Black Kiss 2 #1 (Image Comics)
by Howard Chaykin
When I was a comic-loving teen, I was focused exclusively on the super-hero genre. While my best friend didn’t buy and read as many comics as I did, he had a more varied cultural palate and a willingness to delve into more unusual subject matter. As such, he had Chaykin’s Black Kiss lying around his room. I thumbed through it and was riveted… but not by the strength of the acclaimed work. I was a teenager, after all. It was the strong sexual content that grabbed my attention. More than 20 years later, I can’t recall what Black Kiss was about at all, but it’s been mentioned by those in the know with such respect, I felt compelled to check out this followup as someone no longer a slave to his baser desires and as someone who’s actually touched a boobie. To my disappointment, I found a confusing confluence of imagery. The first half of the comic boasts an odd, unwelcoming, stream-of-consciousness-style approach to the narrative. Chaykin does an excellent job of capturing the culture of a different time, but I honestly have no idea what the story is meant to be about. Its sudden shift to a different backdrop — the Titanic — doesn’t help with the confusion. Before the first plotline can take root, the audience is jarred away, whisked to a more coherent, focused narrative that’s nevertheless just as devoid of context and clear meaning.
Also disappointing is the fact the story isn’t sexy. There’s plenty of sexuality to be found, but it’s not titillating at all. Mind you, Chaykin clearly doesn’t intend it as such. The sex depicted is bizarre and violent and unsettling. He even strays into what can only be described as his take on hentai tentacle porn. But the sex (if one can call it that) is ugly and uncomfortable at all times. Chaykin’s artwork is distinct and compelling. he brings the historical settings to life with seeming ease with detailed architecture and convincing images of faded fashions. Still, the strengths to be found in the artwork can’t overcome the confusing nature of the storytelling. Maybe the original Black Kiss is required reading in order to appreciate this new work, which would be an unfortunate and ill-advised creative choice. 3/10
Earth 2 #4 (DC Comics)
by James Robinson, Nicola Scott, Eduardo Pansica, Trevor Scott & Sean Parsons
The redesigns for the heroes seem oddly focused on helmets. The Flash’s weird bicycle-helmet look doesn’t come off as too awkward in this issue, but it still pales in comparison to the old design DC inexplicably decided to cast aside. Hawkgirl’s new helmet certainly looks more practical than her old look, but it isn’t nearly as striking or cool. And now the Atom shows up — in a helmet. Given the new military aspect of his character, there’s some context for it, but it also doesn’t seem all that necessary, given his powers. The redesign for Grundy is an interesting one. This is a much different take on the villain, and the new look incorporates the more malevolent side of the undead enemy along with the monstrous. Two pencillers contribute to this issue, but fortunately, there’s a consistent look to the art overall.
Well, the plot is finally moving forward beyond the introduction of new incarnations of familiar characters into some real conflict. Robinson’s plot — featuring the life-affirming emerald energy of Green Lantern versus the undead and decay of the “Grey,” personified by Grundy — reminds me a great deal of the stories that have been unfolding in Animal Man and Swamp Thing. I’m left wondering if the parallels are intentional or unfortunately repetitive. While the introduction of the heroes remains an awkward process, I continue to be interested in the world-building that’s unfolded in the title thus far. I like that this world seems defined by its effort to address an other-dimensional invasion from five years before. The exchanges between Hawkgirl (girl, really?) and the Flash work pretty well, and I’m intrigued by the connection between Hawkgirl and the Atom that’s referred to in the final couple of pages of this issue. The new spin on the Golden Age Atom is unfortunately more of an amalgam of Damage and Atom-Smasher. Sure, those characters were seen as carrying on the Atom’s legacy, but the underdog appeal of the original character seems lost here as a result. I have to admit… the main reason I’m still reading this book is my fondness of DC’s Golden Age characters, but it may not be enough to keep me around for much longer 6/10
First X-Men #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Neal Adams & Christos Gage
Legendary comics creator Neal Adams and Marvel mainstay Christos Gage team to develop a plot about mutants in a time before Professor X formed his X-Men. I can’t help but feel this limited series was sparked in part by the recent “Avengers 1959” storyline from Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers comics (also illustrated by an industry stalwart, Howard Chaykin). Actually, if you liked the X-Men: First Class movie, you’ll like First X-Men. This just features Wolverine and Sabretooth as the leads instead of Charles Xavier and Magneto. The plot is enjoyable but fairly predictable at the same time. Since the reader knows the established characters will escape the plot unscathed, the story derives its drama from the new characters that turn up to join Logan’s crusade. Adams and Gage don’t waste a lot of time setting up the plot. The story gallops forward, which was probably the right way to go. There’s no decompressed storytelling to be found here, and as a result, it boasts an old-school, fun tone.
Of course, part of the nostalgic appeal stems from Adams’s artwork as well. While his work hardly boasts what one could call a light, Silver Age tone, it’s also synonymous with comics storytelling of the 1970s. The rougher leanings in his style suits Logan and Creed quite well. The revelation of Holo’s true form could’ve been clearly; the script offers cues that she’s quite young, but it’s not that apparent visually. The script purposefully avoids telling the reader when this story takes place, and in keeping with that approach, there are no direct visual cues to provide any direction in that regard either. It’s unfortunate, as I think a clearer sense of history could’ve added a lot to the story. 6/10
Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Bad Girls #1 (Zenescope Entertainment)
by Joe Brusha, Raven Gregory, Ralph Tedesco, Joey Esposito, Rafael Lanhellas, Eduardo Garcia & Marco Cosentino
This delivers exactly what the title promises, so there’s no shortage of ample cleavage and thrusting buttocks to be found in these pages. What the book could use more of, mind you, is accessible writing. The main heroine isn’t identified by name until the third from last page, and a couple of the villains (from whom the series derives its title) aren’t named at all. Even after the protagonist is named, it’s not clear what storybook legend I’m meant to associate her with (unlike the other characters). It’s clear Grimm Fairy Tales and its spinoffs are a bit like Fables, had creator Bill Willingham envisioned the property as a 1990s Image super-hero book. I rather enjoyed the concept of a group of evil storybook queens and witches gathering together for a common goal, but script Joey Esposito is obviously crafting this comic book for the dedicated Grimm Fairy Tales reader. The notion of offering a jumping-on point for new readers just doesn’t seem to be part of the equation here. Maybe the aim is to create a demand for the publisher’s backstock, but it also runs the risk of alienating potential customers.
It’s not often one sees three different pencillers contributing to the debut issue of a series. It’s usually indicative of a mad scramble to meet a deadline, and that sort of approach is usually reserved for later issues in the comics industry. The result is some thoroughly inconsistent artwork throughout. Furthermore, the inside front cover credits no inkers, which leads me to believe the final art was colored and produced right from the pencils. It’s easy to believe, since there’s often a rough, unfinished look to the line art. What is consistent about the artwork is the gratuitous portrayal of the many female characters. The heroine is clad, for most of the issue, in an impossibly tight inmate uniform that dispels any effort toward credibility in the storytelling. My wife walked past my desk as I was reader this comic, spotted a butt shot of the protagonist in her prison togs and commented, “That’s ridiculous.” She was right. The design for Sela’s non-prison, super-hero look is awkward and not at all in character with her brutal nature as well. Despite the comic’s many flaws, I can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity. Behind all the T&A, gratuitous violence and scripting gaffes, there’s actually a foundation for a decent, fun story. 3/10
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