Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin’s weekly single issue review roundup.
The Empty #1
(Jimmie Robinson; Image Comics)
Jimmie Robinson is the sole creator behind The Empty. As writer, artist, and colorist – it’s clear that he has a particular vision for the direction of this series and has the ability to execute.
The Empty #1 is a solid first issue. It has everything a good number one needs to be successful. The world of The Empty could best be described, so far, as an unexplored world of parallels and opposites.
The Empty follows a fairly common writing technique – a new person comes to town. Although, coming to town is more like floating to town after being disposed of by her people. That’s the story of Lila. She’s a farmer from a utopian society – a lush, unnamed land that’s contrasted by the world she floated into. The brief introduction shows important people high up in a tower plotting her demise.
She was discovered by Tanoor, a hunter who just got back from searching for untainted food in the empty, a desolate wasteland that’s being poisoned by roots that emit poisonous gas and leach the soil dry. Robinson has a solid grasp on storytelling and world building, allowing his art to do most of the work. Tanoor is a tall person with scars all over her body. We’re not sure if it’s from hunting or if there is more to her past. It isn’t mentioned, but it is a part of her character that sets her apart from the rest of her village. The villagers are skinny, malnourished and many of them have bruises or sores.
Tanoor’s people live on the outskirts of the Empty, away from the roots. Led by a fearful and superstitious leader, Tanoor’s village is at the brink of death. He’s unwilling to explore or change, only to survive and try to be an “honored” people. This attitude is what causes him to try and get rid of Lila, seeing her as a bad omen. When Lila is pushed, her bracelet hits a tree and it suddenly bears fruit.
Tanoor sees this as an opportunity to try and heal the roots that are causing their land devastation. The issue ends as they set off on their adventure and betrayal of Tanoor’s jealous elder.
While this type of story isn’t a new concept The Empty #1 stands firmly as a good number one. Robinson’s art is fresh. The characters have cartoonish features and odd body proportions that add some lightness to the bleak world they inhabit. The coloring is vibrant, even in the sandy wasteland of the empty. Tanoor and Lila are a good match because they are so alike, yet completely different, the same person from different worlds. Robinson has constructed a world with interesting, motivated characters with plenty of room to explore.
Secret Six #2
(Gail Simone / Ken Lashley / Drew Geraci / Jason Wright; DC Comics)
When it was announced that Gail Simone would be relaunching Secret Six, it was [unsurprisingly] compared to her previous work on the title. Needless to say, the first issue was met with a healthy dose of disappointment from both critics and fans. Not only were the lovable losers of the previous volume nowhere to be found (except for Catman), but they were replaced characters which were either unknown or largely disliked – especially the new Ventriloquist. Considering that’s pretty much how the previous cast of Secret Six was until Simone took hold of them, I was willing to give this title another shot, and I’m glad I did.
The second installment of Simone and artist Ken Lashley’s series is far from perfect, but it is both entertaining and a marked improvement from the first issue. Roughly half of the issue is dedicated Catman’s history – specifically his year-long imprisonment at the hands of his current captor… maybe. The other half sees the story move much faster than expected given the decompressed nature of today’s comic book storytelling.
While this may end up as integral to the greater story, it isn’t as attention grabbing as the present timeline, which sees the group dynamics begin to take shape. This is what fans have been waiting for, and though Simone is working out the kinks in the new cast, there are clear highlights. The mute assassin, Stryx (who in no way bears any resemblance to Cassandra Cain) continues to shine under Simone’s pen (see Batgirl for more), while Black Alice and Big Shot do their best imitation of the Scandal Savage / Bane dynamic from the previous volume.
Ken Lashley’s art is good, but not great. His frantic, sketchy style is not the prettiest to look at, but it is a great fit for the story Simone is selling between the covers. Unfortunately, Lashley’s art is sabotaged in the issue’s back-half by an unwelcome lesson how important inkers are to the industry. It doesn’t help that Lashley’s art is hurried, but the heavy inks by Drew Geraci yanked me right out of the story – so much so that I had to flip back to the credits to see if it was just the inking or if there was an artist change. That should never happen.
Overall, Secret Six #2 may not be as good as Dale Eaglesham’s stunning cover work, but it isn’t the half-baked mess that the first issue delivered. If the series continues to improve at its current rate, this could become a bright spot in the post-Convergence DC Universe.
– Daniel Gehen
Amazing Spider-Man #14
(Dan Slott / Giuseppe Camuncoli and Olivier Coipel / Justin Ponsor; Marvel)
“Event fatigue” is a fairly common criticism whenever another crossover gets kicked down the pipeline. At this point it’s almost just as hack to complain about it. To be fair, they have a pretty rough history. At their worst, they’re blatant cash grabs. At their best, they’re still blatant cash grabs, but they can at least back it up with strong art and writing. Often-times they suffer because they’re too broad and epic in scope to fit into the finite number of issues given and have to rely on supplementary material to take up some of that burden. This is where Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse falters. And Amazing Spider-Man #14 is where this problem becomes clearest.
In issue #14, the Spider Totems – led by our own 616 Peter Parker – have taken the fight to Loomworld, home of the steampunk, Spider-hunting Inheritors to rescue Silk (a woman bitten by the same spider as Peter) and Benjy (infant brother of Mayday Parker from Earth-982) from becoming part of a ritual sacrifice to end the creation of new Spider Totems forever. It’s a fairly standard story-line at its core, but that simplicity is necessary in an event that started on the extremely epic premise of “every Spider-Man ever” coming together to take down the big-bad. This has made for an entertaining read overall, but it also walks the razor’s edge between being too broad to keep the reader oriented in a coherent narrative and being too focused to really take advantage of the immense scale of the concept. Sadly the series doesn’t quite reach a good balance between the two. The fact that one of the Spiders is an alternate-reality Gwen Stacey should make for some interesting conflict with our Peter Parker, but even that’s been only vaguely touched upon in the series and is quickly brushed off again in the opening of this issue where we find Spider-Gwen fighting a group of Green Goblins. What should be a nerve-wracking moment about Peter’s fear for his own past repeating itself is dismissed as quickly as it’s brought up.
This issue, like the whole event, feels largely rushed and would have benefitted from having a larger page count to let the story play itself out. There’s a major turning point in this issue that basically guarantees victory for our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Totems, but it comes out of nowhere, having been explained in one of the ancillary titles meant to supplement the series. It’s an important moment that should have been allowed to build in the core book but instead it just comes off as a jarring narrative leap that will just likely distract the readers less interested in adding five new books to their file for the duration of the event.
ASM #14 is bolstered by the return, brief as it is, of Oliviel Coipel’s art in the issue’s front half. Coipel is a master of kinetic, epic action sequences and his work continues to shine in this issue. The fights are dynamic and frenzied as characters literally leap from the panels to take down their Inheritor foes with devastating attacks. The second half is taken over by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who is an excellent artist in his own right, but it just doesn’t quite match up to Coipel’s sense of scale or sequencing.
Spider-Verse is a mostly entertaining ride to be sure, especially if you’re also reading the supplementary material, largely due to the interesting premise and Slott’s sense of humor, but it’s the scale of it all and some missed opportunities along the way that end up holding it back just short of something amazing.
– PJ Hunsicker
Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter #1 for 1
(Stan Sakai; Dark Horse Comics)
I first saw this listed as a one-shot and figured I’d give it, well, a shot. I realize I am horribly uninformed and unfamiliar with Usagi Yojimbo. This title has been released as are the future chapters of this story. This 1 for 1 has been released in preparation of The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Vol. 2 collector’s edition out later this month.
That being said, I originally read this with a “one-shot” mindset. I prepped for a cohesive, singular story. This is anything but finished. This epic tale starts in 1605 in feudal Japan. We’re introduced to numerous characters and factions that are all vying for power and overthrow of the Shogun.
Sakai’s art is skillful. It’s all black and white and consists of mostly lines and fairly small amounts of solid black, mostly used to fill in the forms of hair or clothing. Most of the detail lies in line weight and shading methods. The characters are anthropomorphic and work very well for the story. The story is told through multiple perspectives, but regardless of who is speaking, history and folklore are weaved throughout and ground the story.
There’s a sense of wit and humor throughout the story, like when a lone person discovers a group of slain bandits and says, “They have such a look of agony on their faces.” Those words are juxtaposed with hilarious exaggerated facial expressions that add lightness to the scene. The dialogue is thoughtful and the characters often speak in introspective monologues. The story is thick with political strife and is anything but a one-shot. It serves as a nice introduction to the characters and Stan Sakai’s creation for those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with the series and a nice reminder for long time fans that the collection is coming out soon.
While I read it like a one-shot, I now know how uninformed I have been on this epic series. The comic achieved its purpose of gaining new readers as I will now add this to my list of comics to buy in the future. I’d recommend giving Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter a look.