THE NUMBER ONES
What a wonderful week this was. We had the premiere of a veritable slew of new titles. There are plenty of opportunities here to jump on new series and a whole array of different genres: space opera to crime to manga to spy/action.
This is the much-hyped new series from writer/letterer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming. Pat Garrahy has only two names, but contributes a great deal, as well. This is one of those books where the colorist is just as important as the artist. Garrahy does a great job in keeping the noir feeling consistent throughout the book, and in lending a strongly designed look and feel to the book. He uses the same kind of flat, "non-gradiented" color design that we've seen a lot lately, from DAREDEVIL #12 to ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY. In this day and age of computer separations causing every possible effect to be used - take a look at most WildStorm books - it's refreshing to see books like this one.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but the color here is so striking it's worth extra discussion. I've a feeling that Bendis' hip dialogue and Oeming's animated-style art might overshadow it just a tad.
This first issue isn't terribly heavy on the plotting. This is barely the first act of the POWERS 'movie'. It's a short introduction to our cast of characters, as well as providing a good idea as to what the tone, atmosphere, and environment of the book will be. The catalyst for the overall plot doesn't occur until the very last page. (In that way, it reminds me of last month's GRENDEL: DEVIL'S LEGACY #1, where the big turning point happens on the last page.)
If you've read Bendis' stuff before, you pretty much know what to expect, and this book is no exception. There are some pages of humorous crime anecdotes, some sparkling dialogue, and one foul-mouthed kid. (Yes, this book is definitely rated a strong PG-13, only for the language. The MPAA would probably go for the R.)
Oeming's style looks much more refined and more comfortable than in his SINS OF YOUTH tour of duty. Detective Walker can sometimes bear a resemblance to Clark Kent, but that almost works on a subliminal level as an interesting parallel.
And then there are the little things - the eyesore bar code is on the back cover, and the inside front cover is utilized as part of the first page of an opening double-page spread. No waste here.
This one's definitely good. If you don't want to read SAM & TWITCH for whatever silly reason - it, too, is eminently approachable - this one might be more up your alley. It takes place in its own little universe and it's not too late to jump on board from the start.
Take it from me and countless others whose stores sold-out: Pre-order!
It's a nice book about an upstart rock group with some slight supernatural leanings, as yet not completely explored. Good stuff, and 24 packed pages with only a couple of tasteful pages of nudity. The cover price ($3.50) is a bit steep for a black and white book on this quality of paper, but it's not a big name/high sales-expecting title, so I'll forgive it. Give this one a shot if you're looking for something different - or just something Canadian. =)
To that end, Daniel succeeds. This book is filled with good-looking people, cool gadgets, moody atmospherics, and lotsa T&A. His art can sometimes look flat and his females are overwhelmingly waifish, but they do have enough differences to make it obvious who is who. The faces are different; their clothes are different, as are their heights, and more. This isn't a case of taking one model and tweaking here and there to create new characters.
The production values are excellent. The book is printed on heavy glossy paper with vibrant computerized coloring, using all the gradients and sculpting that POWERS does not. This isn't a bad thing; it's just different. Here, Steve Firchow does a good job in adding dimensionality. Daniel's characters are meant to be less iconic than Oeming's, so the coloring is appropriate.
Those are all its good points. There are also the lesser points.
For one thing, this book is crowded. It wouldn't be so bad if the story were just focused on the one main team of 5 characters. But Daniels throws in the support group (and family members) for the team. Halfway through the story, he throws in an alternate team with five new members, who all get introduced and then do nothing. There's a lack of focus there. If you're going to give the reader a rundown of the 5 second team members, do something with them! Don't introduce them and then have them step aside and ignore them in the rest of the issue.
Storytelling is a bit lost here, too. Some panels look blatantly like they were drawn just because they looked cool. They do look cool, but with no storytelling leading up to or coming off of those individual panels, they jump too far out at you. Characters appear out of nowhere, and then disappear back to nowhere as they please. It makes it tough to get a truly good sense of staging and danger if you have no idea where the players are. If the reader can't follow the action, no amount of speed lines in the world will save you.
There are some obscure character relationships going on here. One of the characters, it appears, has a husband and kid(s). I'm guessing because it's never quite clearly spelled out.
At the end of the issue, eight pages from the opening sequences are represented in their original pencil format. It's interesting to see. I love looking at original pencil artwork, so this is a treat for me. It looks like Tony Daniel doesn't spend too much time worrying about shading and three-dimensionality. Some artists draw in pencils like it'll be the finished work. Others use their pencils completely functionally. Little "x"s indicate the black areas for the inkers, and the rest is left to the colorist's imagination. Daniel does the latter.
For $2.95, you get 48 pages of color comic (with the exception of the 8 penciled pages) on nice glossy paper. It's a nice package and a comic that definitely bears further exploration.
RUMBLE GIRLS: SILKY WARRIOR TANSIE
Lea Hernandez' story centers on a young girl - Raven Tansania Random - who is learning at some private institution how to fight in armor suits. I suppose this might be a common thread in manga. Beats me. ::shrug:: There's a lot of exposition to explain this new world to the reader, for which I'm very appreciative. On the other hand, it does slow down the issue a bunch. Up until the last few pages, it's all talking heads.
Ransom is finding herself less in love with media-created object-of-desire Crimson August (love that last name!) and more with her coach, who apparently is the same person. This serves as the beginning of what appears to be a theme for this book - the manipulation of the consumer by the media. We get a pretty nice scene halfway through the issue with Crimson August meeting with his corporate advisors.
The most distracting thing to me, sorry to say, is the art. It looks very sketchy and unfinished in places, like it's still waiting for the inker to come around. The overall look is somewhat fast and loose. This isn't an indictment of Hernandez' work ethic, by any means. It's just the style here. There's also not the fine, highly-detailed backgrounds I've seen flipping through some other manga. It reminds me a little of Frank Fosco's work on TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. The art itself is fine and would probably work well in a color book, but in stark black and white has a tendency to blend all in together.
SIDEKICKS is the story of a school for super-powered teenagers looking to learn the trade to eventually graduate into a "co-op program" or membership in a team. The school is named "Shuster Academy."
Takesi Miyazawa's art here is in stark contrast to Lea Hernandez' on RUMBLE GIRLS. It's very tight, highly-controlled, with detailed backgrounds, and a much more open look. The pages don't seem so crowded here. He also uses grey tones and screens to help shade in the book. His character designs are fairly true-to-life, with teenagers wearing what teenagers wear today, more or less. They all come from different molds, too. Different heights, different faces and haircuts… They're all in shape, and the female characters all seem especially pleased with their flat stomachs. Can't say as I blame them, though. =)
The lettering is interesting here, too. It can be a little tricky to read if you're not concentrating on it fully. It's done in a mix of lowercase and uppercase lettering, and looks more like a normal person's handwriting than a letterer's honed craft. The exception is the sound effects in the action scenes, where the big bold lettering becomes part of the storytelling and design as they interact with the panel borders.
We've got a couple of months before this one comes out, but it looks real good now.
Simonson's design sense and art is amazing to look at, and has proven to be quite influential to a generation of artists. (Erik Larsen is one of the more obvious artists to take influence from Simonson.)
I've never been too big a fan of the Fourth World characters. I read John Byrne's most recent series about the characters for about six months before getting completely lost and running away. Simonson has lessened that problem here by focusing the title on just one character - Orion - and having all the action revolve around him. The tighter focus should help.
This issue jumps around just a bit, but isn't difficult to follow, and it seems that things are shrinking down just a bit by the end.
MEANWHILE, OUT OF LEFT FIELD
What pop star seems set to follow in the BACKSTREET BOYS' path in getting her own comic? Stay tuned for possible announcements in a couple of months…
More reviews of the rest of the week's books, including the promised look at X-MAN, plus maybe one or two books from this week's stash. Don't forget - due to the Easter holiday, new comics arrive a day later than usual this week!