Writer: Tom Waltz
Pencils: Casey Maloney
Inks: Stacie Ponder
Colors: Dusty Yee
Letters: Neil Uyetake
Cover artist: Adriano Loyola
Editor: Andrew Steven Harris
Publisher: IDW Publishing/Simmons Comics Group
Price: $3.99 US
My girlfriend and I are fans of A&E’s Gene Simmons Family Jewels, so I have to admit to some mild curiosity about the Simmons Comics Group line of titles from IDW, but this is the first one I’ve thumbed through. Simmons is credited with creating the core concept, and it’s a rather familiar one. We’ve seen the seemingly innocent alien becoming a hero before, but this time, there’s an intensity to the manifestation of his abilities and methods. That edgier side of the property is clearly a part of an effort to bring a Simmons, rock-‘n’-roll element to the story, but it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the premise. Still, the artwork is effective and eye-catching across the board, and I have to admit I was generally entertained from start to finish. I think what I most appreciated about the comic was the chance to sample the work of some new creators… or at least some creators who are new to me.
Xeng Ral, an alien from the planet Etheria, has escaped from custody on his own planet, a fugitive from justice because of his views. Ral sees value in the rights of the individual, while the Old Ones that rule the strange world see the state as being more important than all other concerns. Making his way to Earth through a teleportation portal, he’s able to blend in thanks to some cloaking technology. Unfortunately, his terrestrial arrival has come at a bad time, as a charismatic, evangelical xenophobe has begun to sway the masses with his paranoid message of threats from beyond the stars.
Maloney’s artwork reminds me a great deal of the style of Leonard (Agents of Atlas) Kirk. There’s a softness in some of the figures that’s reminiscent of Kirk’s attractive, simple but convincing artwork. The alien world from which the protagonist hails truly looks like a utopia, and I like the shimmering, liquid look of the non-costumed alien hero. The problem is that the “exo-suit” that serves as the main character’s heroic costume completely conflicts with the alien setting and design introduced earlier in the book. It’s not nearly as inventive and attractive as previous visuals; the Zipper design reminds me far too much of the design for the Kasumi/Batgirl character from Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke’s Justice League Elite.
The colors here are brilliant and really reinforce the wonder of the opening act, set on Etheria. Furthermore, the letters help to convey the main character’s alien nature. Coloring and lettering can enhance or intrude on the line art, and I’m pleased to find that it’s a case of the former with Zipper.
The same disconnect exists in the writing. Zeng Ral’s appeal lies in his innocent, even naive demeanor. He comes off as a gentle soul, as a carefree spirit who only wishes to remain free. When he shifts into uber-violence mode, it’s unsettling. I’m sure that’s what the creators intended, in a way. But it just doesn’t fit with what came before in the book. The extreme and gory actions the “hero” commits are repulsive; those that are subjected to that grisly fate don’t seem nearly unlikable enough to deserve it. “Zipper’s” actions are off-putting, to say the least, and the reader’s appreciation of the main character is quickly soured.
I think that illogical dichotomy in the title character is the property’s biggest liability, but it’s not the only flaw here. The premise is derivative to the point of distraction. An alien escapes from an oppressive culture and escapes to Earth, where individuality is embraced and freedom is an important ideal, only to be pursued by threats from beyond the stars. There’s little new to be found in Zipper’s story. Supporting players in the drama are really cliches rather than characters. Still, the visuals are strong, but not really strong enough to eclipse the problems or to boost the minor appeal of the association with the Simmons name. 5/10