Singles Going Steady 4/8/2014: Flashy Flash and a Robot Biter

A comic review article by: Gabe Carrasco , Justin Giampaoli , Alex Wolfe, Chris Wunderlich, John Yohe

Singles Going Steady

Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup. 

 

Flash Gordon #1

(Jeff Parker / Evan Shaner / Jordie Bellaire / Simon Bowland; Dynamite)
2.5 stars
Seems the planets were aligned. This book had everything going for it. Jeff Parker is easily one of my favourite writers working in comics today. His Agents of Atlas was one of the most enjoyable superhero comics of the past 10 years. His criminally ignored and quickly cancelled reboot of Exiles made what was once my favourite title relevant and exciting again. And Thunderbolts? Red She-Hulk? The Age of the Sentry? It seemed to me Jeff Parker could take any character, especially those I didn’t care for, and make them must-reads. I knew nothing about Flash Gordon—Jeff Parker was the perfect guy for the job.

Dynamite knocked it out of the park with their recent reboot of Magnus: Robot Fighter too, so there’s another reason I was excited. If they got me to care about Magnus, I figured Flash Gordon would be an easy sell. Both new titles are clad in gorgeous Gabriel Hardman covers too—another right move. Want to seal the deal? Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire! You understand now, Flash Gordon was meant to be awesome.

So where did they go wrong? Not in the art department, that much is clear. Shaner’s work is the reason to buy this book, there’s simply no denying it. His work is in the same school as Cliff Chiang or Chris Samnee—great figures, great layouts, exciting angles, exquisite detail; the list goes on. With Bellaire’s perfect tones it’s everything you want in great comic book art. From now on, I will try any title this art team is a part of.

The real disappointment is Parker’s story. I’m not familiar with Flash Gordon, so perhaps I’m at a disadvantage. The story opens up nice enough, giving us a little taste of each character, but quickly derails when we flash into the middle of an ongoing adventure. There’s simply not enough set-up to make us care about anything that happens. There’s something about crystals that’s important and Ming (our villain) is quickly introduced and brushed aside but nothing sticks. To make matters worse, the dialogue feels off—a true rarity for Parker. I found myself reading speech bubbles again and again trying to roll around the lines in my head. At times it was awkward, stunted or just plain stupid. I couldn’t believe it.

We’re given a high octane sci-fi spaceship chase through different dimensional portals. Sure, we route for Flash and the gang, but we hardly know them. The beautiful thing about Magnus was the set-up. Everything after that first issue will hold weight because of that first issue. Here, it seems Parker wanted to forego the first issue entirely and dive right into the adventure. I’m guessing we’ll get more “One Year Ago” scenes next issue, which may read great in trade, but right now there’s little to pull me back next month.

- Chris Wunderlich


Black Science #5

(Rick Remender / Mateo Scalera; Image Comics)

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating how color can change everything. You take Matteo Scalera art and put Moreno Dinisio over it (Dead Body Road) and the end result is that it looks like Tradd Moore art, but here (which I prefer stylistically), you take Matteo Scalera art and put Dean White over it and the end result is that it looks like Jerome Opena. Speaking of Opena, if you were a fan of Fear Agent (and you should be) and wanted more rock n’ roll sci-fi, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be reading Black Science.

Rick Remender offers very rich sci-fi with clipped alien languages, the feel of truly exotic settings, and a strong central premise about Eververse time-jumping through “The Onion” via The Pillar. When you add in the familial bonds, the “Lies, Lies, Lies” we expose our kids to in this adventurous life – plus the lengths we’re willing to go to in order to protect our children, then it becomes an Indie Fantastic Four x Modernized Lost in Space proposition. With plenty of forced perspective shots and low-slung camera angles, there’s killer energy to Scalera’s action scenes. Remender pens the best issue of the series yet, with high stakes sci-fi that answers some questions by identifying the mysterious "Blue Rider" (my term), and confirms the identity of the saboteur, but leaves us mid-air with a crazy two-page cliffhanger and a macro-narrative that hints at a larger mystery.

It’s really heating up, and we’re finally starting to see the big picture of what the series is actually about.

- Justin Giampaoli


Dead Letters #1

(Christopher Sebela / Chris Visions; BOOM Studios)

3.5 stars

Dead Letters #1 has its strengths and weaknesses, I'll give it that. But it does it make the reader crave more?

 

Art-wise, stuff like characters and objects come out a bit on the rubbery side, I'll admit. The style is a kind of surrealistic/cartoonish, which works, and the shots are quite imaginative, occasionally even vertigo-inspiring (such as a rooftop-jumping scene early on). It does a fantastic job with creating an illusion of action and chaos, which I had mixed feelings on (as it made the story somewhat challenging to focus on).

Design was something I was, pointedly, not impressed with. The protagonist's arm-wraps were interesting, especially in the covers. Most of the side characters, however, were fairly uninspired. They weren't bad, per se, they just really didn't stand out – which is kinda the point of character designs, unfortunately.

 

Alright, I don't really wanna give too much away here, so I'll do what I can to be simultaneously informative and vague (exciting!). The writing grabbed me quickly. The storytelling methods weren't the most original, but they were used efficiently, and the story manages to build atmosphere and get started right away in similitude. I'll admit, that's pretty impressive. The characterization is fast-acting, but sadly, not prescription-strength.

Story began to drop my interest in the middle, creating an unneeded lull. Dialogue isn't used to great effect, nowhere near as well as the protagonist's internal narrative had been. The action scenes are more entrancing than engaging (perhaps not a bad thing) due to the art style, but at least it throws some action at us to enjoy. That was very thoughtful.

Towards the end, this picks up again by adding an interesting angle: That of morality. We've seen it a thousand times – bad dude loses his memories, wakes up, and when he realizes who he is he starts changing his ways, breaking past the barriers of the way he used to live.

 

Our protagonist in Dead Letters does things... a little differently. I won't spoil it, but I was impressed.

Then we get to the very last page, the “hook” to get the reader to keep buying. And... it was a let-down. I'll just go ahead and say that, if I was interested in picking this up, I'd probably just re-read Mercy Sparx again instead. Long story short, it was a good read, but I remain unsnared.

- Alex Wilde


Magnus: Robot Fighter #2

[Fred Van Lente / Cory Smith / Mauricio Wallace / Marshall Dillon; Dynamite)

2 stars

Magnus: Robot Fighter #2 starts funny, right on the credits page, with a summary text that does a better job than I can to describe what’s going on:

Russell Magnus lived a normal life...where he was a teacher,...a husband and father-to-be. Life was good.

Then he got thrown into an insane world called North Am where robots are people and people are robots and everything’s blinking and there’re [sic?] flying cars and he knows how to karate chop robots and some weird human woman shot him so now he’s in jail.

The humor continues in the first scene, where two robots discuss this thing they find, which is called a “book.” Unfortunately, this scene has nothing really to do with the rest of the story, other than, I guess, to show us readers what life is like after “The Singularity.”

There’s some weirdness that I think writer Fred Van Lente thinks is addressing race relations, when Russ rescues a “discontinued” robot who invokes Wu Tang Clan and says things like, “Daaaaymn. Dat was da shiz. Nit. My flesh brother.” Which, if you think robots speaking what some writer thinks is Black American Vernacular, then this might be your story. But the “youknowhatI’msaying?” joke has already been done on a South Park episode a couple seasons ago, when Butters became a pimp.

The artwork is only OK, mainly because there are not a lot of backgrounds—just usually the main characters, human and robot alike, with the occasional table and chairs. One could claim that this is a minimalist style, but in a futuristic mechanical/robot future setting, one would also expect lots of cool visuals. Instead, many scenes are just white. Like, there’s not even walls.

Mostly though, I can’t tell, and I don’t think the story can tell, if this is supposed to be a straight-up comedy, or a serious sci-fi story with some funny bits. It’s kind of...neither? Instead, it’s a whole lot of exposition. And, as Inspector Leeja Clane, the main bad-gal, wearing four inch platform boots, says on page 15, “If you have to explain it, it stops being funny.”

And, as Russ says three pages later, “You know, the constant exposition grates.”

- John Yohe


Aquaman and the Others #1

(Dan Jurgens / Lan Medina; DC Comics)

3.5 stars

I'm a pretty big fan of the underrated Aquaman, even to the point where I got some grief for putting his big story arc on my DC Top 10 for 2013 list. With that, I was excited to see the King of Atlantis getting a second book; though I was a little worried about him sharing it with his mini-Justice League — The Others — since the group is relatively new to the DC Universe, and not all that recognizable.

Thankfully, they're great characters (all created by DC Demigod Geoff Johns). And if you’re the least bit curious, Aquaman & The Others #1 is quite obviously the perfect introduction. Each member eans about 3 or 4 pages to highlight their personality and how they react in a fight, all the while still remaining relevant to the main storyline.

We've seen Ivan Reis (the cover artist for this book) as an artist on the initial run of New 52 Aquaman, and Lan Medina (Fables, District X) does a nice job of emulating Reis' art style. Writer Dan Jurgens (Booster Gold, Death of Superman) sets up the “Thousands of years ago” premise at the beginning, and introduces each character nicely. When they all get in the same room, a much larger plot is quickly and concisely relayed without letting the dialogue suffer. The little jealous banter between Aquaman and the jungle woman Ya'Wara is fun, and sets up the continuity from Curry's previous adventures with The Others.

The general plot? Each of The Others has a piece of Atlantean ancient tech that they rely on for various reasons. When they're each attacked, they realize their particular relic isn't working. Aquaman brings them all together to find out who's attacking them, and why their tech is malfunctioning. It's a pretty basic plot, but like I said, for generally obscure characters all getting their own monthly book, it's a good introduction, and a fun read. Jurgens is a strong dialogue writer, and he juggles this large cast of characters well.

Now that the basic intro stuff is out of the way, “Legacy of Gold” is only destined to get more intricate, providing Aquaman will have more room for ass-kicking, trident-stabbing action!

- Gabe Carrasco


Shotgun Wedding #1

(William Harms / Edward Pun; Image Comics/Top Cow)

1 star

I feel honestly bad for the review I'm about to write. As an aspiring comic writer myself, seeing something like this would seriously hurt my feelings. However, I'm not here to lie about stuff.

I hated Shotgun Wedding #1. I really, really hated it.

 

Where to begin?

The art's just fine, if you're colorblind. Or a dog. Or something else that's well-known for being colorblind. I guess what to take away is that the comic doesn't have any color, which could be overlooked if it was a truly breathtaking masterpiece of storytelling (it's not). The actual linework is pretty good, though bizarre in a few places (such as one panel where a cat walking by on the floor looks like Catzilla).

As I implied earlier, nothing remotely interesting really happens here. A woman gets left at the altar and mysteriously had a huge pile of guns in the trunk in case she decided to go completely insane (convenient, as that's what happened). Some special ops guys are doing something with some Russian guys, they swear a bit and some guy gets deaded in a remarkably inefficient way (it's okay though, because it had “only a couple hundred witnesses,” that's pretty good for a special ops guy, right? ...Right?).

Oh, they also rip off the “poor choice of words” bit from The Dark Knight, because one-liners are only cool if you don't make them up yourself.

 

Later on we see the same crazy bride lady, but it's several years later. She's still in her wedding dress but managed to stay in decent shape on an all-psycho diet, so kudos to her (I'm a big advocate of Healthy Living Through Violence).

 

There are a few other small shreds of what pretends to be a plot, but the comic as a whole totally fails to grab any attention, build any semblance of a coherent story, or create any sort of enduring character personalities. Seriously, this was kind of embarrassing to read. In fact, the only real hook that tempts the reader to buy #2 was the cover for the issue, which shows a creepy scientist guy and a hot chick in an unzipped catsuit. Those are some very resourceful marketing techniques, my fine monochromatic friends! But not good enough to trick me into thinking this was a good issue of an in-any-way-readable title.


The Field #1

(Ed Brisson / Simon Roy / Simon Gough; Image Comics)

1.5 stars

A gun wielding, cocaine snorting, ex-bible salesman, with an undiagnosed mood disorder holds an amnesia stricken half-naked man hostage, all while on the run from a bunch of angry bikers? COUNT ME IN! Or at least that's what I thought until I opened the book.

Simon (Prophet) Roy's art alone makes the whole book feel like it was drawn in the course of one drunken evening. There's even a (dream sequence/flashback?) scene where a bunch of scientists are working in what looks like a lab made of rocks. Or a cave? I just can't tell. Someone give Roy a ruler, this book needs a few straight lines. Roy's line work does not do Simon Gough's awesome color work justice however. The highlights, shadows, and light sources really make these napkin scribbles feel three-dimensional.

Meanwhile, Ed (Secret Avengers) Brisson's story in this premiere issue doesn't get me invested in any of the characters. Am I rooting for the bipolar maniac who avoids profanity at all costs, but doesn't hesitate to kill an entire diner full of innocent people? Or the scrawny kid who doesn't seem to realize he's hanging out with a psychopath? Or maybe the bikers? By the way, the ex-bible salesman's name is Christian. Get it? Because he's an ex-bible salesman?

So clever.

Surprisingly NOT starring Kevin Costner.

Surprisingly NOT starring Kevin Costner.

Or is it “Christan”? I ask because the first time his name is mentioned in the diner scene they either misspelled it, or, I don't know, maybe tried giving the waitress an accent? Either way, it looks like a typo, which for a published comic book to have a typo in it's first issue — on the first time the main character's name is mentioned no less — is pretty ridiculous. And speaking of the diner scene, which serves as the only interesting scene in the comic, what the fuck? Was he trying to prove a point? All he says afterward is “None of this — none of it matters . . . as long as we're a team, none of this matters one fudging bit.” Was that supposed to clarify anything? Because now I'm more confused than the kid with the amnesia. Since when are they a team?

This book left me with more questions than interest in answers. Good luck to the scrawny kid stuck with the psychopathic Hank Hill, because this is one story I'm not jumping on, ah tell h'ya what.

- Gabe Carrasco 


The Twilight Zone #4

(J. Michael Straczynski / Guiu Vilanova / Rob Steen; Dynamite)

2 stars

I want Rod Serling. Call me old-fashioned, but I want Rod Serling’s sad polite smile and his sad polite voice lecturing us at the beginning and end of every Twilight Zone story. Alas, we have no Rod Serling, though Twilight Zone #4 does at least end with a Serling-esque speech, delivered in some disembodied captions, though there’s no speech at the beginning, nothing like “....what he doesn’t know, is that’s he’s made a detour...into the Twilight Zone” [cue creep music]. Note: this is about the only time I’d ever like to see some kind of exposition delivered in sequential art form, only because it would be a nod back to the old TZ TV episodes.

To talk about any Twilight Zone episode is to risk spoilers, and the stories are all about key details, so I will refrain from going into the story here. What’s more important, to me anyways, is that each issue of these Twilight Zones is set up as a self-contained unit, meaning that readers can jump in on any issue and not have to worry about being in the middle of a six-issue saga.

Curiously though: why no story title? Every old TV episode had one. Maybe that would have ‘placed’ us readers (or, this reader) in the world a little better.

That said, and I guess this is a spoiler but, I don’t really understand what happens in this story. Like, it just doesn’t seem to make sense. Not even the Serling-esque speech at the end really explains it. I’ve re-read it, and I still can’t figure out what happens.

The artwork doesn’t help. It’s otherwise is good, with some especially cool forest backgrounds, but some key characters are drawn in a way that is, well...that makes us (me) think at least one guy is not who we think he is. There, I’ve spoiled it. I think. Again, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on.

Overall, I’m for a series like this, both just because it’s The Twilight Zone in general, which I always thought was a great tv show, and because each issue is a self-contained story, with no crossovers and tie-ins, and offers the opportunity to have different writers and artists (especially beginner writers and artists!) for each issue. But, I hope further issues have stories that, while still having some kind of mystery, end up making sense—in a shocking and horrifying way, of course.

- John Yohe


Starlight #2

(Mark Millar / Goran Parlov; Image Comics)

4 stars

I’m still enjoying Mark Millar’s Starlight because of how it deals with our perceptions of fame, and the grand premise of Buck Rogers coming out of retirement for another campaign to save the cosmos is such a subtly simple and earnest proposition. But, because of that it’s deeply enjoyable, it’s fun, it’s got the purity of spirit of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980’s. In an era when many comics are still relatively dark, it’s refreshing to watch this just play out, and enjoy a book for what it is in the most basic terms.

Goran Parlov’s art makes the sci-fi sequences feel foreign, yet not so outlandish that it becomes inaccessible. There’s a certain rugged unevenness to Parlov’s lines that captures the strength and the equivocation of Duke McQueen’s predicament, and I enjoyed his new friend who has the makings of a plucky sidekick as Duke gleefully exonerates himself on the way out of town. From John Cassaday to Bill Sienkiewicz, it’s also worth pointing out that the guys deserve major props for their cover artists of choice. Starlight sort of reminds me of something like The Last Starfighter, a piece of pop culture that embraces the camp of its own tropes and just charges confidently forward.

- Justin Giampaoli

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