Two for #1: March 2013A comic review article by: Keith Silva, Jamil Scalese, Nick Hanover
"Every comic book is someone's first comic book."
-- The eighth of Chuck Dixon's Ten Commandments for comic book scriptwriting.
If you read comic books there's a very good chance you read a lot of #1s … a lot. On any given Wednesday there are about ten bazillion new series launched and in a highly competitive market it's tough to wade through them all.
That's where the team of Silva and Scalese come in. Every month Keith and Jamil will each pick a #1 issue from the previous month to review. Two writers, two number ones, hence the very clever title, "Two for #1." Or Twofers if we're feelin" lazy.
When it comes to comic book criticism the only thing more exciting than two nerds bullshitting about comics is when three nerds bullshit about comics, so each month a Mystery Date will select their own premiere issue, you know, to spice things up a bit.
The point is to tell you whether these new comics are worth a damn, and we'll give our suggestions on whether you should Get 2, Get It or Forget It altogether.
T.S. Eliot says April is the cruelest month. Our reviewers weren't very keen on March either.
(Cullen Bunn, Joëlle Jones, Nick Filardi, Ed Brisson; Oni)
Keith Silva: Helheim hits on some my favorite things namely Norsemen, gothic horror and skeleton warriors -- once you go Harryhausen you never go back -- and yet, this issue left me like a Siegfried without his Brünnhilde. Bunn, Jones and Filardi offer a couple good decapitations, a witchy woman and trust the reader will fill in the rest. I'm all for "gettin' to it," but a little "romancin'" never hurt nobody.
Even with our small sample size on "Two For #1," so far, we can read the bones and detect patterns. First issues find a default setting that is either an introduction in the most parochial sense i.e. getting the team together or the a more literal beginning of a story that (when collected) will become a part of the whole like Devestator or if you're more old school, Gaiking. Helheim might be the first #1 we're reviewing with a greave in both camps and yet incomplete and odd.
Helheim cuts to the chase (literally) as a handful of men of the North are pursued by bare-chested "savages." Bunn does yeoman's work by way of introductions, world-building and stakes with this in medias res open. Pursuit aside, Helheim reads fast until it hits a plot point about three-fourths of the way through that causes confusion and a loss of momentum.
When the pursuant savages are killed they are (soon) reborn as rune-tattooed skeleton warriors. To appease these boney-assed badasses, the (all) father figure, Kirk, offers up his son Rickard's beloved, Bera, and says, "She's the one you want! Take her and leave the rest of us be!" It's easy to spot a Jonah even when she goes by the name Bera.
Dad doesn't dig the woman his son is shacking up with, happens all the time. When papa decides to hand his son's lover over the undead army without cause, any suspension of disbelief begins to sag. By the end, Bunn brings everything around and explains why father knows best, however; because he short-circuits the Kirk-Bera-Rickard relationship Bunn doesn't earn the final reveal.
Jamil, are you hell-bent for Helheim or did you find this comic dead-on-arrival?
Jamil: It's the ol' bait and switch move. Cullen Bunn and his merry gang of visual artists present us with a concept, then severely change the status quo within the first issue. It's a pretty sweet move, and as you pointed to, something we've secretly been begging for at Apartment 241, Comics Bulletin Blvd.
Normally, I'd be all about this, but something didn't mesh right for me. The Nordic setting isn't something I'm familiar with, but I'm receptive, although I found this group to be kinda inept (I mean they just left their gate wide open and let those skele-warriors scuttle in). Some of the weirder elements of the comic kept me intrigued, though even with a fast pace and good action I was wishing I could fast-forward to Helheim #10 to get past the window-dressing and to the meat of the central conflict. That family dynamic you mention is all sorts of twisted up by the end, and while it does drive me to check out #2, I'm just not sure I'm jiving the big twist. Whose book is this? Rikard's? Bera or Kirk's?
The horror slant mixed with the historical context make it worth checking out, that's for sure, but really I think the art is where my interests are mitigating. Joëlle Jones produces a great looking issue, establishing a firm look for the title, but those angular lines, and edgy, ridged details failed to appease my picky eye. There's something unnatural about the way she draw heads, they seem superimposed on the bodies, and not in the dead rising from their fresh graves type of way.
You've been looking forward to this comic for months, Keith. Did it live up to your expectations? Is this the new The Sixth Gun?
Keith: Why must you bait me Jamil and make me reveal my secret sin(s)?!? My name is Keith Silva and I've never read The Sixth Gun. For shame.
I won't tell you The Sixth Gun is on my "to-read-list," -- it's a long and distinguished list, I assure you. We all have our blind spots and (for now) The Sixth Gun remains one of mine, let's let it lie. I was excited for Helheim because it was my chance to get in on the ground floor on a Cullen Bunn joint.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Viking longhouse. In a recent interview with Comics Alliance, Bunn brags: "I think that there's no end to what you can do with a Viking Frankenstein." Agreed; however, an ongoing is (apparently) not one of them, Bunn says, "If Helheim doesn't go beyond the initial six issue story arc, I believe readers will feel satisfied with Rikard's story, where it goes, and how it all nets out. He will have a complete story arc and will have gone through his journey by the end of the sixth issue."
I thought it was an on-going, it's a limited series, so what? If it's good, it's good , right? Maybe. There is no end to what you can do with a Viking Frankenstein or a Viking Frankenstein's monster. So why shackle him to six issues? Why not twelve? Why not make it an ongoing?
I'm with you Jamil, Jones' art fits the story well -- not sure about some of her panels, especially during the fight scene, but that's nitpicking. Credit for the look of Helheim belongs to colorist Nick Filardi as much as Jones. The robin's egg blue of the smoke as it rises off of the skeletons is as cool as it is creepy.
So, Jamil, what can you do with a Viking Frankenstein?
Jamil: No shame in a lengthy "to-read" list, Silva. The Sixth Gun is on mine too.
I'm not sure exactly what a Viking Frankenstein is (even if it does show up in this issue), or what it does, but the limited series versus ongoing thing is all about money, my friend. I reviewed a series awhile back by Joshua Hale Fialkov called The Last of the Greats, a book obviously meant to be something more than a six issue arc. These new endeavors are given a tragically short lease, and creators need the balance short-term payoff and long-term story building to maximum efficiency.
Hellheim can go a lot of different ways based on the way the first issue end, and given those freaky appearances by the spirit of an older Rikard I think it'll get real weird wit it, which is what I'm always whining about.
I'm not totally on board with the whole concept but I throw big time props in the direction of Bunn and Jones in terms of risk-taking and fresh material. As an action-adventure/fantasy it might speak to some comic readers. A mild Get It because I respect the novelty of Hellheim #1, but as I implied, this feels like a comic that will be really good in about its third act. The question is if it will ever get there.
Keith: I'm willing to give Helheim a pass and rate this as a "Get It," but it will read as well collected as it will in singles. Forget It and wait for the trade.
Aliens vs. Parker #1
(Paul Sheer, Nick Giovannetti, Manuel Bracchi; BOOM!)
Jamil: Up front there are two things that need to be known about Aliens vs. Parker #1:
a) No aliens.
b) It's the Hangover plus Harold and Kumar set in space.
That second point isn't a vague comparison, it's like literally the comic's content. With a cast and plot that fit the typical Hollywood R-rated comedy I didn't need to read this article to find out the book was originally a movie script.
Comedian Paul Sheer, along with writer Nick Giovannetti, present the story about a gang of slacker delivery boys who encounter a weird, obviously dangerous situation and do the stupidest thing possible in response. It's the type of scenario that's entirely avoidable, if not for a compellingly hot female in a whisper of trouble.
With an Arab/Indian stoner, an absurd, bearded fat man, a finicky, white tough-guy and the under-confident, normal guy extraordinaire Parker it's almost surprising how cookie-cutter typical movie roles are these days. I'm not sure if the creative team intended one of characters to look like Zach Galifianakis, but if they didn't...
Oh yeah, that ain't a mistake.
Reading the above might make one think I thought negatively Aliens vs. Parker #1. I didn't, actually, I kind of liked it. A comic book that is legitimately funny is so rare that any creative endeavor able to produce a chuckle represents a prize to be cherished, and this one did make me laugh out loud just a little. It was just painfully apparent that the story was not written for the medium. For the purposes of a single issue and a #1 it fails on many counts.
Keith: The last line of Aliens Vs. Parker gives this Shark Sandwich the perfect garnish: "This is not good!"
From the jump this comic feels like a vanity project like when a dictator writes a novel or a celebrity goes in for one of those reality shows that involve zip lines. I'd say Aliens Vs. Parker is a cash grab for noted ironic t-shirt wearer and the man who made diastema cool (again?), Paul Scheer, but this is comics, nobody makes any money.
I'll bet dollars to donuts that BOOM! receives more entertaining and creative scripts from people who don't co-star in semi-improv cable comedies or write comedy for MTV and Adult Swim, as does Mr. Giovannetti. Hell, Jamil, I'd like to think BOOM! could pluck one of the hundreds (thousands?) of web comic creators out there on the Internets and give them a chance to crack the monthly floppy marketplace than waste ink on something as dull and unimaginative as Aliens Vs. Parker. One "I think I just diarrhead in my mouth" gag does not a comic about slacker space-mailman make, not at $3.99!
Since I've already invoked the great documentarian and rock-and-roll swindler, Marty DiBergi, let me borrow from that no talent hack and go out on this banal DiBergi-ism: "[Scheer and Giovannetti ]are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad jokes about man-boobs."
So, Jamil, uh …
Jamil: Humor is a fickle bitch, man.
There are sooo many different types of funny, and the degrees between hilarious, chuckle-worthy, not-funny and offensive are razor thin. One thing about most major movies in the current era -- if you don't have the right talent then the jokes often fall flat. Look at a comedy like Anchorman, it's got an odd period setting, borderline misogynist humor and phantom of a plotline but it's great. Without a talented cast like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrel, Paul Rudd and the "Whammy!" guy it could have easily been a really bad movie forgotten in the annals of time.
The talent dilemma comes up again here. The scenarios and one-liners that might sound fantastic in a space-themed buddy comedy movie don't necessarily translate to a space-themed buddy comedy comic. There is a "transported" aura that's thick in this one. Even in the case of art, Manuel Bracchi does very little to set this apart, and that's probably more company-mandated than anything. The very vanilla look is detrimental to making this anything more than a weak story riddled with bunch of raunchy jokes.
I picked this because I really like Paul Sheer. Superjail!, NTSF:SD::SUV and The League are all shows I thoroughly enjoy, and as a "superfan" of both Lost and Breaking Bad he and I even have the same tastes in TV entertainment. So I'm pretty damned disappointed in the fluff he put his name on here. Thing is, I read a free (!) NTSF:SD::SUV comic he co-wrote a few months back and it was super funny. But that's possibly because the tone of that show is so distinct and concrete.
What Aliens vs. Parker #1 tells us is that creating a comic book is not something you can jump into haphazardly; it's an art form that deserves time and patient craft-building. A story needs to be fine-tuned for comics, not just poured in indiscriminately. BOOM! should have sent this back to the writers with a fat list of suggestions on how to improve it.
Forget It, and don't look back. Even though we haven't seen the aliens yet, I can't see anything remotely dynamic happening in this comic. Also, I'm a little pissed I picked this over my other first issue candidate, Hickman and Dragotta's East of West. Damn does that joint look sick.
Keith: Two words: shit sandwich.
Guardians of the Galaxy #1
(Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, John Dell, Justin Ponsor; Marvel)
Nick Hanover: "Brian Michael Bendis does not believe in comic book critics" is the mantra I repeat during my third reading of Guardians of the Galaxy #1. Is it a glib mantra? Only partially. But it helps keep me focused on context, which in this case means applying something other than the "knee jerk reviews" and "copy and pasting" Bendis believes us critic folk rely on to a comic that itself seems to be a knee jerk application of copying and pasting what are now Bendis clichés to the newly relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy series.
While Bendis and artist Steve McNiven's #0.1 issue was a boring waste of time that spent a couple dozen pages explaining an origin that could have been covered in three, the real premier goes the opposite route, padding its length with never ending conflict. We start with Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, battling a Kree woman's unwillingness to sleep with him, move on to a three-way conflict between Quill, his neglectful father and Quill's seemingly sentient haircut before ending with a larger battle between the Guardians, their new friend Iron Man and a lone Badoon battleship.
In between, there's a whole lot of exposition, most of which comes via Iron Man, who serves as a sort of audience surrogate, both in terms of his familiarity with the Guardians and his status as an actual human. There's some kind of gap in time between when Star-Lord quarrels with his hair and his father and when he meets up with Iron Man, but Bendis has no interest in filling in that gap because I guess that would give us less room for exposition and Badoon flybys. All we need to know is that Peter Quill's dad is a dick who put the Earth in danger through a ruling that the Earth is off limits to all non-humans and now the Badoon and, presumably other baddies, are on their way to wreck the shit out of the Earth.
I know I'm spending a lot of my time here picking on Bendis, but that's because I feel it would be unfair to lay the blame on McNiven, unless he's the one responsible for Quill's hair getting so much time in the spotlight. McNiven's art doesn't exactly work in a sci-fi space opera context; the faces he draws appear to be carved from brittle rock and the space gadgetry and gear is flattened by Justin Ponsor's colors. But Bendis doesn't exactly give this art team a lot of room to do interesting work; the battles mostly fizzle out before they go anywhere and the invasion scene at the end is so cliché and rote that even the panicked humans in the splash page look half-bored.
I don't know, guys, am I just being a knee-jerk critic here? Or is Bendis guilty of his own copying and pasting, leaning too heavy on his own previous work and the work of others to patch together a bloated mess of an adventure book?
Keith: If Bendis is, as you claim "cutting and pasting" his own Bendisisms (my word) into Guardians of the Galaxy -- new lamps for old -- I say why not. Why take a risk, Nick, right? Maybe it's more a case of re-gifting, but let's set lazy clichés aside.
Any popular entertainment (should) begin with the question: "who's the audience?" Guardians of the Galaxy is an otherwise adequate comic book so middle-of-the-road it could be a double yellow line. Like with the Nova reboot, I feel like this comic should come with one of those headline banners; you know the kind Marvel likes to use when it runs a crossover event. The banner could read: GAURDIANS OF THE GALAXY 8.1.14!
Again, who's the audience for this book? Is it the dyed-in-the-wool superfan who can quote previous iterations of GotG chapter and verse? Or is it for the unfortunate soul who stumbles into a comic shop and lucks into this first volley of what feels less like an on-going series and more like a marketing campaign? Don't get me going about the integrity of American corporate comics versus "shallow entertainment that promotes their heartless agenda of profit."
It reminds me of the scene in Mulholland Drive when the director Adam Kesher meets with his investors, the Castigliane brothers, and he's told: this is the girl. Kesher shouts, "That girl is not in my film!" He is then told: "It's no longer your film."
In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy: this is the tousled blond space prince, this is the tattooed green-skinned muscle man, this is the screaming tree, this is the sexy female warrior and this is the talking raccoon. Bendis doesn't have to do anything (except maybe recycle -- ZING!) because he's playing with house money. This is the girl.
I'll stand up for McNiven, inker John Dell and Ponsor. You're right, Nick, Quill's coiffure looks like it has its own personal backlight and the costumes are dreadful, but it looks pretty, the colors pop and space never looked so … starry (?), vast.
Jamil, jump in here and explain why we're being a couple of crotchety cranks in the face of this fine (safe) corporate entertainment.
Jamil: You've got me on my heels, comic bros. I'm supposed to defend Brian Michael Bendis? I'm already giving him shit about his robot comics, I can't really contradict myself all like that. Well, at least not blatantly.
Know what's crazy? I really liked GotG after my first read. It has energy, uses humor well and generally puts together a compelling premise. I'm happy they don't oversimplify the concept and attempt to give something digestible to the contingent of comic fans like myself who have almost no experience with this team of alien superheroes. For a "Bendis comic," it held my attention and played to the writer's strengths, melodrama and good dialogue.
The paper thin plot should be expected in a Bendis comic. The first issue fails to hold true to the core concept. Why are we so concerned with Earth? These are the Guardians of the Galaxy. There are parts of the central source of tension, the galactic empires deciding to leave Earth to its own devices, that I really like, but it makes little sense that Star-Lord is so concerned. As long as Earth got Thor, Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wonder Man and the gang I'm not sure they're sweating any type of alien invasion. Plus, as you pointed, Nick, why are the Badoon doing invading London with one ship? The hell is going on?
There are some misguided attempts to connect to a general audience here that I don't understand. Centering the comic around Earth? Bringing Iron Man into the fold? We're talking about superhero comics here, if you're looking for something relatable watch a sitcom.
Marvel fired off the promotional hype parade for this one, claiming it part of a bigger initiative for their long dormant cosmic brand, yet, I'm failing to see how this really set up anything but the incoming made-for-trade arc.
Nick: It's not that I don't know what I'm getting into when I see "Bendis" on the cover of something, Jamil, (and I think the fact that you are prepared for the Bendis trumps your lack of Guardians knowledge) but given that this is ostensibly a comic targeted at people who maybe want to explore the world of Guardians of the Galaxy before the movie hits, I felt this was an especially weak comic. And I don't mean that in a "I want the writer to hold the new audience's hand" kind of way, but in the "I want this comic that is setting the stage for a major motion picture to have some semblance of structure" kind of way.
Hear me out, here. If you were a fan of the Walking Dead TV show, and you decided to pick up the first issue of the series, and it was structured this same way-- that is to say, it begins with wink wink nudge nudge longbox referencing pick-up lines before a series of confusing fights that also lean on wink wink nudge nudge longbox references before a climax that, oh boy, has another wink wink nudge nudge longbox reference-- would you ever pick up another issue of that series or, fuck it, even try comics period after?
When I read this thing-- even as a longtime comics reader and fan of the Guardians-- I felt like someone had pulled Paper Moon's quick change scam on me and a comic that should have been a 99-cent digital supplement had robbed me of an extra $3. When I read this issue, it just reminds me why we have such a difficult time getting people to get into superhero comics or comics in general -- it's full of dialogue that thinks it's cleverer than it is, nothing really happens other than some fisticuffs and instead of a three-act structure we are dropped right in the middle of act two. Which would be fine if this was the middle of an arc, but holy shit, this is a first issue. Which is why this is a major Forget It for me.
Keith: I think we're (kind of) all saying the same thing in different ways: Guardians of the Galaxy underwhelms, we wish it didn't, but it does. Maybe first issues aren't one of Bendis's strengths. Last month, Jamil and I both had issues with Uncanny X-Men #1, another Bendis joint, Jamil gave it a "Get It" and I gave it a tempered "Leave It." Bendis et al. have carte blanche. Nick wants them to use their power (responsibly) and give him something more untamed and more one-of-a-kind. Jamil, like me, I think, you wanted something less vanilla and with more heart. I want to ship along with the Guardians of the Galaxy -- Rocket Raccoon is my dog … er … raccoon -- but not like this. The good news is this comic book is not going anywhere (for at least two years). I've heard All-New X-Men has picked up after a dull start and I thought Uncanny X-Men #2 (do as I say, not as I do) was a vast improvement over the premier issue. Give GotG some time, it's apt to improve, but for now, Forget It.
Jamil: I closed the comic completely intent on giving it a passing grade, but you're arguments are too sound, gents.
While I did enjoy the "in the steam of continuity" feel I won't deny the foolishness in focusing on Iron Man, Star-Lord and his sentient hairdo. Drax, Rocket, Groot, Gamora -- these are the characters I'm unfamiliar with. When will they get their moments in the (or a) sun? Peter's family issues, and Tony's attempt at isolation were not what I was expecting. How can Guardians of the Galaxy #1 claim the title as the gateway to new Marvel space comics when all we get is a quick, seemingly flavorless battle that concerns the most un-space thing possible -- planet Earth.
My guess? Guardians will only begin to produce more dynamic and important comics when we start seeing promotional material graced by the faces of Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista. By then Marvel will have their Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull and Rocket Raccoon ongoings already on the rack, possibly even close to cancelation.
I was prepared to tell the masses to give it a try, but y'all convinced moi, it's a Forget It in terms of a weak first issue and the pathetic central struggle.