I still remember Comics’ Greatest World, a shared universe superhero concept launched by Dark Horse back in the 1990s. I was particularly a fan of the comics that took place in Golden City — Catalyst: Agents of Change and Agents of Law among them — so I was interested when Dark Horse announced Catalyst Comix. Writer Joe Casey pitched the new book as a “decidedly unconventional” take on super-hero comics, according to Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson, and Casey’s working with artists Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, Ulises Farinas and Brad Simpson to bring this “New Wave superhero anthology title” to life.
So how are the three stories that make up the first issue? Here are few thoughts from around the web:
Jason Wilkins, Broken Frontier: “Following in the footsteps of Swiercynski and Nguyen’s dark, brooding relaunch of the ultra-violent antihero X, Casey’s Catalyst Comix expands Dark Horse’s superhero universe by concentrating on a handful of properties created by Barbara Kesel. Starting off with ‘The Ballad of Frank Wells,’ Casey immediately sets an idiosyncratic tone unlike anything in recent memory (although Joe Keatinge’s incarnation of Glory comes very close). Infused with a healthy dose of far-out Seventies cosmic craziness and cynicism, Casey’s take on Nineties superheroes reads more like a Steve Gerber-written issue of The Defenders, circa 1975.”
John Gholson, Gutters & Panels: “This is a fresh start on the material, so there’s no worry about catching up with the old stuff – I just wish I could compare and contrast a little better. Catalyst Comix is structured like an anthology, featuring three different stories about the same cataclysmic event – the arrival of an apocalyptic entity called Nibiru (‘Nibiru is release! Nibiru is decay! Nibiru is extinction! Nibiru is!’ reads Joe Casey’s charming, intentionally overblown prose). Titan’s lead-off touches upon the consequences of superhero mass destruction in a way that feels timely in the wake of Man of Steel‘s controversial finale. The second story is a slightly more metaphysical and hard sci-fi introduction to the space-faring character Amazing Grace. The third tale brings the Nibiru event to a street level as two more brutish, wildcard anti-heroes are called into action by a government agent.”
Oliver Sava, The A.V. Club: “Catalyst Comix is the third superhero series by Joe Casey to debut this year, and it’s also the strongest. Limited to nine issues and using established characters, this book has a stronger sense of direction than Sex and The Bounce and benefits from the history of these heroes. The former CGW titles are not required reading to jump right into this first issue, but the foundation laid by that imprint gives Casey material to experiment with that he doesn’t have to create from scratch. Frank’s past is briefly referenced in his story, but Casey is primarily using the character to explore the catastrophic personal and environmental impact of a superhuman battle. Frank’s story is a more traditional superhero tale, combining the playfully overblown narration of Stan Lee with the bleak worldview of writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller.”
Sean A. Guynes, Graphic Policy: “Catalyst Comix #1 is artistically jam-packed by Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas, not to the point of being overwhelming, but still filled with intricate detail, yet just under the bar of complex panel choreography and visual symbolism and juxtapositions set by Dave Gibbons in Watchmen. There is, however, a successful dance between panels showing individual by-standers’ fate during the apocalypse and the goings-on of Frank Wells (Titan), for example. McDaid, Maybury, and Farinas’ art are drawn together seamlessly by Brad Simpson’s coloring, with each of the three parts given its own color-driven tone and personal artistic flare, but obviously existing in the same general artistic vein. Really, this is impressive work to see such artistic co-collaborations between stories within one issue. I would highly recommend Maybury’s work in the second story, which is absolutely beautiful and at the same time innocent.”
Stephen Wilds, Culture Mass: “Overall, I cannot recommend Catalyst Comix #1, especially with so many other good books on the shelves right now. The comic has a ton of content, but very little to keep readers coming back. I like the ambition Casey shows in his words at the end about the superhero genre and what he is attempting, but I don’t think Catalyst succeeds in the attempt. With more to come, perhaps that will change.”
Vince Ostrowski, Multiversity Comics: “It’s a layered, free-form take on the subject of the ‘event book’ though. There’s a little satire that paints some of the reactions to the apocalypse. There’s a post-cape look at the idea of the arranged ‘super team.’ There’s some real character work being done here and there’s some chances taken with the narration that puts on display the dexterity of voice that Casey is capable of. Though Wells is the subject of this issue’s ‘feature’ story, there are a variety of bits from other characters from ‘Comics’ Greatest World’ that are touched on here and will take more of a center-stage in the future. In this way, it’s a difficult narrative, at times, and not everything comes together cleanly. It’s not meant to, surely. There has been a promise made and a sense within the work that when the 9 issues are over, the narratives will fold together and enhance one another in a variety of ways. While Catalyst Comix is much more a tapestry, than it is an anthology book, it remains to be seen where the heart of the story lies. The whole exercise ends up being more intellectual and artsy than the rampant destruction would suggest, but then again, that’s what makes Catalyst Comix so different than what we’re used to.”