Comics has an accessibility problem. After decades of existence some books can be really hard to ease into. That’s why the infamous “jumping on point” was created — single issues designed to garner new readers and lure back old fans. Each week brave surveyors Luke Miller and Jamil Scalese will venture into the comics abyss and let you, the consumer, know just which series are worth JUMPING ON, and which are better left to be revisited at a later date.
(Anthony Ruttgaizer; Marco Renna ; Fred Stressing; Lee Moder)
Jamil: We nerds are picky. We have refined taste. We like our superheroes name brand. For some reason we’d rather read a high-profile knock off than a small press original. So any time an independent publisher decides to enter the arena of cape comics there is a massive amount of risk involved.
Generally, I really like Action Lab. They have a “house style” that’s diversely buoyant. Hero Cats, to Princeless, Zombie Tramp and Holy F*ck — there’s a lot of options across the spectrum of just having a good time making and distributing comics. Their superhero titles are just a plain unknown to me though. I’ve certainly seen solicits and press on Molly Danger, Stray and the like but the only title I’ve dabbled in is Fracture. Actionverse has been described by Jamal Igle, creator of Molly Danger, as really just a way for these writers and artists to mess around with each other’s characters.
I found the premise of Actionverse #1 to be pretty damn cool, and Anthony Ruttgaizer’s script was fairly accessible aside from some of the F1RST HERO stuff toward the end. The core idea that brings all these disparate superheroes together is really, really clever; it definitely works as novel way to staple everything together.
Luke: Hey, let’s not damn that high-profile knock off after we both liked it. You leave Hyperion out of this, Jamil! I mean, you’re right. We’re picky. Maybe “particular” is a better word? Once we figure out what we like, we tend to stick to it, although I feel like you can see that about most people and their genres. It’s why there are 7 Fast and the Furious movies. I mean, how many cars can those guys steal?
Anyway, I know nothing of Action Lab. I literally didn’t even know this was a thing until you brought it up as a possibility for this column. I also thought the premise was cool. Evil Quantum Leap Guy, whose name I never caught, was a pretty cool build up and reveal. From the man who was wronged to being super-duper evil was a great turn. The F1RST HERO stuff was weird though. I can’t quite say why but it just hit me wrong. I don’t know if it was all the “dudes” and “bros” (a personal pet peeve) or if it just wasn’t explained very well as to who he was and what his powers were all about.
There’s potential here, but I feel like this could’ve been more new-reader friendly. It was, and then it switched halfway through to being very not, didn’t you think?
Jamil: The vengeful dimension hopper was the star of the show, and seems to be the “occasion” or impetus for the story. I actually liked the colloquial voice he was given, almost like a vapid frat boy mixed with a maniacal genius. I mean the dudebro cracked a beer while destroying an entire planet… That’s vile! I’m a sucker for alternate reality stories and time/space bending characters so I liked the overall feel and weight of his presence.
But yes, when Jake Roth shows up the air is let out the comic a midge. His gimmick looks and feels a bit too generic to really get an idea of what he’s all about. There are some hints about powers being a new thing in his world, a still developing mystery, but I’m not sure we learn what makes F1rst Hero special.
Actionverse #1 is held back by its decent though plain art. Marco Renna does a fine job of executing Ruttgaizer’s ideas but there’s a certain wobbly, etch-y quality that doesn’t speak to a big time superhero crossover to me. The opening scene unfolded extremely well, but again, things turned mundane once we got to Philadelphia. Additionally, I did not enjoy the muted and unadventurous color choices of Fred C. Stresing at all. The story calls for bright shades and a bolder aesthetic and instead it was filtered through pastels and grays.
In spite of a few soft spots I do like what Action Labs has put together. As the creative teams switch with each issue it was important they offer a sturdy hook. I think they did that and it’s very likely I’ll be checking in on this miniseries again.
Luke: I also generally like what’s presented here. That opening scene was so strong it made up for the slight dip in quality in the second half. All the gods and heroes of a given Earth futilely battling against a world-ending threat again and again was a sight to behold.
I agree on the art, too. It was serviceable – there was certainly nothing bad about it. It just didn’t jump out at me or really add much to the story in my opinion.
Finally, for our “jumping on” perspective – we’ve tried to steer clear of miniseries so far, because there’s not much point in assessing whether to “jump on” a miniseries that’s going to be over in a few issues. We want long term commitment here! But this is a special case – since it’s really about jumping on to the publisher and seeing what Action Labs has to offer. As far as that goes, this issue does it’s job. Even though it was choppy in some parts and had a drastic shift in tone halfway through (possibly intentionally, I’m not sure), I’m interested in these characters now.
If you’ve ever wanted to jump onto Action Labs and see what the have to offer, I say now is the time – it’s only going to be more of a showcase from here on out.