Origin stories generally make me roll my eyes at this point in comics, as they’re just so common and frequently trade on tropes we’ve seen before, so it’s really nice to see one very well done in James Asmus and Tom Fowler’s “Quantum and Woody” #1. Interestingly enough, it’s not even that Asmus and Fowler avoid all the old origin cliches; it’s just that they take those cliches and execute them in such a way that readers can’t help but enjoy themselves.
Asmus has found powerful voices for both Quantum and Woody, which are surprisingly refined for a first issue. Having never read the previous Valiant/Acclaim series from the ’90s, I don’t know how accurate the voices are to what has come before, but I sure like what’s here. Asmus seamlessly takes the straight man and funny man trope, and breathes wonderful well developed character life into it via Eric and Woody. As always, the straight man suffers a little by comparison within this framework, but Asmus does his best. The origin has been simplified (and made stronger) by making Eric and Woody brothers (Woody raised as a foster brother to the more serious Eric), which adds some lovely complexity to the relationship and history of the characters. The flashbacks are thankfully used minimally (and effectively) Asmus trusting readers to plunge right in and follow along.
While not a lot happens from a plot standpoint beyond the whole aforementioned “how we get our powers” origin, the book is dense with character work. Pound for pound, it’s also legitimately funny, even if it’s not of the laugh out loud variety. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a book to be funny in such a natural way that never comes at the expense of character accuracy or storytelling.
Fowler’s art is a great update from the old series, feeling clean, modern, nicely detailed and easily shedding the dated ’90s comics look. Fowler is an adept storyteller and particularly excels at character acting — expressions and body language — both so key in a humorous book. There are a few moments that feel rushed or thin in comparison, but for the most part it’s consistent strong work. The flashbacks are wonderfully handled with a slightly different style (and color technique), which works as a great visual cue for how memories should feel — i.e. different than the day to day. It’s not quite as brilliant as what J.H. Williams III did with flashback in his “Detective Comics: Elegy” run, but it’s headed in that direction and adds a nice depth to the visuals. Jordie Bellaire’s colors are a superb part of that depth, executing a wonderfully subdued retro-feeling palette for the flashbacks, and all the bright superhero pop expected for the rest of the book.
With such a solid first issue, “Quantum and Woody” is poised to be yet another critically acclaimed hit for Valiant comics. In a very short time, Valiant’s line seems determined to bring readers smart, fun comics with talented creators — comics that operate just slightly outside the corporate comics box, to the benefit of all involved.