[UPDATED] In today’s First Impressions: Fred Van Lente and Maurizio Rosenzweig’s Resurrectionists, Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein’s Drifter, and Grigoris Douros and Kevin Enhart’s Satanic Hell.
There is something appealing about the idea of reincarnation, regardless of one’s religious (or irreligious) leanings. What used to be viewed as a somewhat exotic variation of the afterlife formulation should be especially intuitive to the video game generation: Reincarnation, after all, in the truly karmic sense, simply amounts to one having an unlimited number of do-overs at life to get it right.
Writer Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers!, The Silencers) has all sorts of fun with the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth in Resurrectionists, an ongoing title published by Dark Horse Comics that revolves around a heist that stretches across millennia, featuring lovers, friends, and enemies trying to make up for past mistakes (and committing new ones) across multiple lifetimes. The going is a little hectic and dense at first—there’s a lot of switching back and forth between the settings of Ancient Egypt and the modern-day United States, and figuring out who has been reborn as whom can be a bit frustrating—but readers who stick with the comic past the somewhat uneven first issue (issue #4 of the series goes on sale February 11) will be rewarded with a hybrid supernatural/crime/romance comic that is every bit as entertaining as it is novel in its premise. Van Lente also manages to subtly raise interesting questions about personal karmic identity in the course of all the adventuring: If we accept the notion that things like gender, race, and social station are fluid markers of selfhood in our past, present, and future lives, then how do we truly define who we are? Is it through the persistence of our cross-lifetime relationships? Do we define ourselves via juxtaposition?
For the metaphysically-disinclined or readers not particularly drawn to crime or supernaturally-themed comics, artist Maurizio Rosenzweig’s art may be all the reason they need to keep up with the title. Previously tabbed as a potential breakout star for his work on Dark Horse’s sexploitation/grindhouse comic Clown Fatale, the Italian illustrator lives up to that promise on Resurrectionists: Rosenzweig’s vibrant, dynamic panels are full of bold figures, and he expertly balances over-the-top stylishness and intuitive clarity with his brand of robust visual storytelling.
Between Dark Horse Manga’s reprints of Yasuhiro Nightow’s Trigun Maximum, recent limited series like BOOM! Studios’ Six-Gun Gorilla, and ongoing titles such as Image Comics’ East of West and Copperhead, today’s readers aren’t lacking for choice when it comes to space/future western comics reading material. Drifter (Image Comics), by the Viking creative team of writer Ivan Brandon and artist Nic Klein, is another title to add to that growing list, and it separates itself from its peers largely on the strength of Klein’s work as an illustrator and colorist. Drifter is flat-out gorgeous and the three issues of the comic released thus far represents, in my mind, the current creative high point of Klein’s already impressive career to date.
Klein’s deep, lush coloring, naturalistic but nonetheless dynamic approach to figures, impressive rendering of desert vistas, and clear, consistent storytelling will remind older readers of the best-looking sci-fi strips of the “comics magazine era” of the 1970s and early 1980s, while younger readers unfamiliar with the comics anthology magazines of yesteryear are in for a real visual treat.
There’s a solid story here as well, where mystery upon mystery is piled upon the protagonist, an amnesiac spaceship crash survivor trapped on an outpost planet who is bent on figuring out what happened and just what he was up to in the forgotten year immediately after the crash.
Brilliant stuff all-around.
The satire in Satanic Hell, a seven-issue limited series from Alterna Comics, may strike some readers as a little bit too-on-the-nose given the comic’s premise: The eponymous heavy metal band journeys into a Texas that has been transformed into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy and is inevitably drawn into an underground movement to liberate the state from the enforced conformity and mental tyranny of official religion.
“Eh, it’s just Footloose with a Sepultura soundtrack,” I can hear you sneer out there on the Internet. (Industry secret: We’re always listening. Always.) Except that it isn’t. Satanic Hell is a comic book and not a movie, for one thing, and also because, whether by design or by serendipity, the story and dialogue by writer Grigoris Douros had me pondering how institutions like the Church paradoxically empower the counter-culture movements that oppose them, and vice versa. To wit: Listening to heavy metal (or gangsta rap, or acid house, or whatever the “dangerous music” du jour is) isn’t nearly as much fun without pissing off the fuddy-duddies who try to ruin it for everybody, and those same moral busybodies derive a sense of purpose and satisfaction in their fight to maintain the status quo. Satanic Hell gets a lot of mileage out of this oft-overlooked symbiosis, and it’s all the better and more subversive for it.