Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin’s weekly single-issue review roundup.
Generation Zero #1 (Valiant Entertainment)
(W) Fred Van Lente, (A) Francis Portella
With each passing year, it seems that the stakes in superhero comics continue to escalate. This shouldn’t a surprise to anyone, as most readers tend to go into a story thinking, in one form or another, “how will this top ______?” As the stakes become more grand, they also become more absurd – to the point where tension and drama is non-existent. It is near impossible to be invested in an end-of-the-world scenario, but people can relate to car troubles and uncomfortable social situations. This is where Generation Zero #1 by Fred Van Lente and Francis Portella succeeds.
Generation Zero takes an old-school approach to superheroes in a modern context. There’s personal tragedy, diverse personalities, and a universally relatable social setting: high school. It’s the period in life where people develop from childhood to adulthood, making it fertile ground for storytelling. Though it is cliche, Van Lente and Portella portray the high school caste system like any movie or TV program in the last 25 years. At the top, the “in crowd” is comprised of clean-cut, muscular guys in letterman jackets and preppy girls ripped from the pages of an Abercrombie catalog. [Editor’s Note: We are unable to confirm that Abercrombie still issues catalogs in 2016]
It is here where Van Lente introduces readers to Keisha Sherman. Even though her father is the town’s sheriff, she is a self-described social “outlier,” and she plays the part quite well. Her half-shaven head, purple hair, and piercings make her instantly stand out from her peers. Not only that, she stands out from the other players in the Valiant Universe, from the Renegades to the people of New Japan. Her problems are different too. She’s not looking to take down a global syndicate or protect the life-force of Earth incarnate. She’s looking to cope with the death of her boyfriend and the “pity” her classmates feel for her. She’s looking for hope and a sense of normalcy in a world that offers her none. This is what Generation Zero can offer her.
If there is a glaring flaw in this debut issue, it’s that a lot of real estate is dedicated to setting up the world that Keisha inhabits. Though it is important in allowing the reader to understand her worldview, other writers have accomplished similar feats in more efficient fashion. Instead, readers spend the first half of the issue sloshing their way through exposition and backstory that contributes little to the second half.
The Valiant Universe has been a dark place in recent years with events like “Book of Death” and even “4001 A.D.” However, the publisher appears to be making for a major tonal shift. Jody Houser’s Faith is evidence of this, and Generation Zero #1 even more so. With a compelling setup and an interesting, relatable protagonist, Fred Van Lente and Francis Portella have retooled tried-and-true superhero tropes into a title that reads like a breath of fresh air.
— Daniel Gehen
Extraordinary X-Men #13 (Marvel Comics)
(W) Jeff Lemire (A) Victor Ibanez (C) Jay David Ramos (L) Joe Caramagna
You describe something as a carbon copy because it’s close to the original, but not completely there, small flecks are missing. How many times can you carbon copy something before it loses the essence of the original? Extraordinary X-Men #13 could be described as a carbon copy of Chris Claremont’s X-Men, but that would be misleading. This comic is at least one step removed from the crucial point in which whatever makes a thing that thing has been lost. It’s a soulless copy of what was once a charming superhero team book.
The X-Men in these pages are familiar characters to many, but even considering their ample history, they only have shadows of personalities. These men and women do not so much make decisions as they move onto the next part of the plot assigned to them. The closest any of them comes to revealing who they are is stating it, just as Nightcrawler and Magick dialogue their way through internal conflicts. No matter how much they may desire to tell us what they think, none of it is ever impactful as it cannot be seen or felt on the page.
Most designs in Extraordinary X-Men #13 rely on pastiche, with alternate universe villains based in unsurprising and recognizable tropes. Occasionally the work rises above this like in a spread of teleportation circles leading through an array of dimensions. It does not take long for the focus to return to tired standbys, familiar bits like a point of view that appears ready to perform a colonoscopy on a female villain (twice). None of the action sequences, much less the dramatic ones, inspire any emotion though. They are functional, but fail to deliver much of anything beyond comprehension with few exceptions.
Somehow Extraordinary X-Men #13 has transformed the story of a superpowered, adoptive family hopping across dimensions and fighting apocalyptic futures into something entirely stale. There’s not a new idea or fresh visual to be found in these pages. While some moments are well-rendered, it’s a lacquer that cannot cover the rotted interior for more than a moment. While this issue may be technically well assembled, it is a hollow rendering of something comics readers enjoyed decades ago.
— Chase Magnett
Kingsway West #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
(W) Greg Pak (A) Mirko Colak (C) Wil Quintana (L) Simon Bowland
Fighting for dominance and resources in the Old West sounds generic until you add some new species, non-European factions, and a bit of magic. The magic of red gold supplies the user with superhuman abilities, and has been fought over for 13 years between The Chinese and the Mexicans. The war turned men into monsters, and Kingsway Law deserted his people to find peace after the war. Because of his past and major combat skills, he continues to be hunted down. Along with his new companion, must find his wife after the Chinese destroy his home.
Greg Pak finds new ways to keep readers’ attention through storytelling and creativity. I sped through the comic, not because I was rushing to get it done, but because the story had a wonderful pace and fluidity that kept me focused without too many gaps. The art brings the script to life in a way that one complements the other, and vice versa. It’s the Old West, so of course there were diverse shades of brown, dark reds, and grays. Mirko Colak’s inking illustrates the setting adequately with realistic and detailed faces and landscapes. Wil Quintana gives color to the desert in multiple seasons, but he also provides a little extra when the book introduces the elements of magic. There are have panels with green dragons flying in a light blue sky, and bright, sparkly red gold that shines in front of a yellow background.
This comic was full of quality writing. The ending both tied back to the beginning, and introduced something new that will impact the issues to come. This series is worth the reader’s money and time to gawk over the combination of top-notch narration and marvelous artwork. With this issue as an opening, this series has potential to be phenomenal.
— Kristopher Grey
Captain Marvel #8 (Marvel Comics)
(W) Ruth Fletcher Gage and Christos Gage (P) Kris Anka, (I) Kris Anka with Andy Owens (C) Matt Wilson (L) VC’s Joe Caramagna
Many have argued that Civil War II is turning Carol Danvers into a fascist, and though I still believe she should fight for what she thinks is right, Carol’s many appearances in tie-in issues across the Marvel universe have simplified her stance on precognitive crime prevention down to profiling, which is an apt comparison, but not an exact connection. Throughout Captain Marvel #8, Carol tries to convince Black Panther of the benevolence in her mission to the point where even T’Challa questions if Carol is trying to convince herself that she’s in the right.
Nearly any Marvel crossover event includes a handful or two of tie-ins that are essential to fleshing out the main narrative, and Civil War II is no different – issues of Captain Marvel are necessary reading for understanding how Carol is caught between a rock and a hard place, pressured by political influences to use any and all possible tools to prevent catastrophe and protect innocent civilians while simultaneously facing criticism from the superhero community that threatens to destabilize the leadership roles she’s taken on in recent years.
More than nearly any other moment in Civil War II, Carol feels like a real persona again in Captain Marvel #8 instead of just the figurehead for the “Ulysses Initiative”. She has real fears and real insecurities about what she’s doing, and there’s no one with whom she can vent without causing emotional distraction. That said, does Carol’s slip of faith in her own actions make her stance weaker? Tony is absolutely sure of where he stands, so what does an indecisive Captain Marvel mean for the end of Civil War II? For better or worse, we’ll find out soon.
— Jay Mattson
Bookstore Pickup: Death Follows TPB (Dark Horse Comics)
(W) Cullen Bunn (A) A.C. Zamudio and Carlos Nicolas Zamudio