Image First Issue Hullaballoo!

Due to the slow week in comics for me, I decided to check out three random first issues from Image. So, I mean, yay for generic diversity and supporting creator owned comics! I'm totally patting myself on the back right now. But it's also important if these comics are good. Let's see if any of these pass my cruel, arbitrary litmus test for that.

Dead Ahead #1- First thing's first; while am the last person to chastise anyone about proofreading, this must be said; the lettering in the narration is often a pain to read, if not completely illegible when they have black letters on black spattered walls, or white letters against the white clouds surrounding a moon. Even when that kind of thing doesn't happen, it's not offset in caption boxes, and mixes with the colors too often to make for a kind of sludge. Surely someone should have caught that at some point in the process. There were points where I gave up on reading it.

That said, that's not actually a bad thing at times, because the narration and dialogue is painfully cheesy at times. Given the fact that Alex Nino's drawing this, maybe that's intentional. Maybe it's meant to read like a Creepy or House of Mystery story. I dunno, it's hard to tell.

I'm not sure the writers (Clark K. Castillo (or Castllo, as the cover says) and Mel Smith, with Paul Birch as a credited "additional wordsmith", which this comic really didn't need) are taking this seriously at all, or if this is a homage to old horror comics or pulps, or if it's just a terribly written comic. I mean, it's pretty bad, but I have no idea if that's intentional, or if they're trying really hard and this is what they came up with, or what the deal is. I'm not sure if I'm kicking a puppy or not getting the joke by criticizing how bad it is, or if I am just pointing out that it is not good, in other words. There is a distinction, I think, and on a "team comics!" level, you kind of never want to say anything bad about a creator owned indie book. I mean, I find that sort of thing dumb, but some times you just want to belong.

So, something nice! The premise is interesting. It's a zombie story, except our protagonists are trapped at sea. Haven't seen that before, so I'll give them that. They get some mileage out of the "man's inhumanity to man is worse than the flesh eating monsters" trope that has been fuel for the best zombie works, from Night of the Living Dead to the Walking Dead. Not enough to not make me think this comic sucked, but it's something.

Even Alex Nino's art didn't work for me. I've liked his idiosyncratic style in the small sample size I've read, but it's just too grotesque for me here. It's all blood and guts and misshapen people. I mean, the cover was a dead giveaway that that's where this was headed (and to be really honest I just bought this because it was one of three Image #1s at hand), but I was hoping for something else here.

They really don't give Nino much to work with, character wise; everyone's paper thin or just kind of there. The narrator/captain of the ship the cast is adrift on is the only character who elicits any reaction from me, and that's one of "man, I sure hope the zombies eat him so I don't have to read this crappy narration any more, when it is coherent!" This is sub-cable B-horror movie work. At least those things usually set up the characters as stereotypes before they are eaten, so you can either sort of feel bad or cheer when it happens. You don't even get that here.

Look; this comic advertises itself as zombie carnage. If that is literally all you want in a zombie comic, then have at it. Me, I think I'll move on. To another Image comic!

Four Eyes #1- Paul O'Brien reviewed this quite favorably, so I gave this a shot. And, by that, I mean Paul included the phrase "underground dragon fighting" in his review, and I make it a priority to buy any product that can be described with that phrase.

There's not a lot of underground dragon fighting in this at all. As in, it only happens on the last page. Joe Kelly spends the bulk of the issue introducing us to the main character, Enrico, and the setting, the Great Depression. Like Paul, I think this works, although I found it weird that he brought up Enrico not thinking the dragons were real, but not the PETA-esque dragon's rights protester (PETD?), as part of the whole "do people not know there are dragons?" issue.

Max Fiumara and Nestor Pereyra provide wonderful art, as Paul said. In spite of the setting, this really reminds me of David Petersen's work on Mouse Guard. It's just that well done. Now, once the dragons start coming in to play, we'll really have something. Considering that this read better as the first chapter of a book than a single issue of a comic, though, it may be in a trade.

M Theory #1- So, the cover (and the fact that it starts in Roswell) says '50s sci-fi pastiche, but the first couple pages reminded me more of Republican Space Rangers, with all of the slaughter and humans/Americans/Republicans are overly warlike overtones. At least that's how I read it. At least it's taking a chunk out of the archetype of the space adventurer.

But then Einstein and his protege show up, and we get some stuff about parallel universes, so it's more than just a scathing satire of American foreign policy/man's inhumanity to little green men. There's also some stuff about conspiracies, but you expect that with Roswell.

Then the space Nazis show up on the last page. So, plot wise, this certainly kept my attention. Good on Dwight L. MacPherson and Bruce Brown there.

Really, it's the art that let me down here. Now, I like a lot of artists many superhero fans deem too "cartoony." I like expressive art. Cooke, Oeming, Timm, Allred; all those guys, among many others. But this just goes a little too far. It's Mike Barentine's facial expressions that do it. They're just kind of gawky. Like human beings trying to make faces like Ed Roth characters. The coloring fits it well, at least, in that it looks like a really askew cartoon. Sort of like something Bill Plympton would do, although this was tolerable for me. Possibly because of the space Nazis. I mean, if something sounds like it would fit in a Mike Mignola comic (why has Hellboy not gone to space yet?), it's probably going to grab my interest.

I might as well also commend the lettering for not sucking here, and in Four Eyes. When it's not really ornate stuff by your Chris Wares or your Todd Kleins, lettering is like refereeing; you only notice it when the person doing it screws up. Well, unless you're some Dutch guy. I kind of want to be the Augie of coloring, but I can't really commit to doing more than mentioning when coloring enhances my appreciation of comic, because then I'd have to learn stuff.

So, there's some nice genre gumbo a cookin' here. I may check this out again, although I wouldn't go out of my way to do so. Which is a problem for me with Image Comics. I have no idea if this thing's going to hit its ship date, or whether my shop's going to order further issues if it does. I mean, sure, I could pre-order it, but I'm not taking that much of a risk on a comic that I only wound up buying because it was a slow week anyway.

So, creator owned comics are killing creator owned comics? I don't really have anywhere else to go with this. It just vaguely annoys me that there are road blocks for these things to be sitting around past issue #1 in case I want to read more of them. If I was really crazy about any of these, I could do what I eventually had to do with Casanova when I stopped being able to find rack copies of it; get my shop to re-order the copy I missed and pull it from that point on. But that is a stumbling block they have compared to your average DC and Marvel book (hell, even Dark Horse), at least at my LCS. I kind of wish those stumbling blocks had kept Dead Ahead out of my path, but you can't really argue with Meat Loaf about how my little foray in to random Image comics worked out, average wise.

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