FIRST THINGS FIRST
CrossGen publishes the first issue of their newest series, THE FIRST, today. I've had a beautiful color photocopy of this issue in my hands for a couple of weeks now and haven't reviewed it yet. If I don't do it now, those copies are wasted. So here you have it.
Go buy this issue.
THE FIRST #1 tells a relatively simple story, with a grand and epic feel.
Barbara Kesel writes the story here of a military leader who has led his people into victory, only to now be facing defeat. As the impending doom looms closer, he prays to the gods, who answer mysteriously with his branding. The by now familiar CrossGen sigil appears on his back, a sign from the gods that what he is doing is right. Or so he interprets it. So it's off to war he goes. Then the gods show up and trouble begins.
Picture BRAVEHEART or GLADIATOR told in comic book format. That's what much of this issue is. Bart Sears and Andy Smith simply outdo themselves in illustrating this battle, sparing no inch of page space, laying out most pages in grand double-page spread, with some layouts that would make George Perez proud. The war and the story are both epic, and Sears' artwork rises to match the occasion. No warrior is left undrawn, no small detail is left to the imagination. All the little bits and pieces are there. I just hope he can find a way to keep up this manic level of detail along a monthly grind. This is one of those books that would suffer from a fill-in artist, I think. This book is made so far superior to its counterparts by dint of the artwork of Sears. It's just that impressive.
(Special credit also goes to Michael Atiyeh, who colors this issue. He keeps it bright and interesting to look at, even in the midst of full-scale war. He's aggressive in his coloring and not afraid to make the coloring an extra character in the story. It's not the more subtle coloring style of Laura Depuy, for example, but it works just as well for this book.)
I'd say this would be a prime choice for the same kind of tabloid format DC uses for books like JLA: HEAVEN'S LADDER. When the first storyline finishes, I'd love to see it collected at that size. It would make a breathtaking package, assuming Sears and Smith can keep up this level of density in their art on a monthly pace. Not only that, but then CrossGen can claim another first. It's actually another step down the road of treating the monthly "pamphlets" as the loss leaders towards the inevitable trade paperbacks. It would be the TPB, in the end, that's the desired object, but the smaller monthly book would still be available for those on a budget or who can't wait. Food for thought.
If you've never picked up a CrossGen book before, you shouldn't have a problem with this one. There's not much in the way of heavy universe continuity involved in this issue. As a matter of fact, I think it only serves to confuse the new reader to include the "Story So Far…" segment on the inside front cover. It's a rundown of all the gods that appear later in the story and what brings them to this point. In fact, I could have done without the info, and trying to keep it all in mind while reading the story only served to confuse me. They should leave that out and only explain it as the story needs it. I could imagine a well-designed two-page splash montage in the next issue that could serve the same story purpose.
It's also part of the overall problem with this first issue. There's no room to show why the characters feel as they feel. It's all spelled out for you and explained along the way. It's not quite as bad as Chris Claremont on his worst day spouting out prose, but a lot of this book is going to feel like illustrated prose. That's because there's no real chance to show what these characters are about. We have to be told, sometimes as it's happening. The story and the introduction are one and the same, and that's a tough thing to pull off.
THE FIRST #1 comes out in comics shops today, so be sure to take a look at this book on the shelves, even if you have no intention of purchasing it. I think a few of you might change your mind with the breathtaking art. Hopefully, you'll get into the story next. I'm not so sure I'm there just yet - CrossGen books are notoriously slow starters - but Sears' art buys it a little leeway.
QUICK AND TIMELY DVD MENTION
It's a great, if slightly off-center, movie. It's fun for the whole family, although I imagine some of the littlest ones might be more scared than amused.
MARVEL GOES TO THE WEB
(Tangent: Have you noticed how the growing popularity of trade paperbacks is starting to reflect the popularity of home video? There was a time when a movie wouldn't show up on home video for a year or more after the movie finally left the theaters. Nowadays, people are anticipating the DVD after the opening weekend, the announcement is made a month later, and the DVD itself comes out in time for the holidays a couple of months later.)
I think the closest analogy to Marvel's strategy is the NFL. In the NFL, a local team's games can't be broadcast unless they sell out their stadium. The concept is that people won't go to games if they can just sit at home and watch them on television. (I think this is terribly old-fashioned thinking nowadays, but the NFL is the NFL.) So the only reason you get to watch those games on television is because you couldn't buy a seat at the game, the theory goes.
Well, Marvel is doing that themselves. If you can't find the comic on the shelves because the print run has been sold out, they're going to put it up on the web so you can read it and get the chance to be in on the ground floor. This, I think, is an interesting stopgap solution.
It doesn't solve the deeper underlying issues about piss-poor distribution and retailer ordering, but there you have it. Marvel is putting a Band Aid on the problem for now. Hopefully, the rest can start falling in line with time. (Yes, I'm optimistic tonight. Shoot me.)
Come back on Friday to talk about more of the industry's underlying problems. And if you're looking for PCR #178 from yesterday's scheduled publication day, you can find it here.