"The groundbreaking new series dares to ask: What happens when the superheroes win? What happens once there is no crime, no war? The heroes of 'Halcyon' achieve their final victory only to face their greatest challenge ever." That's how the press release for "Halcyon," the first title from Marc Guggenheim's Collider Entertainment imprint at Image Comics, ends, summing up the book and its high concept. I'm a bit of a sucker for superhero books that ask questions like this and have been looking forward to this title since it was first announced as "Utopian" at Comic-Con International: San Diego, but this debut issue is so focused on setting things up that it would be easy to mistake it for the oft-used zero issue teaser that comes out before the 'real' first issue.
The first issue of "Halcyon" introduces the heroes and villain of the book as well as the situation: crime has been decreasing, slowly at first, but, now, at an exponential rate. The heroes of Halcyon don't know how or why, and also if they should even care. It's a strong hook, but it takes the entire issue to get there. Watching the hook of the series unfold over the issue is a waste, since there doesn't seem to be any reason to not dive right in and proceed from page one with crime having disappeared. The heroes cluing into this phenomena and discussing it is, quite frankly, boring and doesn't work spread out over 22 pages. The character work done isn't so exceptional and crucial that it carries the issue either. Most characters are introduced by name and a one-sentence description.
Within the issue there are some interesting scenes. The main villain of this world, Occulus, spends time in an alternate reality 'super-villain safe haven' populated by alternate versions of himself before returning to his world. The violent, urban vigilante Sabre figuring out that something's wrong because he didn't kill two criminals as he usually does is a funny idea.
Fresh off "Red Mass for Mars," Ryan Bodenheim is a great fit for this book. His work designing superheroes on that title showed off his clear, concise, yet detailed pencils. Here, he manages to design heroes that look both familiar and new. Like many titles of this sort, the heroes are analogues, homages, and take-offs of the iconic heroes we're all familiar with, something Bodenheim communicates while putting his own spin on things. Zenith, the female Superman of this world, has a very simple costume that doesn't suggest Superman's, but the white with blue lines gives off a similar power and purity.
The first half of the book gives Bodenheim a chance to show off his action chops. In some places, his figures are too stiff, like Jarhead in the final panel of the third page, but his choice of angles and compositions are strong. The reaction of Jarhead to the death of Osama bin Laden is perfect: muted confusion. Bodenheim has a clear conception of these characters and it shows.
"Halcyon" has a strong, interesting idea behind it, but this first issue spends far too much time getting there. It's all world building, but doesn't come off as essential world building. Only a few characters get any memorable panel time and the final pages are the most engaging and exciting. Like I said at the beginning, this issue feels more like a teaser than a strong debut. Instead of leading with the book's most interesting idea, it postpones it. I'm interested to see what the second issue does with it.