Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Smoke and Mirror #1

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Charles William Satterlee
Artists: Claude St. Aubin (p), Kevin Breyfogle (i), Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

Publisher: Speakeasy Comics

Average Rating:

Ariel Carmona Jr.:
Kelvin Green:
Dominic Organ

Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: A young couple is fleeing from something or someone off panel, suddenly the monster catches up with them, and he looks as strong and menacing as the Incredible Hulk. He resembles a buffer version of “Crusher” Creel. His name is Bludgeon. His face also resembles Humberto Ramos’s Eddie Brock from his run on Spectacular Spiderman. A dark clad figure surrounded by blue smoke who looks a bit like Todd McFarlane’s Spawn comes on the scene and soon they are duking it out. The dark clad hero uses Latin phrases to perform some incantations. Their fight banter reveals that the monster is sharing his body with a host. “Smokeboy” takes the fight to the air where he drags the monster by one leg and lets him drop until he splatters on the concrete below. In a battle tactic reminiscent of Flash, the hero uses super speed to slug the monster from all sides until he subdues him. The monster reverts to a human by the name of Dykas, and the would-be victims thank the hero who vanishes before the police arrive on the scene.

The story then shifts to a Chicago law office where the narrator, Luke Gabriel, explains he is a street lawyer helping those who can’t afford legal help. Luke comes home to find his predecessor, Silas, making dinner, and he tells the old man that he took for granted his foe and almost bought it. This prompts Silas to tell him a story of a fight he and “Ms. Mirror” had back in ‘49 with an outlaw bandit bank robber. This is followed by a flashback sequence which explains how mentor and student first met, and how the torch was passed from one heroic generation to the next. Next Gabriel is set to represent his adversary Dykas in court, saying he is addicted to the formula which transforms him into the monster.

Comments: Man, was this a good read. This is what independent super hero comic books should be like: smart, funny and fun to behold with crisp, eye popping artwork. A superb blend of Golden Age and modern day mythos. Satterlee spins a tale which spans generations and also encompasses modern day social themes, and it’s both smart and fun.

The relationship between Silas and his trainee Gabriel isn’t new. Certainly retired heroes have trained their successors in the past. Hell, Batman Beyond dedicated an entire TV show to exploring this theme, but it’s refreshing to see it told in a new and original context. The coloring effects used in the Golden age segments of the book are sheer magic and are superbly handled by Kindzierski. The inking by Breyfogle is suited to both time periods, and I already described what an amazing job St. Aubin does of pencilling. What I loved most about this book is that it seems to be an homage to everything we loved about the Golden age books which were influenced by the pulps and a long ago era where superheroes weren’t always invulnerable, bordering psychos, or gun toting vigilantes. Satterlee claims he studied the history of comics while studying under his teacher, Bill Martin, and it shows.

Final Word: This book exemplifies everything which is good and fun about the genre of superhero comics, and it has only scratched the surface with its first outing. What greater praise can I offer?

Kelvin Green

This comic isn’t going to set the world on fire with an uncompromisingly postmodern approach to superheroes and the comics medium, but it is a good solid slice of old-fashioned superhero action, and given that we’re well into a period of variant covers, “shock” deaths and dubious characterisation instead of actual storytelling, this is actually something of a breath of fresh air. No one’s pushing the boundaries of the superhero genre here, but nor are there any scenes of rape victims getting immolated.

What immediately struck me was the crisp clean art; it’s a nice change from the muddy inking I’ve seen a lot of in recent indie titles, and it doesn’t look like it was copied from an Image comic circa 1993, so it’s a step up from most of Marvel and DC's current output. There's a pleasingly bright and breezy look to the art, due in part to the vivid colouring, and there’s also a great deal of humour and personality in the storytelling; the personality of the Hulkesque brute Bludgeon comes through particularly well, and even the blank and faceless Smoke is given plenty of character through the art.

The character designs are, for the most part, similarly well done; the protagonist, some Liefeldesque belts and pouches aside, benefits from some interesting visuals, particularly his gaseous cloak, which while a literal cloud of smoke, remains attached to his shoulders in the usual manner for a superhero’s cape. The hero’s civilian identity is somewhat bland, however.

The issue also benefits from some fun storytelling techniques; again, nothing particularly new or innovative, but they’re entertaining enough, and they do make use of the comics medium rather than try to make the comic seem “filmic.” The flashbacks to the Golden Age version of Smoke are suitably portrayed in an older style, dot-printing and all, and the current Smoke’s flashbacks are appropriately enclosed in clouds of smoke rather than normal panel borders.

The comic’s main weakness is that characterisation is rather weak; the cast are sketched in very broad and vague terms, and it’s hard to get a good feel for any of them. However, like the general lack of innnovation, the charm and enthusiasm of the comic as a whole makes up for this to some extent; if future issues continue to leave the characters so undeveloped, it might be a bigger problem, but for a first issue, it’s not too much of a failing.

Is this a bold and original step forward in superhero comics? It doesn’t look like it, no, but it is a competent and confident comic, and there’s always room for those.

Dominic Organ

Sometimes drawing a parallel can be a good thing, like comparing a new hero to Superman. Sometimes it can be a bad thing, like comparing Bush to a world leader. To be totally honest, I’m not sure whether this review is going to be complimentary or not, so I’ll let you good folks in internet land choose.

This series has a hundred small things going for it, and a few major caveats. The story is about a young second generation (I think) hero called Smoke who tangles with a very unsavoury character called Bludgeon who is harassing a young couple for…..I dunno, money maybe. Anyway the hero of the piece arrives and so begins a pretty exciting fight scene, where we get to see what Smoke is capable of. Now, here comes the first parallel, the character is Jekyll and Hyde all over, and that is nothing new. Pretty disappointing given the creative flair shown in Smoke’s powers but hey, everyone has their dud villain, right? Look at Spiderman.

Once the fight has stopped and my heart rate has gone down, Smoke’s real name is revealed as Luke Carter. I’ll be honest, I don’t like the name so much. It’s a bit of a stereotypical name for a hero, tough yet gentle sort of thing. Anyway, he’s a street lawyer working (I assume) pro bono cases for people who can’t really afford it. Another parallel here as he reminds me very much of Matt Murdock: whether that is a bad thing or not is up to you.

He returns home and meets an old gentleman who turns out to be the original Smoke. The interaction here is lovely actually. We get to take a wee jaunt into the past and everything here makes me comfortable with what goes on in the issue.

Later in the issue, Mr. Carter defends the Jekyll of our Bludgeon in court, which I liked, though the section felt rushed and seemed overly clumsy.

The artwork is the most outstanding part of the issue. Some of the imagery is very exciting, and the cover art at the end is attractive enough to be posters on my wall (and I would strongly advise buying them should they become posters). Several of the face off panels between Smoke and Bludgeon look great and make the battle more interesting. Smoke also has a very cool look which I hope will continue throughout this run as it attracts the eye.

So basically, while the story might be clumsy at points, and rife with parallels, I have high hopes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I want more. This has all over it, not enough to write home about, but more than enough to leave you satisfied.

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