The Black Coat & Athena Voltaire One-Shot #1
Soulfire: Chaos Reign: Beginnings #1 (a.k.a. Soulfire: New World Order: Beginnings)
Air #7 (Vertigo, 2009, $1.00)
I went for the combo deal Vertigo offered one month of Air (Vol. 1): Letters from Lost Countries for just $10 and the first new issue after for a buck. The first page is a hard sell of pull quotes praising the series. I'm perfectly willing to disagree with the likes of Neil Gaiman, Brian Azzarello, and USA Today, however. The next page was one of those awful text pieces where the author pretends like they know their lead character in real life, and amounts to a vague introduction to the series. The lead story deposits the mind of heroine Blythe in the body of her missing lover, Zayn al Harrani. This begins at Zayn's adolescence, so we get to fulfill that common feminine fantasy of truly knowing your fella from a young age. This is an origin story, showing how the Saudi first comes to America, and the experiences that shaped his extreme lifestyle. The story is pretty familiar, with details left out with the intention to preserve mystique, but instead just leaving gaps. By the end, the series' newly fantastical status quo is restored, and I'm left just as disappointed in the series as I was with the trade's anticlimactic conclusion. The title had promise as a conspiracy thriller, but the twists led it toward a Sci-Fi Channel Original Series level of romanticized cheese. I'm officially through with G. Willow Wilson. Brian Wood and The Onion can have her.
The Black Coat & Athena Voltaire One-Shot #1 (Ape Entertainment, 2009, $2.00)
So here's a fun premise: have a crossover between two period genre series, one an 18th Century swashbuckler and the other Depression-era adventuring, through an appropriate linking device. The Black Coat suffers the most from the necessary contrivance, as the onus of exposition and architecture weigh on its back. Still, Ben Lichius tells an enjoyable if not always logical yarn that doesn't feel like a set-up and stands fine on its own. Lichius' art isn't quite ready for prime time, but the script's charm and his obvious love of the material glosses over its shortcomings. Lichius accomplishes all that could be asked of him in just 14 pages, and that's a definite talent in these miserably decompressed times.
Steve Bryant's Athena Voltaire is a lot more polished, with solid art that recalls Mark Schultz by way of Ron Randall, and the superior coloring of Jason Millet. The dialogue is sharp, and the heroine well defined. The only way the second feature suffers in comparison is that it really coasts on action halfway through. After the hard work of Lichius, it comes off like the grasshopper fiddling while the busy ant plans for winter. Nevertheless, when taken together both features deliver heartily at yesterday's prices, and come highly recommended.
Soulfire: Chaos Reign: Beginnings #1 (Aspen, 2009, $1.99)
Between the logo and the indicia I have two titles and four colons, none of which bode well. In fact, coming on the heels of Black Coat/Athena Voltaire, this book is a bit of a turd. There is a seven page story excerpt from an upcoming mini-series. The art by Francisco Herrera is very attractive, playing like a cross between Humberto Ramos and Carlos Meglia. Combined with the fantastic coloring of Leonardo Olea, the art could easily be confused with frames of very expensive cell animation. Regardless, Herrera's storytelling is awkward and often unclear, leaving it up to the reader to guess who's speaking in some panels. J.T. Krul's dialogue is only a wee bit less obnoxious than the text filler he supplies to a sketchbook. Most of those images are provided by the late Michael Turner, an artist I never much cared for, and here offered especially bare bones. Aspen is increasingly coming across like the estate of Tupac Shakur, absolutely scrapping the bottom of the barrel to offer unreleased works at a rate the less-than-prolific penciller couldn't manage while alive. All in all, an ephemeral waste of money on a product that offers little story and no cohesion.
Viking #1 (Image, 2009, $2.99)
I totally bought this book on discount solely for review purposes. I don't care about vikings, I didn't like the preview pages that were released, and I was prepared to write the whole thing off. Lo and behold, generic title aside, Viking is a quality production. Writer Ivan Brandon has been developing the project since 2005, so not only was it not at all inspired by the surprise performance of Brian Wood's Northlanders, but it is in fact a much better book from jump. While the lead characters aren't as detailed initially as Wood's, their dialogue has a lot more spark, and even the louts manage to hold your interest. The book is brimming with sarcasm and gallows humor, making it perfect for fans of Britain's 2000 A.D. and the like.
Artist Nic Klein uses muted colors and zip-tones to give this ancient setting a curiously hip 1960s vibe. Much of the book is rough line art, with occasional shifts to a more vivid, painterly appearance. While attractive, the effect is distracting, and I'd rather he work in one mode or the other.
Still, the story and art perfectly compliment one another, even through the anachronistic flourishes and sometimes jarring transitions. Also, I can't see how this title can ever be profitable with these production values. The dimensions of the book are oversized, with a spot varnished cardstock cover and heavy weight interior pages. It's an absolute steal at $3, and puts other publishers to shame. This is probably the only Icelandic comic I'll ever recommend, so have at.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
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