The Astounding Wolf-Man #1
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Jason Howard
Letters: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
It’s time for a Free Comic Book Day preview. Of this year’s Free Comic Book Day selections, this looked to be one of the most interesting and promising selections. The only other FCBD 2007 item I was more excited about is the Comics Festival 2007 one-shot with which such creators as Darwyn (The Spirit) Cooke and Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O’Malley are involved. Image has struck upon a solid idea for its FCBD contribution this year: the first issue of an accessible new series written by Robert Kirkman. Not only will it appeal to existing comics readers, drawing them into the Image camp, but the story itself is reminiscent of an old-school Marvel origin… albeit with a bit more of an edge. Artist and co-creator Jason Howard boasts a style that’s in keeping with the general look of other such Kirkman collaborators as Cliff Rathburn and Ryan Ottley, but it also has a look that’s reminiscent of modern animation. The look of this boo is bound to appeal to fans of such shows as the current Batman cartoon and Justice League Unlimited. There’s nothing particularly fresh about the property so far, but there’s no denying that it’s solidly entertaining.
Wealthy businessman Gary Hampton is mauled by a wild animal while on a camping trip with his family, who fear he’ll never recover from the mortal injuries he’s sustained. But a month later, he amazes doctors and his wife alike when he stirs from his coma, feeling none the worse of wear. Soon, it becomes apparent that his recovery — and the animal attack — was not normal, as the light of a full moon transforms the industrialist into some kind of wolf-man. Just as he and his wife discover this new lycanthropic curse, someone arrives to answer all of the panicked questions that fill their minds.
The action in this introductory issue is limited to two short sequences, but artist Jason Howard makes the most of them. He employs large panels as well as a two-page spread to bring the immensity of the Wolf-Man’s raw power to life. He plays around with perspective and motion to great effect, especially in other parts of the comic where there’s little action. The odd points of view and energetic linework in those exposition-heavy scenes make it seem as though a lot is happening, creating the illusion of action where there was none to be found. My one qualm with the art stems from the colors. Several scenes are dominated by a single hue, which makes some of the art seem flat and even static. That approach conflicted with the kinetic qualities of the line art.
The opening scene (as represented to the right) boasts an intense, gory and frightening quality that certainly draws the reader into the drama in a hurry, but that dark, edgy scene, though compelling, doesn’t really jibe with the rest of the old-school comics storytelling that follows. Furthermore, just about everything about this comic — from the playful title to the simple, accessible artwork and the old-fashioned influences in the plotting — says it’s meant to be a book for readers of all ages. But that opening scene strikes me as though it would be too much for a younger audience. It feels out of place in the context of the full story.
Wisely, Image includes previews of its other fare in the back of this promotional comic. There’s a preview of the new, upcoming Brit ongoing series, which is an appropriate choice, given the kind of personality and over-the-top action that characterizes that Kirkman-created property. The Tow Cow pinups aren’t quite in the same vein, but they’re not so gratuitous to be glaringly out of place either.
I enjoyed that Kirkman doesn’t give everything away in the opening scene, but at the same time, he doesn’t dally when it comes to making revelations. There’s a fleeting moment of misdirection in which a bear, not a werewolf, is responsible for a character’s injuries. But Kirkman knows his readers won’t be fooled for long. There’s no sustained sense of mystery about what’s happening to Gary Hampton. The writer doesn’t even fall into the trap of having the hero desperately trying to hide his curse from his loved ones. Everything is splayed out in the open for both the supporting cast and the reader before the issue’s end.
The rapid pace of the plotting, the simple origin and the small and accessible size of the supporting cast make for a comic book that reminds me of how Marvel Comics introduced characters in their first appearances in the early 1960s. Kirkman gets his story and hero established quickly, and while the plotting is somewhat by the numbers and familiar, at the end of the story, the reader really doesn’t know what’s going to come next. Will the Wolf-Man be an accidental hero such as the Hulk, or will he gain control and give his curse meaning with a clear, heroic goal? There’s plenty of potential in the story at this point. I know whatever comes next with be traditional and comfortably familiar, but I like that I really don’t know what it’ll be. 7/10
Note: This free comic book is slated for release May 5 at direct-market comics shops on Free Comic Book Day.