What is it they say about first impressions?

The direct market is eating its own young, and making it exceptionally difficult for anything new to survive in the face of the established and the familiar. This makes any title’s opening campaign that much more important, because if the initial vibe proves elusive, there’s a considerable chance that your book won’t live to see double digits. New projects ultimately succeed or fail on the strength of their formula, an arcane mixture of creator, character, and voice that puts the un-established at a distinct disadvantage, so without instant credibility, the climb heads uphill in search of the buzz and word of mouth that’ll allow you to reach a second story arc. End of the day though, whether you’re an unknown or Mark Millar, you’ve gotta hit em hard out the gate or become fuel for some retailer’s bargain bin. This week, I’m breaking down two of the industry’s latest releases, and examining what they’ve done either right or wrong to secure their own future through premise, characters, and execution.

Firestorm first. NYC Mech second.

Firestorm #1 (Dan Jolley/CrissCross/John Dell)

Probably shouldn’t go much further without commenting on the firestorm (pun intended) that surrounded the recent announcement of this title. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on all things Firestorm, but as I understand it, the character previously holding the mantle and puffy sleeves of FS is nowhere in sight, instead replaced by a young man by the name of Jason Rusch. Presumably, DC and Jolley chose this route to provide a highly accessible entryway into the series, and seriously, making Jason a young black dude was likely a conscious response to the homogeneity of the DC Universe. Naturally, I’m down with that, and if you’re DC, and you wanted to diversify some of your line’s heroes, it only makes sense to modify a third, or maybe even fourth tier character like Firestorm. Not the first or last time a major company has made an alteration to an established character to further a newfound agenda, whether it’s to distance itself from the past, or to help a property survive amidst a sea of competitors. Unfortunate for the hardcore fans sure, but between you and me, this character just wasn’t popular enough to leave alone.

Onto business then…

CrissCross brought me here in the first place, as I’ve been following his work for years on the criminally underrated Captain Marvel series, and fortunately, that same energy is found in this first issue, despite the script’s relatively “quiet” nature. One of Cross’ greatest strengths is his ability to render facial expressions and body language that perfectly complement the script, storytelling so effective that it might go relatively unnoticed.

Jolley’s script works well within the conventions of teenage heroics, introducing Jason Rusch and slowly leading him toward his personal twist of fate. The opening effectively brings you into the story and does what any beginning hopes to, poses a question that you immediately want answered. This small mystery sparks the narrative, as college bound Jason Rusch finds himself backed into a corner, and as often happens, decides upon a solution that will obviously make everything much worse. The “transformation” sequence, where Jason somehow inherits the powers of Firestorm is kept deliberately vague, and employs the “missing time” trick that Bendis and Vaughan have used recently, and there’s no question that Jolley will rightfully address the bypassed hour and a half in the next couple issues. Strong as all this is, it’s not the most notable aspect of the script.

There’s a scene in the middle of this issue between Jason and his father that’s unsettling for a very obvious reason, and I give Jolley credit for writing it as such, without venturing completely over the top, which would’ve been much easier, given the subject matter. The tension is kept relatively subtle, and the resolution sheds insight on both characters, which is the point of any good scene. Yes, I’m being intentionally vague because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you’ll know it when you see it, and the fact that CrissCross is so good, only helps to “sell” the sequence. Teen superhero books are always defined by their central relationships, and Firestorm delivers quite a complicated and unique one that effectively individualizes it.

Several of the goals of any first issue can be found here, the strong characters, the intriguing premise, the skillful execution, and though the superhero wheel isn’t undergoing a revolutionary spin, this definitely has the right ingredients of a highly successful revamp. If you’re fan of the teen superhero genre, there’s not a reason in the world to ignore this book.

NYC Mech #1 (Ivan Brandon/Miles Gunter/Andy McDonald)

Image Comics’ website usually posts five page previews of upcoming titles, and in most cases, I refuse to read them. Becoming highly allergic to “spoiler” type material recently, and ninety percent of the time, due to Previews and the online press, I’m picking it up anyway, so why dilute the work’s full effect right? Mech was something that I broke the rule for, because honestly, I hadn’t made that final commitment yet, despite a couple interviews that certainly cast it as something worth watching. Needless to say, the preview made that decision for me, and surprisingly, the teaser sequence is nowhere to be found in this first issue. Best of both worlds that is.

NYC Mech tells the stories of a New York City that’s populated entirely by robots, and it doesn’t waste time explaining how it happened, or even if it’s always been that way. A common staple of contemporary science fiction often sees the robot or artificial intelligence cast as an opposing force, an adversary for humanity to rebel against, and who knows if something similar hasn’t occurred here, but it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. The inhabitants of NYC Mech are concerned with the same things most people we are, food, work, money, sex, they just happen to have a few more moving parts than we do.

The first issue sells this really tight premise almost exclusively on its atmosphere. There are two ways creators could introduce you to a divergent world like this, the first one is to tell you, and the second is to show you, and they seem almost unnaturally confident that if they show off enough of this strange environment, you’ll end up trapped in it. The narrative begins split into five directions with a collection of characters engaging in the most human of activities, one of them delivering a hypnotic monologue that ties everything together and then starts it over for some unknown purpose. In flashback, we learn the perspectives weren’t really as unconnected as they originally appeared, and we’re lured in through the ordinary, when this group of housemates is anything but. You’re put at ease, and then the story turns, spinning into another direction, and that’s when the misdirection ultimately pays off. These people aren’t what you think.

The art from Andy McDonald is also incredibly effective, lending a humanistic quality to the characters that doesn’t detract from the fact they aren’t. Doing a book like this requires more than just drawing robotic stand-ins for the characters, and despite the harsh otherworldly qualities, McDonald is able to infuse some emotion and realism into the equation. It rounds out the skillful presentation, and will make it that more difficult to ignore subsequent issues.

NYC Mech is a decidedly different offering from Image Comics, and easily justifies itself in only one issue, with an execution that matches a tight premise, and most importantly, leaves you wanting more. Really nice start to a really nice book.

There you go folks, two new offerings that’ve done more than enough right in their premieres to guarantee a second sale. Hopefully, they’ll be able to keep it up. Also wanted to thank everyone who threw down three bucks on Spider-Man Unlimited #3, and an extra special thanks to anyone that’s hit me with positive comments about the story. It’s really cool and it means a lot. Should have some more things for you very soon.

Back in seven,

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