"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.
The Black Beetle #1 (of 4)
(Francesco Francavilla; Dark Horse)
Keith: All comics should be this majestic … this fearsome. Call it pulp. Call it noir. Call it action adventure. Yes, The Black Beetle earns all three designations; above all this comic is a throwback to comic strips like Milton Canniff's "Steve Canyon" and Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant." You want to pour over Francavilla's art and soak in the story. I only wish The Black Beetle was in a larger format like its Sunday funny forebears so I could let it envelop me.
I find it tricky to be objective about this comic because I love it so much. There's the nostalgic aspect, sure, I'll cop to that, easy. What's more stylish than a Hudson Hornet lookalike with white walls and running boards? What's ballsier than a double-barreled dart gun? What's got more geek-tech cred than a personal helicopter pack? Nothing. My only grouse is with Francavilla's insistence on signing his name on almost every damn page — he's proud of his work, I guess, and it's a damn rare thing these days — I get it, you're awesome, we all agree.
If you're inclined to buy monthly comics and you like adventure stories, The Black Beetle is the cat's meow. Maybe because it's "one of four" or maybe because it's got that serialized DNA down in its bones, either way, The Black Beetle #1 reads well and man is it going to be keen when it's collected.
Jamil, I know you like pulpy sci-fi and stories with stones, so, is The Black Beetle the honest-to-goodness throwback I think it is or are we looking at a cheap knockoff?
Jamil: You hit the bullseye. The comic's allure resides in its retro style and no-nonsense storytelling. It's funny you linked that Fear Agent review because Black Beetle did somehow remind me of it. It could be the Remender/Francavilla backup where Heath pukes up spiders (one of my favorite portions of that omnibus), but it's probably the shared attempt to recapture the look and feel of a classic genre gone by.
Superhero noir is not virgin territory though it remains fertile ground for great comics. Black Beetle: No Way Out #1 rewards the reader in its completeness, a feat more easily achieved when one creator is behind story and art. The title page proudly states "Written and directed by Francesco Francavilla", a phrase normally reserved for the film industry, but it's accurately utilized here. The Italian illustrator directs these pages, and manipulates every inch of page space to achieve his vision. Double page spreads appear frequently and are smartly placed to demonstrate scope and enormity. The layouts, colors and energy of the piece protrude from every page. This is an excellent example of the inherent beauty in sequential storytelling.
I have not read this #1's predecessor, "Night Shift", which printed both in Dark Horse Presents and a Black Beetle #0 last month. I was able to follow "No Way Out" easily, as the main character is a simple Phantom or Batman fill-in. The Black Beetle is a fierce, capable force, a relentless justice enactor and his mission is persistently clear: "get the bad guy." My main qualm is that the first issue spends its time chasing antagonists with no real confrontations to speak of. It looks real good but the plot is far from crackling. The best part for me is when the antagonist in the cool costume shows up. For now I'm going to call him A Maze Man. Get it?
Keith: Got it. I want to talk about a word you used, "no-nonsense." Is it okay for a comic book to be no-nonsense or vanilla and maybe even mediocre and still be good? As #1s go, Black Beetle: No Way Out is a first chapter, nothing more, nothing less. Except for its literal cliffhanger, how does this comic bring the reader back? No question, Francavilla's art is the draw — I'd love to see what he would do with a Larry Hama-esque "Silent Interlude" inspired Black Beetle story.
I think when a creator is known for their art, there is an unfortunate bias when they decide to try their hand at dialogue and narration. Because Francavilla works within a genre with very specific rules, tropes and trappings, his writing gets a pass. Should it? If he wrote something less procedural and more of a shambling pretzel noir like "The Long Goodbye," "The Naked City" or "Touch of Evil" would it read as over-reaching? It would most certainly look and feel less effortless.
The Black Beetle is a comic book for non-superhero comic book fans. It's beautiful to look at, it doesn't rewrite superhero or crime/noir genre (nor should it have to) and it works. Who can say better than that, eh?
Jamil: Wow, K, two Twofers deep and we're already a well-oiled machine. I wanted to touch on this and you addressed it first. I'm talking the offsetting duality of Black Beetle: it's fucking beautiful, but it fails to inspire past the visual.
I've been awestruck by Francavilla, here and previously, because he has a knack for adding a certain "oomph" to every script he touches. The man knows how to use page breakdowns and panel flow to fantastically tell the story. However, a great storyteller doesn't always mean a great writer. The atmosphere and excitement might be clear in Francesco Francavilla's head, but it didn't translate fully to the page in this particular #1.
Here's a "Chekov's gun" moment. Francavilla lays down a brilliant double splash that details the history and current affairs of two main gangsters in Colt City. The piece is majestic, combining headshots with action scenes and world maps, and it creates a great tone for the book right up front. However, we never even meet the duo as they are blown up five pages later. Maybe it's a bait and switch move, or a technique to try and catch the reader off guard, but it felt like a hollow start to me.
I'm going to be a bit pretentious here, Keith. I like Black Beetle: No Way Out #1, I think Francavilla is on to something here, and even though this is a limited series I am fully confident that FF has many stories in mind for BB. Yet, for the purposes of a first issue, while accessible, and gosh darn pretty to look out, this comic lacks a hook. I'm going to say this slips into Forget It areas, and not because I don't like it, or won't check out the next issue, but because I don't know if a Batman clone is more worthy than other selections on the stands right now.
Keith: Namechecking Chekov! Classic Jamil. I hear what you're laying down and I agree, but you're wrong. We both agree that the OG's aren't the point in "No Way Out," and that they only serve as a means to an end. The explosion that takes place early on in this story is surprise not suspense. We don't see the bomber place the bomb, we only see the bomb go off, that's Hitchcock. As for Chekov, you're in the right church only the wrong pew, as the saying goes.
Your "A Maze Man" is the gun here — a bit of foreshadowing and that's the problem, I think, we both have with this first issue. Unlike The Black Beetle #0, where we got the bad guys first, Black Beetle #1 lets us listen in on the Black Beetle first and doesn't reveal the real baddie until the very last panel (cool boat though). What I'm saying is Francavilla backdoors the suspense in this first issue. We get the reveal, but it comes (almost?) too late. Which is why, I think, this will read better once it's collected.
Black Beetle #1 is a beautiful comic book, but it falls short as a great first issue, which, again, is a bit unfair, because it is the first chapter, maybe even the first paragraph, in what I'm sure will be a rollicking adventure tale. Not great, still good, so Get It.
Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake #1 (of 6)
(Natasha Allegri, Britt Wilson, Noelle Stevenson; BOOM!)
Okay, Keith, I got the obligatory hearty Adventure Time yell out of my system, now it's time to discuss a totally mathematical comic that had me excited from the moment it was announced back in October. Last month I picked Avatar's Caligula: Heart of Rome #1, a series rife with horror, nudity and the most disgusting placement of a baby-sized arm in the history of sequential storytelling. I felt legitimate guilt for subjecting people to such a raunchy piece of entertainment, so in order to balance the imprecise concept of comic book karma I selected something that is more "kid-friendly." I put that in quotes because, well, as proven numerous times across our lovely little website, we CB staffers (all adults… I think) love us some Adventure Time. So does the world, apparently, as BOOM! Studios (and its imprint KaBOOM!) has found its best ever selling title in the world of Pendleton Ward creations.
Propagating the ol" Far Eastern adage of C.R.E.A.M., BOOM! has started to produce new series related to Adventure Time and other Ward creations, like Marceline and Scream Queens and Bravest Warriors. Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake is the latest installment in the trend. Although AT:F&C's title characters are te
chnically players in the Ice King's fan fiction about Finn the Human and Jake the Dog the titular characters are very much alive and kicking. Creator of the gender-swapped heroes (and Adventure Time storyboard artist) Natasha Allegri provides an energetic tale, capturing all the free-flowing excitement that an animated episode gives us while still finding ways to utilize all the wonderful things we love about comics.
From lettering to layouts Fionna & Cake has a look that's both innovative and at the same time classic. The show is known for its heart and hilarity, and that's here, most definitely.
Keith: Mos def, Jamil, mos def. I don't know if I would have found Adventure Time without the help of my oldest daughter, but once I saw it, I got it, straight away. Same goes for Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake. I'm going to break comic book critic protocol here and first mention the lettering in this issue. Britt Wilson does an amazing job throughout this comic, but the story within a story that opens this issue speaks to my inner-penmanship nerd. Wilson's letters are fanciful, elegant and joyful like the comic itself.
I love a good auteur, so Natasha Allegri is my kind of creator. She brings such grace to each character that it makes her cartooning look effortless. Her character designs are in line with the regular AT and yet they have a kind of edge to them; maybe it's seeing Finn in thigh-high socks that makes me think this is a touch more grown up. I could live without (some of) the potty humor, but (ha!) when in Rome or the Land of Ooo, I suppose. The main story has a good hook. For the next issue, I hope Allegri keeps her promise and gives readers more Fionna and Cake versus the Ice Queen. Flame Prince was clearly overmatched. Is it me or is Ice Queen a lot meaner than Ice King? She seems … frigid.
In continuity, Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake is supposed to be the Ice King's attempt at fan fiction. This comic is the furthest thing from wish fulfillment or a lazy sycophantic stab at creativity. Allegri and Wilson craft a great story that stands on its own stretchy cat feet even if sometimes those feet and that cat form a cute "pile of doo doo" that makes me never want to eat soft serve ice cream again.
Jamil: You noticed the inordinate amount of shit jokes too? Typically, not my palette, but the thought of a duo of women assembling a fecal gag works on a some level for me. Plus, Cake makes the most adorable pile of dookie, EVER.
Wilson's creative choices are nearly worth the cover price alone. Elements I loved: The effortless cursive in the prologue; the way the text inflates to help portray the boisterous Adventure Time style speech; the demure sound effects like "fhoosh", "bap" and "crackle." Typically lettering is all about being stealthy but Britt Wilson breaks a trend and brings the least creative artistic element of comics to the forefront of the story.
I'll admit to not getting Adventure Time the first couple times I saw it. Part of my reaction was due to dismissing it as a kid's cartoon, and part resistance to its innocent, almost adult weirdness. I'm now a pretty solid fan of the series, and the main ongoing actually makes me chuckle aloud from time to time. I can't say AT:F&C had me laughing, but I was all smiles because it's so damn cute. Actually, to be honest, toward the end, somewhere in Noelle Stevenson's backup about missing sweaters, I started to feel like this girl-built comic is built for girls, even if us boys can get a kick out of it too. Did you pick up on that, Keith, or do I sound like the type of parent that won't let their son play with Barbie dolls?
Keith: Gender, huh? You want to go there, Scalese? My initial reaction to that first page was: It's a storybook, clever. Of course, it is and it isn't, yeah? Kids are like water, they seek out their own level. If a child is interested in the altera-Finn and opposite-Jake than those thigh-highs and cat ears won't matter. Fionna & Cake is no more (or no less) of a "girl-comic" than Jeremy Whitley's Princeless. Each comic tells a good story that, yes, features a female protagonist, but there's more than only a pretty face. For all of its quirk, Adventure Time goes out of its way to be gender neutral. Maybe you're picking up on the grrrrly-ness because for the first time you're seeing a more colorful, a more vibrant, Adventure Time. A more colorful AT, wow, is that even possible?
Jamil: Well, I'm a bit colorblind so it's probably because I'm so manly I automatically pick up any and all feminine undertones. Naw, j/k, guys. LOL.
I'll admit it. You're right, Silva. This #1 is all all-ages and all-genders. It's a little light on plot and heavy on banter, but that's what Adventure Time is all about, right? And yeah, I agree, Ice Queen is a total hag. Get "em ladies!
I say: Get It and then #2, it's eye candy and even if it isn't your sword of choice you can always hand it over to an adolescent aquntaince.
Keith: This gets a Get 2, easy. I will say, given that the main story is a first chapter it's going to read better once it's collected.
Mystery Date Danny Djeljosevic's Pick
Young Avengers #1
(Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton; Marvel)
Danny: Young Avengers #1 blew me away, you guys, and it shouldn't have. Not that I wasn't expecting a really, really good comic from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, who made one of my favorite comics ever in Phonogram, but I was even more enthralled by this first issue than I was hoping to be. It had somebody having sex and not f
eeling bad about it (for once), a Marvel Boy with personality for the first time since the year 2000, boys kissing like it ain't no thang, Kid Loki and a crazy cliffhanger that spins out of character actions. It's an incredible debut issue that establishes all of its characters and situations while still having time for a couple action scenes. Somehow they did that and it's STILL only 20 pages.
Keith: If I were to be flip, my one word review of Young Avengers #1 would be: precious. This is a story that captures that almost-but-not-quite-yet quality of being eighteen-years-old and taking yourself and everything and everyone else… very… very seriously; kudos to McKelvie, Gillen et al. for synthesizing that feeling and those emotions. Is this, as the title says, an instance of (only?) style over substance or is there more there there?
I'm all for guilt-free sex, boys kissing boys and being young and in love and so is Young Avengers. Where I part ways with its "I'm-okay-you're-okay-lets-be-superheroes" inclusiveness is why I should care about any of these characters beyond how cool they look and act. To borrow your phrase Danny, "Ain't no thang," could be the motto for this Get Along Gang. They could all get matching tattoos or piercings, whatever kids do these days. Where's the blood, the guts, the consequences? Yeah, yeah, I know, there's a creepy cliffhanger, which, I'm sure will get worked out once everyone recognizes Teddy's-sorta-mom's right to disagree and faux-suffocate folks. Go ahead, Jamil, side with Djeljosevic and tell me I just don't get it.
Jamil: I do agree with Danny, but only because I'm still bitter you smacked me with a 134 pointer in Words With Friends the other day. "Bisque"… Who the fuck thinks of that?
Naw, but really though, Young Avengers #1 — that's that hot shit right now. Like FF, this is one of those Marvel NOW! titles I didn't know what to do with at first, then, after considering creators and cast, I eventually found a reason to grab it.
Of the six comics we've reviewed in this column's short history this is the first ongoing, and I felt a different aura when determining how successful this is as first issue. I really enjoyed the more jovial and emotional tone of this comic . It's not worried about executing a full story in a few issues, it wants to (re)introduce and gather a bunch of young adults under the umbrella of "we're young, naive and incredibly talented", and with Gillen, McKelvie and Mike Norton at the control panel (that morphs to accommodate its pilot) I'm gladly sitting shotgun.
I do I agree with you that the start is slow, but it's far from sputtering. After that energetic, beautiful opening in Marvel Boy's ship the main focus is Hulkling and Wiccan, one of comic's most important couples. While their relationship is an icon of our times my hope is that Gillen keeps them from becoming that kind of people defined by their significant other. You know the kind. Also, and I don't care if I come off as a bigot, let's keep the inter-species relationships at two please. I'm sick of these aliens abducting all our hot humans for their own.
Danny: While my initial urge is to gloat for critically outnumbering Silva in this discussion, I will freely admit that I'm predisposed to liking this book, being in the comic's demographic, liking the characters, adoring creators working on it and generally wanting comics that are like Young Avengers in various ways. But I feel like this book accomplishes a lot in the first issue, delivering a strong taste of the overall vibe (being a youthful, energetic, stylish comic about superheroics and dancing), introducing and defining most of the major characters and delivering a major conflict. Young Avengers fulfills what's needed in an ongoing pop comic — especially an ensemble piece — better than most of the Marvel NOW! debuts so far. You're still expected to carry on to the following issues, but in this one's case I had enough to want to go on.
As far as substance goes, Young Avengers #1 is reminiscent of Gillen McKelvie's first Phonogram series, Rue Britannia, which was all about the dangers of nostalgia and wallowing in the past. In that series, the conflict was expressed through aging music fans trying to resurrect the goddess of Britpop, and here we have it even more potent as Wiccan conjures a version of Hulkling's deceased mother from another dimension. If there's any terrible time to start wallowing in the past, it's in your early adulthood. With the evil extra-dimensional mother character, you could probably draw some parallels with Runaways, the last youth-oriented Marvel comic to capture readers' attention. Young Avengers, like most superhero comics, doesn't have that killer high-concept — and anyway nobody writes first issues like Vaughan — but it uses the modern superhero comics toolkit to success.
Keith: I can see (and hear) your enthusiasm, Danny, I really can, and maybe that's why this is a miss for me; I don't have the same passion for this comic and Young Avengers is all about passion and about "feeling it;" a comic that so wants the reader to like it. You'll have to take this on faith, I knew Noh-Varr was listening to the Ronettes — or at least some other Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" production — "close harmony girl groups" was a dead giveaway. Kieron Gillen must make killer mix tape, eh?
#39;Be My Baby," is a great choice for Young Avengers #1 because Gillen wants (badly, so very badly) for the reader to "Be my baby now / My one and only baby / Whoa oh oh oh." The singer in that song is crushin' big time, so is Gillen and so are the Young Avengers. I admire Gillen's smartness for introducing each character as a couple; it fits in well with the beat this book lays down. Is it me or are Wiccan and Hulkling the dullest of the three couples? What do I know, I'm old.
This comic came together for me when I read Gillen's essay in the back matter — never a good sign. I got what he was after only after the fact. Oh well. I may not be the demographic for Young Avengers, but I'm old enough to understand there is a lot to like here. I'm giving this a Forget it. And now I will walk across a football field raise my fist in triumph while the strains of "Don't Forget About Me" play in the background. I'd like to think Kieron Gillen would get that reference even if the Young Avengers demographic is left scratching their heads.
Jamil: I agree that the book carries a very specific agenda, one concentrating less on the hero stuff and more on the shared experiences of young people. I find myself a speck nostalgic reading this #1, and about future plans for the series, and I'm trying to ignore a voice saying: " You're too old for this." It's the same voice I hear when I go trick or treating, but there is no way I ain't taking advantage of free candy.
It's like Allison said, "When you grow up, your heart dies," and while that's a bit of hyperbole I feel you on the too much style, not enough substance critique. The emotional atmosphere is thick, the script captures both the cape and teen genres in a smart way, yet a missing central conflict binding the six figures hurts.
The Loki/Miss America interaction gives the whole issue more tension and meaning, but if you didn't read the Point One you are robbed of that. It's only slightly mentioned that Kid Loki wants Wiccan dead, and it appears by the last page reveal that his agenda might have legitimacy. Poking around the multiverse rarely bears no consequences.
Honestly, I'm here for the Asgardian (well, Jotunheimian). I completely fell in love with Kieron Gillen's Journey Into Mystery after buying the first issue of his run on an utter whim. Little Loki is a guilty pleasure, not only for me, but for fans across comics, a breakout character that houses inexplicable charm. The popularity of the de-aged Mischief God commands so much respect that Marvel decided to keep the chief antagonist of their billion dollar film in an unfamiliar, though more adorable, form, bucking the status quo of making the comics match the movie.
The creative team of Gillen, McKelvie and Norton have a great working relationship, it's apparent on nearly every page, and I love when creators at the top their game know what type of comic they want to make from the first panel to the last epilogue. A strong Get It from me, and I'm close to adding it to my subs list. Many of the Marvel NOW! titles have had a very focused, extremely potent feel to them, and like an 18-year-old I'm unjustifiably, enthusiastically optimistic about the future of Young Avengers.