Fantastic Four #587 (Marvel Comics)
by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Mike Perkins
I’m a fan of writer Jonathan Hickman’s work, and his and his editors’ development for a new direction for the Fantastic Four seemed like an opportunity to revisit his work with Marvel’s first family of super-heroes. As I waded into this highly promoted issue of death (dah-dah-duhhhnnn), I was intrigued by a number of the elements I found in the story, but I was more surprised at how inaccessible this comic book is. Now, there’s always going to be a learning curve when a new reader comes into a story arc in the middle or the end, but with episodic fiction such as this, I’ve always felt that creators and editors need to acknowledge the potential that every issue is someone’s first. And with this issue in particular, those involved knew ahead of time that there would be thousands of new readers checking it out for the heavily marketed character death. I was quite interested in the school for the gifted that the FF seemed to be operating, but I didn’t know who several of the characters were. And the script provides little information about Ben Grimm’s reversion to human form or why that status changes later in the issue. Furthermore, I wasn’t terribly interested in the Nu-World plotline or the undersea politics of war, and I’ve always found the Namor/Invisible Woman dynamic to be forced and boring.
Steve Epting’s dark style was an excellent choice for this story arc, given the tragic elements that make up the story. It makes for an interesting contrast with the colors; Paul Mounts really makes the energy of the super-hero genre pop against the noir visuals that Epting provides. The art is quite consistent throughout the comic, which is impressive since three inkers (including Epting himself) contributed to the finished product. His designs for the wild sci-fi concepts — which are numerous, given the three separate plotlines running through this comic — look great as well, save for the “Annihilation Wave” that serves as the threat in the central storyline. 5/10
Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & John Severin
These Witchfinder series, featuring the adventures of a gentleman monster killer in Victorian times, stand out as the strongest of the Mignola-verse comics, and given how good they can be, that’s really saying something. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi take the title character out of his element with this latest limited series, and it really makes this new story stand apart from previous Witchfinder tales. Grey’s exceptional qualities, civility and superior intellect actually seem like liabilities in the Wild West setting, and that fish-out-of-water approach brings a fresh quality to the core concept. Also drawing the reader deeper into the story is the mystery surrounding a bizarre event that transformed a burgeoning frontier town into a pit of misery, but the writers wisely connect that transformation not only to something dark and supernatural but to grounded economic factors as well. That smart writing adds to the fun of the monster mash.
Not only does this series place Sir Edward Grey in an unexpected and unusual setting, it also looks unlike previous Witchfinder comics. Of course, that’s because the creators tapped the perfect artist to handle a story set in the Old West: John Severin. As usual, he handles the material incredibly well. He makes the rough, raw backdrop look as untamed and dirty as it should. The meticulous detail in his realistic artwork is something to behold. that he continues to produce top-notch work at the age of 89 just adds to the impressiveness of his performance. 9/10
Soldier Zero #5 (Boom! Studios/POW! Entertainment)
by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Javier Pina
I’m surprised to find that this series has changed writers with the beginning of the second story arc, but fortunately, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning maintain a consistent tone with what Paul Cornell did with the first four issues. The central theme of the book remains the ways in which people contend with disability, and I’m fascinated by the number of different ways in which the writers manage to explore that concept. The different ways in which the hero and his brother contend with life-altering injuries ring true and add another interesting conflict to the ongoing narrative. Honestly, the super-hero/science-fiction elements in the series, though handled well, are actually the least interesting elements. Mind you, the new “app” villain’s premise and abilities are terribly cool and entertaining.
One of the reasons for that is the artwork, and more specifically due to the computer coloring/enhancement effects. The line art from Javier Pina conveys the action effectively. I noted that his backgrounds throughout this issue are rather lacking, but the bulk of the story takes place in a hospital, so the lack of adornment in the background actually works when it comes to capturing the antiseptic, utilitarian environment. I also remain pleased with the simple design of the title character, though over the course of the series, I find I’m less taken with it when it shares space with the other similar designs of the various alien antagonists that appear in the story from time to time. 8/10
Note: This comic book is slated for release Feb. 16.
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