The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Past Aways, Red One, Giant Days

First Impressions | Past Aways, Red One, Giant Days
Published on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 by
[UPDATED] In today’s First Impressions: Matt Kindt and Scott Kolin’s Past Aways, Xavier Dorison and the Dodsons’ Red One, and John Allison and Lissa Treiman’s Giant Days.

From the publisher: 

2015: the distant past. A crash landing strands five deep-time explorers in a primitive world of internal-combustion engines and Internet 1.0 and tears a rift in space-time that spouts dinosaurs, giant robots, and other strange phenomena! Only the marooned “Past Aways” can defend the twenty-first century, unless the tensions of their unexpectedly prolonged mission tear them apart!

pastaways1Writer and artist Matt Kindt brings with him a reputation for artfully integrating graphic and publication design with the function of storytelling, developed over the course of the past several years through his work on the ongoing MIND MGMT series and graphic novels such as Super Spy and Revolver. For Kindt, the comics medium itself is the message—everything from simulated page textures to page margins and the “gutters” between panels can be exploited for the purposes of implying and directly delivering story information.

Past Aways #1 (Dark Horse Comics) sees the co-recipient of the 2007 Harvey Special Award for Excellence in Production reunited with artist Scott Kolins, his collaborator on the My Greatest Adventure revival published in 2011 by DC Comics, in a story about time traveling archaelogists from the distant future trapped in the present-day. The look here is a bit more traditional, in the sense that Kolins’ aesthetic is more in line with what is more commonly seen in popular, action-oriented sci-fi comics titles than the more impressionistic visuals associated with Kindt’s solo material, although it must be said that the comic’s ligne claire-inspired renderings are no less striking.

Similar to what Kindt has done in MIND MGMT and Revolver, Past Aways‘ creative team uses caption boxes and the lower page margins of the issue as spaces for offset annotations, this time regarding the futuristic equipment used by the comic’s protagonists. It can come off as a bit gimmicky and disruptive on occasion (Brandon Graham’s use of similar devices in Prophet and King City suffered from the same problem) but it is an interesting exercise in turning incidental negative space into an active carrier for narrative metadata.

An end-of-issue text piece, a “travelogue” written by one of the time travelers detailing his bumbling exploration of early 21st century Earth, hints at the potential for satire and even slapstick comedy in the book’s premise.

A good-looking comic with an intriguing sci-fi hook.

From the publisher:

What happens when America’s greatest hero… is a Russian Spy? Soviet Agent Vera Yelnikov is sent to 1977 Los Angeles by the Kremlin to become an American Superhero and spread communist values in the land of Uncle Sam in a funky superhero romp straight out of a Tarantino film by TERRY & RACHEL DODSON (Uncanny X-Men, Wonder Woman, Spider- Man, Harley Quinn) and XAVIER DORISON (Long John Silver, The Third Testament).

RedOne_01-1Previously published in France as Red Skin, Red One (Image Comics) by writer Xavier Dorison and the husband-and-wife art team of Terry and Rachel Dodson juggles some interesting themes, with equally interesting results.

Set in an alternate history version of the late 1970s, the first issue introduces readers to protagonist Vera Yelnikov (a.k.a. Comrade Red One), a Soviet supersoldier of sorts, engineered to possess superhuman physical attributes. Vera is sent on a covert mission to the United States, where she must discredit, and eventually dispose of, the American superhero known as The Carpenter, before his growing number of aggressively religious followers upset the precariously-balanced stalemate between the United States and the USSR.

From the outset, it is clear that the comic intends to comment on America’s seemingly schizophrenic attitudes towards sex, religion, and violence, as well as the American comics community’s obsession with the superhero. The Carpenter, worshipped by a legion of religious fundamentalist fans as something of a Jesus Christ surrogate, is driven by a homicidal sense of moralism—in the comic’s opening sequence, he brutally murders a movie starlet for the “sin” of engaging in a same-sex kiss onscreen. Contrast this with the adorable Vera, who is in an open, polyamorous relationship with her two best friends.

The comic’s references to what can be described as the “unhealthy” American view of sex are numerous and are, quite frankly, too on-the-nose and ridiculously stereotypical—in the world of Red One, American society views sex through only one of two filters: fundamentalist religion or pornography. But even those sympathetic with this extreme caricature of America might have a problem with the comic’s reimagining of the Soviet Union as a bastion of free love and feminism. Even taking into consideration the fact that this is a comic steeped in alternative history, it still comes off as somewhat too dismissive of the many struggles women faced under Soviet rule. It is certainly possible that Dorison will address this in future issues—there are already indications in the debut issue that sexist attitudes still exist among some members of the Soviet leadership, and as Vera continues to explore 1970s California, she is bound to see that the West also has something to offer the sexually liberated, empowered woman.

The Dodsons’ art is, as always, impressive in its detail and staging. Their depiction of Vera is playfully sexy without indulging in excessive, unnecessary prurience, perfectly in keeping with the cheeky, satirical spirit of the comic. One could even say that it is with the art that the comic is most successful in forwarding its sex-positive perspective. It is also to the creative team’s credit that Vera is never really placed in a situation where agency is taken away from her as a cheap means of increasing the narrative stakes.

From the publisher:

Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends because their dorm rooms were next to each other. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of hand-wringing boys, ‘personal experimentation,’ influenza, mystery-mold, nu-chauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of ‘academia,’ they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive.

BOOMBOX_GiantDays_01_A_MainSeeing an artist’s creations illustrated for the first time by a peer with a wholly different style can be a jarring experience for the long-time fan. It’s like seeing a favorite character from TV or film being played by a different actor—something feels off (independent of actual acting ability), and it might take repeat viewings before the change stops being a distraction.

Such was the case in my reading of Giant Days #1 (BOOM! Box), the new comic written by Bad Machinery creator John Allison and illustrated by Disney Feature Animation story artist Lissa Treiman, featuring the characters who previously appeared in the similarly-titled 2011 Giant Days miniseries written and drawn by Allison. (An aside: It’s not required reading for those looking to pick up this new comic, but I do highly recommend the original Giant Days miniseries for fans of Allison’s Bad Machinery. It’s got everything that makes the latter the fun slice-of-life read that it is, but set in university.)

In a certain sense, Treiman is the superior (or at least the more varied) character designer and visual storyteller, but as someone who has been following Allison’s webcomics work for the past four years or so, I’ve only ever read his writing paired with his distinct designs and sense of timing and pantomime. I’d come to associate Allison’s brand of humor with his illustrations, and seeing the Giant Days cast drawn by Treiman had me doing a bit of a double-take. The character of Esther de Groot, in particular, looks quite different from how I imagined she would appear being drawn by Treiman (it probably doesn’t help that her original design lacks the standout features of her two co-protagonists—Daisy Wooton has her glasses and her wild hair, Susan Ptolemy has that sleepy look and is relatively short and compact in body). After a couple of re-readings, however, I grew to appreciate the more organic and expressive look the characters have under Treiman’s pencil (or is it tablet pen?).

Allison’s comics writing is a known quantity at this point——his webcomics are free to read and it should be a simple enough matter for the curious reader to check them out—but those Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery fans concerned that Treiman’s art might make for a weird fit with Allison’s writing should rest assured that once the initial weirdness of seeing someone else draw his comic subsides, Giant Days is very much in keeping with his prior work.

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