In today’s First Impressions: Rebels by Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti, Invisible Republic by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, and Kaijumax by Zander Cannon. ALSO: Quick thoughts on Brisson and Couceiro’s Cluster, Millar and Murphy’s Chrononauts, Bunn and Churilla’s Hellbreak, and Bunn and Crook’s The Sixth Gun: Dust to Dust.
From the publisher: In a rush of great public resistance to an oppressive and excessive government, a homegrown militia movement is formed in rural America. This is not 2015, but 1775. With the war for independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn, as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide.
There is nothing in the first issue of Rebels (Dark Horse Comics) that hints that writer Brian Wood intends to align its Revolutionary War story with what he himself describes in the comic’s afterword as “the scorched-earth approach to American politics and social criticism” that has come to be associated with his comics writing (see Channel Zero, DMZ, and The Massive for specific examples). Then again, there is no great need for metaphor and rhetoric in this instance, as Wood’s fictionalized depiction of the Green Mountain Boys militia’s founding is such that any reader with a notion of history should be able to connect it with the modern-day context, and not just in terms of the American milieu: In Rebels, the informed and thoughtful reader will easily find parallels with the national narratives of many other countries, both long-established and those still in the frequently violent process of establishing their independence, and even those that, in the reductive sense, can be described as currently “anti-American.”
Rebels may be rooted in American history, but Wood’s sympathetic treatment of its characters (both American and loyalist), universal themes, and solidly-executed naturalistic rendering courtesy of artist Andrea Mutti give it a draw that transcends political, historical, and cultural divisions.
From the publisher: Arthur McBride’s planetary regime has fallen. His story is over. That is until reporter Croger Babb discovers the journal of Arthur’s cousin, Maia. Inside is the violent, audacious hidden history of the legendary freedom fighter. Erased from the official record, Maia alone knows how dangerous her cousin really is…
If Wood and Mutti’s Rebels is the story of a nation’s forging in the fires of revolution, Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s futuristic sci-fi comic Invisible Republic (Image Comics) is about what happens after the revolution and how—as we’ve seen happen far too many times in the real world—the violent overthrow of an oppressive government often only allows for a new totalitarian regime to fill the power vacuum. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as the song goes.
Part detective story, part political thriller, and part biography, Invisible Republic is poised to trace the rise of Arthur McBride from a homeless refugee to the dictator of the planet Avalon through the memoirs of a previously undiscovered cousin Maia. I would liken the appeal of the comic’s premise to that of Brian De Palma’s 1983 film Scarface, although the stakes in Invisible Republic are obviously higher: There is an almost cathartic quality to the experience of seeing someone kick, punch, and claw their way up from the bottom of society, make it to the top, and eventually fall because of unchecked hubris and greed—it feeds our inherent desire to root for the underdog whilst also allowing us to feel validated when we reassure ourselves that we would never make the same mistakes as the protagonist if placed in the same situation (of course, I imagine all tyrants think of themselves as benevolent dictators).
With their extensive experience on properties such as Star Wars and Planet of the Apes, Hardman and Bechko should be well-equipped to deliver on the promise and ambition of Invisible Republic, and this first issue—with its excellent visual storytelling craft and gritty, lived-in sense of design and worldbuilding—does everything to reinforce that optimism for the series moving forward.
From the publisher: Welcome to Kaijumax, where the worst of the worst monsters are safely locked away from the human world, whether they be villains, anti-heroes, eco-parables, or nuclear metaphors. Electrogor is ripped away from his family and struggles to determine whom to trust, which gangs to avoid, and when to take on the big man to show you aren’t to be trifled with.
The first issue of Zander Cannon’s digital-exclusive Kaijumax (Oni Press), a comic that can best be described as HBO’s Oz with kaiju cast as maximum security prison inmates, had me laughing out loud in places. Everything from the puns (cryptids, naturally, belong to a prison gang called the “Cryps”) to the many sight gags will elicit, at minimum, an amused giggle from fans of both prison dramas and rubber-suit monster-based entertainment. This is hilarious, silly parody, but it never falls into the trap of mistaking mean-spirited jabs for genuine humor—Cannon’s affection for the source material shows through even as he skewers the elements of both genres.
A word of caution: Despite the “cute” art, this is a comic best reserved for older readers (say, age 14 and above) as it makes reference to things like abusive prison relationships (Kaijumax apparently has its own resident—if you’ll excuse the term—“prison bitch”) and satirizes the practice of proselytism in prison. Besides, a lot of the prison references will likely fly over the head of anyone not old enough to watch Oz or Orange is the New Black.
Cluster (BOOM! Studios): Solid sci-fi outing from writer Ed Brisson (Sheltered, Murder Book) and illustrator Damian Couciero (Dracula: The Company of Monsters, Sons of Anarchy). Three issues in and what initially looked like a standard prison planet/space prison story has developed into a politically-charged, twist-filled sci-fi war comic somewhat reminiscent of 1980s 2000AD classics such as Pat Mills and Brett Ewin’s Bad Company and George Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons’ Rogue Trooper. Excellent stuff.
Chrononauts (Image Comics): This four-issue miniseries features the absolutely gorgeous art of Sean Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus, The Wake), but the time-travel narrative by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Civil War) doesn’t have much of a hook going for it in the first issue and the characters have yet to be developed beyond shallow, stock types (although to be fair, we’re just looking at the first issue here). Still worth tracking down just for Murphy’s visuals, and barring an absolute trainwreck, the story and characterizations should fill out in subsequent issues.
Hellbreak (Oni Press): Writer Cullen Bunn is perhaps best known for combining traditional genre fare with supernatural elements in well-received works such as the long-running “Weird West” saga The Sixth Gun, the Viking zombie comic Helheim and its spin-off Brides of Helheim, and the Prohibition-era demonic mob war series The Damned. Hellbreak is in the same mash-up vein, featuring a paramilitary special operations unit that specializes in exorcisms. Artist Brian Churilla (The Secret History of DB Cooper, The Anchor) provides dynamic visuals and the first issue is entertaining enough, but the modern-day setting and Call of Duty-meets-Ghostbusters “tacticool” conceit lacks the charm of Bunn’s previous work. The first issue ends with the promise of a focus on character development, though.
The Sixth Gun: Dust to Dust (Oni Press): Speaking of Cullen Bunn and The Sixth Gun, this latest spin-off miniseries is a prequel tale starring Billjohn O’Henry, shedding light on the sequence of events that led him to his tragic partnership with treasure hunter Drake Sinclair in search of The Six. While ostensibly a title for those already familiar with The Sixth Gun series, Dust to Dust has the beginnings of a solid, standalone supernatural western tale and is actually quite accessible for novices to the property: Readers who have yet to read the Sixth Gun series won’t feel lost—this is a prequel, after all—but long-time fans will appreciate all the nods to the main title. The art by award-winning cartoonist Tyler Crook (Petrograd, BPRD: Hell on Earth) rounds out a solid debut issue.