Sunday Slugfest - Starkweather #1 and 2

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Kelvin Green, James Redington, Jason Sacks
Michael Deeley

Alex Starkweather is another 20-something slacker who just happened to be born a witch. He can summon magic powers but not very well. Stark has had visions of a girl named Eddy. He sees her dying, followed by the end of the world. Stark finds her, barely saves her from golems, and somehow she gives him more power than he ever imagined. Meanwhile, the witches who created the golems sense their destruction. They’re surprised to learn Starkweather is still alive.

So we’ve got the likeable loser with a mysterious past, the secret organization that wants to kill him, those hot chicks that only exist in the world of comics, lots of gunplay, and an upskirt shot. Frankly, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. When I read the Starkweather preview in Ant #3, I was thought it would be an action/comedy with magic. It’s more like a bad action movie. “He’s a witch. She’s a savior. They’re the world’s only hope. If they don’t’ kill each other first.”

The coloring makes everything look flat and plastic. There’s too much emphasis on the action shots. It’s very early Image–style, which tells me the artists haven’t been doing this for very long.

Right now, I’m not interested in reading the next issue. I was briefly distracted by this story, and take nothing away. This is disposable fluff. You’ve got better ways to spend 3 dollars.

Kelvin Green

The funny thing about The Matrix was that it was a “sampled” movie. Hardly anything in there was in any way original, but all the familiar elements were mixed together so well that the whole became more than the sum of its parts. Why the diversion into film theory? Well, it’s because that, with one notable exception, this is pretty much the same feeling I got from reading the first two issues of Starkweather.

There’s nothing overtly ripped from elsewhere in this comic, but the whole thing has a hint of familiarity to it that would be distracting, or even damaging, if the creative team didn’t do such a good job. It's not an excellent job, but it’s competent and solid work.

The art style is somewhere between the Lee/Silvestri school and something more cartoony and stylised. Actually, it reminds me a lot of Olivier Coipel’s work when he’s being inked by Andy Lanning, and since that’s a look I really enjoyed on titles like Avengers and Legion Lost, it’s good to see something similar here. There’s also some manga influence creeping in, giving some images a Madureira-ish look, which is also not to be sniffed at. The colouring is particularly well done, especially in the second issue, and on the whole, it’s a good job by the art team. There are a couple of clunky storytelling moments, and there is a slight tendency toward gratuitous arse and boob shots, but these really are only minor niggles. The main flaw with the look of the comic, and I am really reaching here, is the lettering, in particular the placement and shape of bubbles and captions. Quite often, the text doesn’t flow across the page in the way it should, and there are a number of instances of the letterer not leaving himself enough room, leading to too-dense speech bubbles, and on one occasion, a text caption that’s grown an unsightly appendage in order to fit the extra words in. Thankfully, this problem is largely under control in the second issue.

The writing too is well done. The dialogue is a bit bland and conventional, but the characters are well written, and the inter-character dynamics are a particular strong point; the requisite religious nutters are a bit yawn-worthy (they're even called “Templars”), but their opposite faction, who you’d usually expect to be portrayed in a more heroic light, are implied to be more than a little dodgy themselves, which is somewhat refreshing. The plot rattles along at a good fast pace, and effective use is made of flashbacks and other narrative techniques. It’s a good solid piece of writing, and is far better than I really expected. I think it’s fair to say that the art is somewhat misleading here, as on first glance it gives the impression of an “Image style” book, whereas upon reading it’s clear that the writing is the driving force, and deservedly so.

So it’s solid, but not the most exciting comic book around. Just based on what I’ve looked at above, I most likely wouldn’t pick this comic up with any kind of regularity. And yet, I have to say that I am actually interested in reading more.

The thing that’s really caught my attention here is not the characters, art or scripting, but the setting. Through lots of subtle touches such as the “power of disbelief” (borrowed perhaps from White Wolf’s Mage rpg, but it’s such a good idea that it’s worth recycling), the weaving metaphors used to describe magic use, and the interesting emphasis on magicians’ hands (magic users are punished by having their hands disabled; a magician whose hands are severed loses the will to live), an intriguing world is hinted at. I want to see lots more of this world. I want to know how magic works here, and what the rules are. It’s clear that the creators have thought long and hard about how things work in the world of Starkweather, and perhaps it’s just the philosopher in me, but I’m really quite interested in seeing more of this world.

All in all, this is an accomplished work. While not much beyond the setting stands out as being particularly noteworthy, it’s all very competently and confidently done. An excellent start to what looks to be a very interesting series.

James Redington

I have been collecting comics since I was 12, reading them since I can remember and been a Superman addict since infancy (I am told I first saw Superman: The Movie at the age of 2). I must admit it wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I looked further than the mainstream comics for my fix. Since then I have read a lot of stuff that I would have never read. Some of it was utter rubbish and some of it incredible (Al Davison’s Spiral Cage being the latest amazing piece).

The first issue of Starkweather one of those comics that I would never have picked up, but now I have read it, I am glad I did. I enjoyed it more than the other Slugfest title, and also more than the entire Marvel What Ifs I paid out for this week, completely blowing my budget!

Anyway, back to the plot... er review... Starkweather is a Witch (Wizard) on a mission. The comic is basically one big chase, and it’s great fun. I liked the characters and the interaction with the two leads. The only let down was that some of the dialogue seemed a little too heavy. The story is simple but fun, and that’s why it works. I had no expectation of this comic, and that’s why I enjoyed it.

The art is solid and in places extremely good. The inks are nice and crisp and the colouring brings life to the pages.

Conclusion: Good entertaining fun, a good comic with promise for the upcoming issues.

Jason Sacks

The first two issues of Starkweather are a real treat. Moving with the speed of a lightning bolt and reading like an unproduced summer action movie, these two issues are knockouts. It seems there is an eternal battle in the world, between a group of witches and the Templars from the Vatican. The Templars possess brute strength and a single-minded hatred. The witches possess cleverness, power and passion. Our protagonist is Alexander Starkweather, a line cook at Pancake Nation, who possesses magical powers and who has been having visions of a beautiful young woman whose fate somehow holds the future of the world. From the moment the pair meet on page two, the comic never stops. Action flows from page to page, and the eternal struggle manifests itself in the two main characters. By the end of the second issue, readers are left gasping and are too intrigued by the plot to complain.

David Rodriguez does a great job of introducing background in drips and drabs. Some writers might let readers know about the background of the characters using word balloons as exposition, or with long captions. Instead, here Rodriguez introduces characters and plot threads as he goes, expecting readers to keep up with him. The results might ask the reader to look at the book a second time to pick up everything, but isn’t that part of the fun of spending $2.95 on a comic book?

John Bosco and Rob Lean’s art fits well with the story. The pair use a clean line style that makes the twists easy to follow, and helps to deepen the characters in the story. I really liked the variety of pages they deliver - there isn't a nine-panel grid in sight. Instead, the pair uses clever storytelling to help the story move along.

For a work by three unknown creators, this is a terrific comic. Hell, if this was by three established creators, it would be a winner. I honestly had no idea what to expect from this comic, but issues 1 and 2 turned out to be really wonderful.

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