CROSS GENERATION COMICS
And now, nearly a year later, the first fruits of that effort have been born. Under the writing talents of Ron Marz and Barbara Kesel, CrossGen is publishing 4 regular monthly books, plus an anthology whose first issue has yet to hit the stands.
But the first month is over. We've had an opening taste of the four regular series, so I think it's safe to say that the time for first impressions is upon us.
Warning: These are all surface impressions from the start. Most of the critiques you'll see below will have only to do with art and production values. It's just too early to get into the storytelling. None of these first issues tells a truly complete story. They all end pretty much the same way - with the dramatic reveal of the sigil on our protagonist. They also all open in much the same way. Two mysterious god-like beings describe the new planet and people the book is set against. That goes on for four pages, including the inside front cover. I'm very happy to see that page not being wasted with an ad. In fact, much to CrossGen's credit, only house ads appear in the books. CrossGen is really working at promoting their stable of creators and they're doing a wonderful job in all of these books, complete with headshots and short biographies of all the creators, and full-page ads for each of the books.
And I also think it's fair to warn you straight off the top that I'm not a natural fantasy fan. Yes, THE PRINCESS BRIDE is one of my favorite movies of all time, and will happily be available in widescreen on DVD this summer. Yes, TELLOS is a pretty terrific book and the subject of next week's column. No, I haven't read any of Tolkein's work just yet. (Cool your jets - I plan on doing so in the next year sometime.) Generally speaking, though, it's just not my genre. I won't condemn it. I'm just not CrossGen's natural audience, which is ironic given that publisher Marc Alessi says that this is what people want and what will sell. Go figure.
I'll do this chronologically.
Oddly enough, the events shown in this book would comprise the first few pages of the second issue of each title. It will be interesting to see how this is handled when the second issues come out through July. Will the regular artist of each title be drawing from the same scripts as were used in the CHRONICLES book? I think it would be an interesting artistic experiment.
I would also like to know more about the two sets of godly figures that this story revolved around. It seems that they're destined to reappear in some of the regular titles, but most of their purpose in this world is left to the reader's imagination. While I can take it on faith that there's a greater purpose to this meeting of the minds, I'd like to see more explanation of them in future appearances.
MYSTIC - World of Magic
Early indications were that this book would have something of an art nouveau feel to it, a topic discussed late last year in relation to Joe Quesada's art in DAREDEVIL. Alphonso Mucha is the artist most associated with the style, and his stuff can be found across the web. It is interesting design work. The feel of it is not hidden in any way in MYSTIC. Heck, the magic guild the title character's sister is to be inducted into is called the "Nouveau Guild." So far, my biggest problem with the book is that it doesn't use the style enough. There are hints of it, and a couple of panels are blatant with it, but I'd like to see more. How can a sequential narrative be developed inside the 'confines' of this specific art style? That might prove interesting, as well a challenging.
The story itself is fairly straightforward. Good sister/bad (sort of) sister. There's a mix-up and the wrong sister gets the accolades. We'll see where it goes from here, but the world itself is interesting. Magic is a part of the world's makeup and to see it out on the street is no big thing.
The coloring in this book by Andrew Crossley is probably the best of the four series. It's never too dark. The nighttime scenes are clear to see. The characters parade around in bright clothing. And the special computer separation effects are used sparingly and unobtrusively.
SCION - Futuristic Sword and Sorcery
Being futuristic fantasy means having some high-tech armor gizmos. It's strictly a matter of personal preference, but I don't like the look here. The armor is a glowing yellow and red hologram-like thing that sits on top of the rest of the art. The blacklines are held and colored red. I'm afraid it just doesn't work for me. Sometimes it interferes with my ability to follow the fight scene, which isn't a good thing in a book about a big ritual fight.
In the meantime, it looks like our here's new mark is causing him some trouble. Tune in next month to see where this leads. It doesn't look to be pretty. Personally, I'd be very interested in seeing the series revolve around the gladiator-style combats and the players in it. Keep lots of politics going in it, maybe some sort of forbidden romance between the two "warring" families… Who knows? It might go that way. We shall see.
SIGIL - Science Fiction
There are some problems with the art here. A lot of flat faces. Some confusing hardware. The two lead male characters look almost alike. If you have to stare at them for a while to figure out which one is which, you're in trouble.
I have a real problem with some of Wil Quintana's coloring in here. He picks some background colors that nearly match the colors of the foreground characters. Check out the pseudosaur fight sequences. The animals are dark green and red - the backgrounds are a slight shade lighter green and darker blue. Check out page 10 for the worst offender.
This book is the closest to science-fiction adventure as we're probably going to get in this line. So far, we've got an interesting alien culture, some fast ships, a minority human populace, and animal wars. Some of it is pretty neat stuff. I'm interested in seeing more of where this is going.
MERIDIAN - Coming of Age Fantasy
But something struck me funny enough about this book that I went around the 'net scouting for reviews. Thankfully, I'm not the only one who noticed what I noticed.
Meridian's lead character is Sephie, who looks to be, at best, 13. She looks even younger, but I'll be kind about it. Yet, the artist, Joshua Middleton, seems to be sexualizing her. It's a bit unnerving to have a gratuitous panty shot and then a shot of her with her top clutched to her bare chest, her breasts starting to lap over her hands. I know some even had a problem with the opening splash of her in a rather short dress, exposing a lot of leg and thigh. Personally, I don't have much of a problem with that page on its own. I've seen plenty of kids wearing plenty of little these days. Nothing surprises me anymore. And short shorts are back in this year. But when you add that page in with the following pages and their problems, you start thinking about it.
Also in CrossGen's defense, the problem seems mostly limited to that opening sequence. After that, there aren't too many more problems. The rest of the way, she's in a floor-length gown. And in the last scene, where she's seen woken up out of bed, the artist didn't take the cheesecake route. Maybe it was an early idea that got toned back. We'll have to see what happens in the next issue before passing final judgment.
Otherwise, the book has a little of that LEAVE IT TO CHANCE feel. The art is deceptively simple, left very open for the colorist - Michael Atiyeh - to do his best work. While the nighttime scenes are often too dark, leaving a very dull-looking page, he does some great work
The general gist of the series is that Sephie's father is now dead, and both she and her evil uncle have the sigil that's going around across the CrossGen universe. Her uncle is pure evil, just about completely one-sidedly. Heck, he's even creepy. In the CHRONICLES story, his speech to Sephie about keeping their "marks" a family secret is reminiscent of a sexual abuser reminding his young victim to not tell anyone else. I probably normally wouldn't think such a thing, but in light of those opening pages, there you have it.
This is probably the book I hold out the most hope for. It could have that sense of whimsy and the fantastic that a good fantasy should have.
I'd also like to see more of a sense of humor in these books. They're very dry. The plot plods along and the story gets told, but there's not much comic relief anywhere. Nobody even gets the chance to toss off a good one-liner. Yes humor can be subtler. It doesn't need to hit you over the head, and I really hope it wouldn't become anachronistic, or too rooted in pop culture. That would be wrong. But it can extend from character. So far in these books, however, there is none.
A lot of the coloring is too dark throughout the line. I'll give the benefit of the doubt here and trust the colorists will adjust their work after they see these first printed issues. Coloring comics is about more than just crafting colors that look good together. One of the trickier parts has to be in crafting colors that will work on the color stock at hand. How many muddy-looking comics are caused by colors that were made for glossy paper getting printed on white or newsprint paper?
The lettering is solid, although I sometimes have to disagree with the balloon locations that straddle two panels without good reasons. Usually, you only do that to help guide the reader's eye through a potentially tricky progression of panels. More than once in these books, it's done willy-nilly, or so as not to block up too much art. I suppose it's a real danger with computer lettering today that the artists don't block off enough space for lettering anymore.
I hope these books get to grow individually. It doesn't look like it would be too easy to cross the four titles over to share storylines, but I hope they don't look too hard to find a way to do it. Let the books develop on their own.
In the end, CrossGen has some interesting concepts, some good production values, but a whole lot of questions still left unanswered after their first month. None of these books excited me, quite honestly, but none of them is horribly dreadful.
(For more on CrossGen's chance of success in this comics market, check out the December 31st, 1999 Pipeline column.)
NEXT WEEK IN THE PIPELINE
The following week or two will be quite interesting. That's the week of the San Diego Comic Con. The columns of the 21st and the 25th will most likely be written before I leave. I promise it will be only the highest quality filler material, though! After that, look for a complete convention report, most likely told in more than one part.
Just in time for that con report to be finished, look for a Wizard World con report. Yup, I'm headed off to Chicago for that one the weekend of August 4th, as well. It's going to be a busy summer, indeed!