Anti #0 FCBD Edition/The Ride #0 FCBD Edition
The Intrinsic #1
Valiant Comics FCBD 2012 Special #1
Witchblade Unbalanced Pieces FCBD Edition
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Anti/The Ride: FCBD Edition (12-Gauge, 2012, Free)
12-Gauge isn't a company on people's radar, which explains a laughable bid for attention like Trace Adkins is Luke McBain. Pushing old Caliber/Desperado Publishing material probably doesn't help. Even their entry into dollar comics, last year's I.C.E., wasn't deemed worthy of my attention. Well, that and not wanting to support a book that promotes La Migra as an action property while Arizona's fighting to keep their deportation gestapo in the Supreme Court. After so many misfires, Anti seems a step in the right direction. Based on the twelve page preview, it's about a demon hunter doing the Armageddon tango. It's hardly an original theme, especially in 2012, but Peter Calloway's script balances action with intrigue, while artist Daniel Hillyard does a solid Leinil Yu impersonation, all in full color. There's enough here to hook me on the $1 full issue, and we'll see how things go from there.
The Ride is less successful. They've been doing this black & white car-themed anthology for a few years now, and I'm surprised anyone still sees mileage in it. Starting off with the novelty of a key party, Nathan Edmonson's story descends inevitably into a violent act against a woman that you know is coming from the first page, but have to squirm through seven more to get to. It plays like an opening scene in a movie, but without further context, it's a snuff piece. Paul Azaceta is as tasteful as possible in depicting the alternative edit of date night with Chris Brown. Still, it can't help but feel sordid, and a real downer after the ass-kicking femme of the first story.
Arcana Studio Presents The Intrinsic #1 (Arcana, 2012, Free)
One look at that cover full of poor man's genre archetypes and discount Top Cow art style would lead most to assume that this book would be teh suck. Actually, the first eight pages of D-Grade intracompany crossover massacre prophesy don't do it any favors, either. However, there are another eighteen(!) pages of story that slowly breaks down your resistance to what ends up being a better version of how this sort of thing would play out in the majors. Black Doctor Strange (not Brother Voodoo) and Mr. E have to save a couple destined to be essential in the construction of a super-team of Arcana properties that must stop the big bad. While my most immediate translation of the result would be Primal Force, it's smart of Arcana to actually launch an ongoing series with a widely distributed #1 that gives the full court press. Given that the writing credit is divided by Sean Patrick O'Reilly, Casey Jones and Erik Hendrix, the script is surprisingly consistent. Penciler Allan Otero is, well, like something out of a Triumphant Comic had they survived a few years longer. I doubt the phrase "off brand Ken Lashley" has ever been uttered, so let's go with that. I also have to point out the impressively intricate two page spread of the Arcana Universe, populated by dozens and dozens of generic character designs that makes me wonder if there is a single human being on Earth who could possibly name them all. While hardly a revelation, and despite possibly the worst super team never ever, The Intrinsic #1 is well worth your spending dollars and invested time.
Valiant Comics FCBD 2012 Special #1 (Valiant, 2012, Free)
All year, I bitch about how lightweight modern comics are, and then Free Comic Book Day kicks my ass. Besides the sheer volume of "free" books I order, everyone is trying to hard sell you with extra story pages, interviews, text pieces, etc. Few are pushing harder than the revived Valiant, and by extension, few will compete with this book as a slog.
The X-O Manowar section starts out with a cover, some amusing infographics, and a six page preview. Thanks to the coloring pallet and some polish, Cary Nord's art reminds me of Paul Gulacy, which is not a bad thing in the least. Robert Venditti's tale is a largely silent retread of a few pages of a decades old zero issue, flashing back to some 3rd century Visigoth action, and is good for what it is.
Next comes five pages of Harbinger. There are two large panels featuring oodles of thought balloons to illustrate the protagonist's telepathy. They repeat, both in basic content and verbatim, but I read them all and they were okay. Three largely silent pages flash back to 1951 Tibet, and then there's a flash forward that vaguely reintroduces the guy from the splash page. Joshua Dysart's story is interesting for the few seconds of running time. Khari Evans' art is reminiscent of Phil Winslade, propped up by excellent coloring. Following a very attractively rendered and colored Valiant Universe pin-up in the center spread by Arturo Lozzi, there's a puff piece interview with Dysart.
A seriously pathetic Bloodshot promo involves four pages of redacted script, a pin-up, a cover, and a puff piece interview with writer Duane Swierczynski. A puff piece interview with Archer & Armstrong writer Fred Van Lente chases a a puff piece interview with X-O's writer. There's a lot of Valiant hype, so folks would be forgiven for flashing back to Wizard Magazine in the boom years. Additional illustrations tease Eternal Warrior and Rai.
Valiant was created by a batch of industry pariahs led by Jim Shooter, who were abetted by young turks getting their start and old hacks too broke to retire. This relaunch reminds me less of the old days, and more of the "Birthquake" initiative after Acclaim bought the company. Amidst an industry melting down, Acclaim restaffed the titles with middle of the road names. It wasn't the modest hit & egregious miss formula that came from Fabian Nicieza's later line reboot, but instead a nice revitalization of the core properties after the speculator boom saw Valiant's already shallow talent pool positively evaporate under the intense heat. I believe that these characters deserve to be published, and that mainstream comics are so hideous that fans from back in the day may be well served by jumping ship to Valiant. On the other hand, it's still hired guns toiling on corporate properties fueled by nostalgia for better days. Pick your poison, pardner.
Witchblade Unbalanced Pieces FCBD Edition (Image, 2012, Free)
This was an interesting book. Top Cow's Artifacts event series quietly rebooted their universe. Ron Marz spent several years legitimizing the line on Witchblade, but having ended his run recently (to relaunch Voodoo as part of the New 52 before being shitcanned,) used the Darkness to illustrate the changes in a five page piece. John Tyler Christopher does the accompanying pretty pictures. As far as I can tell, the only major difference is that Witchblade's baby got retconned away (see also: every other comic book pregnancy not involving Sue Storm or a Summers) while the Darkness now has a family (to inevitably be slaughtered.)
Meanwhile, Tim Seeley is now writing Witchblade, and after the steady enjoyment provided by Hack/Slash, I could see coming aboard. I somehow managed to miss ordering the $9.99 trade collection of his first arc (but did get the second volume of the Hack/Slash Omnibus that same month, randomly.) I wasn't even aware he'd started yet, and thought this book would be his introduction to readers. There's a lot of caption boxes with Sara Pezzini narrating the story of her new life as a P.I. in Chicago, an antagonistic supporting character, and a fresh vibe all around. At first, I thought this was a noir schtick, but by the fourth page it felt off. There was too much information being imparted; too many unfamiliar faces and concepts. It began to feel more like a summary of a trade paperback than, with its absence of dialogue and abundance of incident. Sure enough, somebody used these newfangled computers to rearrange panels/pages from several issues of the book, laid out in such a way that you could hardly tell. The art by Diego Bernard and Fred Benes suits the material perfectly, marrying cheesecake to body horror in a way that maximizes the exploitation of both for highest profitability. Seeley's much more entertaining than he has a right to be in this format, and seeing as how they leave the story at a cliffhanger moment, I'll have to see about catching a reorder on the trade. Well played, Top Cow.