It’s entertaining stuff all around.
If I do have misgivings about the title, it is with the art. Hahn is a capable illustrator and solid visual storyteller, but I do have reservations about the decision to use what look like raw texture maps to fill in the greenery and background environments in the series’ second issue. It isn’t a particularly good aesthetic for the comic, especially because it clashes with the organic-looking line art, and detracts from what should otherwise be a decent-looking title.
Father’s Day #1 (of 4; Dark Horse Comics, $3.99, available 22 October 2014)
Zedric: Retired hitman Silas “The Eastside Butcher” Smith is tracked down by the daughter he abandoned as a child twenty years ago. What should be an impromptu family reunion soon turns into a race to escape the Chicago mobsters Silas has been running from all these years. That’s Father’s Day #1 in a nutshell, the first installment in a four-issue miniseries penned by Dark Horse Comics prez Mike Richardson and illustrated by Argentine artist Gabriel Guzman (Predators, Cable).
There are no real surprises here, and at least as far as the opening chapter is concerned, all signs point to this being the kind of straightforward meat-and-potatoes crime/action thriller that we’ve seen played out time and again in film and print, and I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this has already been optioned as a mid-budget action film. It comes off like a comic designed to be easily transposed to film or television—think Steven Grant’s 2 Guns or Rick Remender’s The Last Days of American Crime.
The comic’s execution is solid, as can be expected from two industry vets like Richardson and Guzman. It’s all about moving the plot forward, familiar genre conventions, the occasional banter here and there, and action, action, action. It’s an unapologetically fun diversion if you happen to read it in the right mood. You know how it’s sometimes difficult to peel yourself away from the TV when you come across something like The Rookie or Hard Target while channel-surfing? Reading Father’s Day sort of feels like that.
Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1 (Marvel Comics, $3.99, available 01 October 2014)
Troy (NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer): I thought I would like this. I like the Winter Soldier character. I like the “Man on the Wall” concept. I like Daisy Johnson/Quake. And I generally enjoy writer Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers. So I should like this new series. Right?
Well I don’t.
The writing didn’t do the comic any favors but what it really came down to for me was Marco Rudy’s art. Rudy is a talented artist and he has produced good work in the past. His panel layouts and page designs in this issue were just too wild, however, and some restraint would have made a huge difference. In some cases, the captions and the art seemed to be at odds with each other, or the characters would be saying one thing while the art didn’t seem to be supporting the dialogue. All in all, there wasn’t much of a flow from panel to panel or page to page. Besides being hard to follow in most places, the painted nature of the coloring resulted in a muddy look, making it difficult to distinguish the finer details of the art.
And while Kot was able to lay down the story basics—he established Bucky’s role in the story, explained where he gets his information, and shed light on his working relationship with Daisy—he didn’t touch on why Bucky was on Syro in the first place and why they had to kill the planet’s leader. I’m sure it will be addressed later in the series, but with so little to latch onto characterization-wise, some more details would have helped hold my attention.
Overall, this comic was very disappointing. I want to see more about the Man on the Wall and the history of the people that have held that position. But unless we see a change in the book’s art style and Kot tightening up the story here and there, I don’t see myself sticking around to find out.