Come 20 June, CrossGen releases its newest title, SOJOURN. This time around, it starts in the form of a prequel book, titled cleverly enough SOJOURN PREQUEL. In 32 pages of story (and a promise of additional "sketch material"), Ron Marz creates a new world bathing in the blood of war, with some resentful residents of multiple races, a tyrant ruler, and a quest for peace.
Great, this review is already sounding like a fantasy novel…
SOJOURN takes place on a world with five lands. The conquering king is in the midst of a bloody coup led by one mysterious man. It's the story that needs to be told to set up events 300 years in the future, which begin the following month with SOJOURN #1.
This is definitely CrossGen's bloodiest book. It ain't recommended for the younger readers. (They can go read RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE MAN, which will be reviewed here on Friday.) There's puncture wounds a'plenty -- the types of wounds that the Comics Code Authority would never let show. It's not brutally graphic. You won't see entrails sticking out or anything like that, but the arrows do come fast and furious, and they're not afraid to show the bloody effects.
In any case, this issue is 32 page bloody war, with arrows and axes, decapitations (that one's off panel, at least), and more. The book starts with what the promo material calls "a truly evil villain." Just to prove it, he's seen torturing and killing a prisoner hung in chains in a dank dungeon. Not a pretty thing.
Greg Land is the artist on this, along with inking cohort Drew Geraci. It's beautiful stuff. Like Steve Epting's debut on CRUX #1, you can see the extra time and effort that went into this book. There are a couple of stunning splashes of the "barbarians at the gates." No detail is scrimped, from the armor and weaponry to the castle that's being attacked. Even though Land doesn't get to draw all that many female characters in this issue, it's still a joy to look at. And don't worry – the female protagonist for the series takes center stage in the first issue after the prologue. She's a fetching young woman with a remarkable resemblance to the Black Canary. (Guess you can take the artist out of Gotham, but not the Gotham out of the artist, eh?)
The book does a good job of telling a complete story, as well as setting the situation for the on-going series and leaving the reader on a bit of a teaser to bring him back for more.
I also have here nine unlettered pages from the first issue. The first five pages are included straight through and are very easy to read, even without the lettering. Land's storytelling comes through with flying colors. Some later pages are also sampled, to show the antagonist as well as some dramatic moments of the first issue. Suffice it to say, it looks promising. (I could look at castles all day. It's a weakness of mine, I suppose. And this series has its share of castles in the first couple of books.)
One last thing: Caesar Rodriguez, of SCION fame, is the color artist on this book. I didn't mention him before since I'm working off of uncolored copies of the pages. The cover colors I've seen off CrossGen.com, however, work well. His work in SCION has always been easy on the eyes, so I doubt there'll be any problems here.
If you've never read a CrossGen title before, don't worry. This one is completely accessible. While a better knowledge of the first issues of the other titles might help you out for a panel or two in one of the latter scenes, it's not necessary, and you can pick it up as you go along. So all of you BIRDS OF PREY and NIGHTWING fans shouldn't feel worried about adding this to your pull list, too.
CODENAME: KNOCKOUT #0
… is due out from Vertigo in your local comics shops tomorrow. I'm looking at a black and white photocopy of the full first issue.
C:K does one very important thing right: It tells a story. Shocking, isn't it? This isn't an introductory issue meant to just show off the background of the book. This isn't a glance around at two dozen characters that will fit into the grand scheme of the overall first year plot. This isn't weighed down with a ton of exposition to clearly elucidate the relationships and situations the characters find themselves in because the writer is incapable or afraid of putting his characters in situations that force them to reveal themselves. (I mean that metaphorically, by the way.)
Nope, this is a nice simple straight-on adventure. The cast is kept as small as possible. The two main characters are here. The two main bad guys are here. Add in some disposable nameless thugs and you have yourself a comic book.
Angela is the hottie in a bodysuit with a neckline plunging down to her navel. Go-Go is her good looking male partner/sidekick, who also happens to be gay and not afraid to flaunt it. Thus, the odd couple pairing certain to wreak havoc on all past sexually charged comics.
When Go-Go goes undercover in pursuit of some hot information, the villainous O'Bitters and Co. uncovers him, in a manner of speaking. That's when Angela comes to the rescue.
It's a simple affair. The plot doesn't get much deeper than that. The overall scheme of the working relationship between Go-Go and Angela doesn't get spelled out in detail. But it's obvious that they're the good guys, that they're partners, and that they go on these missions. Angela is there to strut her stuff and look good; Go-Go is the comic relief. He spends most of this issue bound to a chair in a room slowly flooding with water. His dialogue throughout the issue is hilarious as he parodies the damsel in distress routine and plays mind games with his potentially incompetent captors.
The whole thing is handled nicely tongue in cheek. The book doesn't take itself seriously and admits to what it is. Even the bad guy's main henchwoman is sporting a bikini. Robert Rodi writes this all with a wink and a nod.
The story is perfectly self-contained. You can pick this issue up and decide if you are interested in it without being guilted into buying the next issue because the story is continued.
There's something to be said for that. It's almost gutless on a creator's part to put out a first issue that is meaningless without the second. It's the creator admitting that he has no trust in his readership to like his work, so he'll pull out every tricky scheme in the book he can to trick the reader into coming back for more. And how many of us have bought the fourth issue of a particularly poor four-issue mini-series just to complete the series?
Louis Small, Jr. (with George Freeman) is no stranger to cheesecake artwork. His stuff in here isn't bad. I mean, it's obvious that he's aiming for that wink and nod to the reader. Panels are laid out just to show off the main character's body. And in most shots, his anatomy is relatively tame, compared to what it could be. He often relies more on "camera angles" and body language for sexiness -- not big hooters or impossibly long legs or whatnot.
That being said, the artwork is mixed, in my opinion. It just somehow looks unfinished. It's getting to be more and more common (thank goodness) for artists to keep backgrounds in their sequential storytelling. Small's panels often drop the backgrounds more often than necessary, or simplify them to the point of meaninglessness. (Remember Rob Liefeld's geometric backgrounds that had nothing to do with the actual location? Well, it's not nearly that bad, but it doesn't remind me of it a little.)
Small's character work looks heavily photo-referenced. That's just my gut feeling about it. In some places, it works. Some of the facial expressions look very "real" and that is appreciated. At other times, some bodies seem to be stiffly posted, which isn't a good thing.
You'll have to judge for yourself. This book isn't porn. It's cheesecake, yes, but done in a completely over the top nature and in a fun way. So far, the character relationships aren't strongly defined and the set-up for the series is bare bones, at best. Those are the kinds of things I'll be looking for more in the series as the first issue comes out.
OUT THERE #1
Humberto Ramos' OUT THERE is due on May 23 from the Cliffhanger imprint. Co-written by Ramos and Brian Augustyn, with inks from Sandra Hope, this looks to be an accessible series for people looking to jump aboard a Ramos project. If you were late going to CRIMSON, here's your chance to start fresh. The 16 page black and white preview I have here shows a book that looks ready to pick up the Buffy the Vampire Slayer audience, while gathering in plenty of fans of teen angst and cross-genre comics.
The books starts with Jessica Santiago, lost and alone in a possessed town. But it's just a dream. Or is it? Turns out the town is run over with little tiny demon types, who are in league with a small organization of town members who have some sort of arrangement with said demons.
Humberto Ramos' art is more reserved than I had expected. I didn't follow CRIMSON, but I remember looking at some of the early issues and thinking that they looked a little cartoony and loose. But the first issue of OUT THERE is really well detailed. Backgrounds are omnipresent and the detail in them is astounding for many artists today. The establishing shot of Jessica's room not only shows us the typical teenage mess, but does so in detail, with specific pop culture references, such as the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge. The architectural bits of business are equally detailed, from the straight-on look at the high school to the slightly more dramatic up angle of the church. He does "lapse" a bit into the cartoonier (almost Chris Bachalo-esque) characters with two drug dealers roll into town, but that's it. The rest is Ramos' lively line, as active and open as ever.
Structurally, the book doesn't tell that one specific defined story that I talked about earlier. That doesn't make it a bad first issue, however. This book is listed as on-going, but I get the feeling there's a definite opening story arc to it. What we see here are all the wheels turning in motion while we are introduced to the main characters. The exposition is kept light and the characters are defined by their interactions, and not some all-knowing narrator. This book, in other words, doesn't cheat. The various scenes aren't layered haphazardly. They flow from one to the other, and generally end on up notes to keep your attention without frustrating you.
The preview ends about 6 pages from the end of the issue, so I don't know how the issue finishes, but I know it's not a conclusive wrap-up of everything that's going on. Ramos and Augustyn are straddling a thin line here with the amount of information that they're not giving. We're privy to conversations between characters that sound ominous, but that we have no frame of reference for. That keeps the exposition away, but there's also a point at which the line is crossed and it just becomes a game of the author playing smarter than his audience and not telling us enough. I'd like to think that Augustyn and Ramos are smarter than that, but we'll see over the next few months.
One oddball note: One of the characters in the book is the smart outcast type. It's a stereotype that usually makes me shudder. I'd love to see the outcast smart jock sometime. Even DANGER GIRL fell prey to it. But there's something special about this boy, who's busy getting dressed in a blue ruffled tuxedo for the school dance. You see, his father is Mark Waid. Well, the son's name is Mark, but the father's name is David S. Wexler. I can't help but think that with this creative team, the resemblance is not coincidental.
Overall, OUT THERE is a fairly impressive book. It's definitely worth giving a chance. It's not exactly revolutionary, but it seems like some Good Reading. Ramos has proven he can handle the workload and can develop a series over the long term, so this should be seen as an exciting opportunity to jump on board something new.
If you need more convincing, check out CBR's own Beau Yarbrough's interview with Ramos. Everyone may be looking towards Warren Ellis for "Pop Comics," but Humberto Ramos is already doing them. (So is Scott Lobdell, but I've already mentioned that in the past.)
Coming up this Friday: More reviews, from all over the map. It includes a look at Marvel's long-lost and much lamented DAMAGE CONTROL, and another preview – of Tom DeFalco and Ron Lim's upcoming RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE MAN.
This weekend: Daily Con Journals from the Pittsburgh Comicon! New Pipeline entries on Saturday and Sunday. We're gearing up for reports and pictures, as well. So it should be a full weekend.
More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR. I can't believe Pipeline is entering its fifth year in six short weeks…
This year, I'll be at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego), and the Pittsburgh Comicon this weekend (!), which requires no second name. Hope to meet some of you there.
Finally, I write DVD movie reviews (occasionally) for the gang over at DVD Channel News. And sometimes they post them to the site…