CROSSGEN AT 8 MONTHS
It's two thirds of a year since CrossGen's first books came out. And nary a week has gone by without some interesting announcement from them. They've signed superstars such as Mark Waid and George Perez to (nearly) exclusive contracts. They've landed Greg Land and Bart Sears, amongst others. Their early issues are selling out now. They've got trade paperback collections coming out soon of those early issues. The line is expanding. The titles still remain separate. They're approaching profitability. The books are coming out on time every month with amazing consistency.
It's been an amazing first year, and I haven't looked at most of the books they've produced since the first month. So between this column and next Friday's, I plan to look at all five regular series. (By the end of the year, there will be three more.) This week, I'll start with SIGIL and SCION.
…has a touch of feudalism to it, and a dash of sword and sorcery. (OK, mostly it's sword. The sorcery is over in MYSTIC, to be reviewed next week.) On this world, the omnipresent CrossGen sigil marks a boy named Ethan on the day of his achieving manhood in a ceremonial battle. Tragedy strikes when the sigil unexpectedly allows Ethan to wound his enemy, something that should not be allowed to happen. This quickly ignites into war between the two sides.
That's the much-abbreviated version.
As a whole, the series holds together really well, stays completely self-contained, gives us high adventure, and a small number of environments and lifeforms.
Ron Marz displays a remarkable knack for writing dialogue in this book. The characters speak like you'd expect to see them speak in a period piece film. As I was reading through it, I could hear the voices of the characters in my head.
Jimmy Cheung does a pretty good job in maintaining a high degree of detail in his artwork, as well as with telling a story. He doesn't skimp on the backgrounds, or on the level of detail in the costumes worn. The sixth issue is his high watermark, as he illustrates the war between the Eastern Lands and the Western Lands in all its widescreen glory. That issue came out around the same time as the first issue of THE FIRST, and the two shared a certain dynamic for the month.
The story across these first seven issues is more than just an origin tale. Usually, you get the origin story out of the way and then devolve into something fairly episodic, utilizing everything you've set up in the origin. In some ways, there are some fairly typical origin bits to this puzzle. We're introduced to an underwater race in the fifth issue that seems to serve no purpose. Heck, you could remove most of the elements of the fifth issue and still carry through with the story. It seems that the chance to play PERFECT STORM was just too cute to pass up. (If one wished to extend the movie metaphor, then the sixth issue is somewhere between BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR.)
There's just something nipping at the back of my skull about this book, though, and it's something I fear I can't put into words. A lot of stuff happens. But it happens too fast. There's not a remarkably large cast of characters for a book in which two lands are preparing for war, but it often seems as if there are some opportunities wasted. The politics of the situation are given short shrift. They are rapidly explained to put the adventure and action elements into motion. War is as much about politics and personalities as it is about blood and weapons. I come from the Isaac Asimov school of storytelling – put two smart guys a room and let them disagree for 30 pages. That's exciting to me. The visceral rush from watching one guy gut another, or from one character outrunning and outmaneuvering another pales by comparison. (Unless, of course, there's some clever thought put into those sequences.)
This first batch of seven issues wouldn't work as a movie, for example, because there are a lot of things that just wouldn't make sense. We put up with them because we recognize that this is a serialized form that will attempt to explain them all over the course of time. I imagine that with the eighth issue, we'll see those early concepts reintroduced and brought back into the spotlight. I'm looking forward to seeing what light Ron Marz chooses to shine on them there.
The biggest plot question right now revolves around the character of Ashleigh, the character that fulfills the book's babe quotient, as well as being an important friend to Ethan. But her allegiances are unsure and her actions not quite predictable. In her sly way, she's rather intriguing. How does she do the things she does, and what is her link to certain other characters in the book? (I'm keeping things vague to hold back some spoilers. Judging from the cover for the forthcoming eighth issue, I'm guessing we'll be learning a lot more about her soon.)
As a comic book, it works. It's an interesting title. You'll fast find yourself rooting hardest for Skink, Ethan's second and probably the most sympathetic character in the book. He plays the Alfred to Ethan's Batman.
Jimmy Cheung's art (with Don Hillsman II's inks) is easy to look at, and does not go anywhere near the bad girl territory that it could have gone in at certain points. His male character and female characters all look remarkably... human. Not artificial. He doesn't skimp on drawing dramatic vistas, or detailed cities or crowds of "Lesser" characters, either. He just has a bad habit of drawing Ethan with his mouth wide open on the cover an awful lot. (Check out issues 1, 3, 4, and 6. Issue #5 sorta qualifies, but it's not the same expression.)
Caesar Rodriguez colors the book and adds in some wonderful mood lighting where appropriate, such as mist and clouds. If you like your comics colored in multiple shades of blue, you're going to love this stuff. ;-)
SCION also gets high marks for using Rick Leonardi to do the fill-in art on the seventh issue. We need to see more art from him, and this issue is one more example of why.
…is the science fiction/fantasy series, starring a bunch of Saurians (dinosaur people) at odds with a series of human cultures. In the middle is Samandahl Rey, who has recently been given the obligatory CrossGen markings on his chest, giving him the powers to mutate objects into any form he wishes, and the need to bare that chest as often as possible.
SIGIL starts off with a bang, and doesn't really stop for the first seven issues. Barbara Kesel keeps the book moving, although sometimes it seems to move at the expense of explanations. (Sound familiar?) Of the two books this week, this one seems to be the one with the most amount of back-story and the largest cast of important characters.
The first seven issues function as the origin story would. We're introduced to the characters that will be the stars of the book – one of which is killed in the first book, but gets better. Sorta. We've got the young danger-lover, JeMerik, who happens to be running away from his security job with the king's court. The older danger-lover, Samandahl Rey, is possessed of the sigil. The contracted bride who's run away from the sultan, Zanniati, joins up next. And the dead woman, Roiya, whose soul possesses the ship starts off as Sam's confidant. Pretty nifty stuff, actually, but the book has a series of problems.
The first is that I still have no idea how old the lead, Sam, is supposed to be. When the Lai brothers drew the book for the first 5 issues, he looked to be about the same age as JeMerik, the runaway security guard. (Heck, if it weren't for the two wisps of hair in front of JeMerik's face, there would times I couldn't tell them apart at all.) Merik keeps positioning himself as younger. And Sam, in the fifth and sixth issues, makes references to his last conflict with his "squad" ten years earlier against the villain, nicknamed "Loser." Even worse, the two new artists on the sixth and seventh issues (Steven McNiven and Kevin Sharpe) make him look progressively older, turning his golden hair closer to gray and adding wrinkles to his face.
Sam in issue #2.