The First Hero #3
Writer: Anthony Ruttgaizer
Artist: Phillip Sevy
Colors/Letters: Fred C. Stresing
Cover artist: Lee Moder
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Action Lab Entertainment has been steadily beefing up its lineup of comics, and my perception is that the investment is proving to be successful. It also seems to me its partnership with writer/artist Jamal Igle, who’s now in marketing with the small-press comics publisher, is paying off, because the publisher certainly seems more visible these days. I’ve been meaning to sit down and peruse one or two of the many review copies Action Lab has sent in recent months, as it’s been a while since I did so (Igle’s fun Molly Danger was my last foray into Action Lab’s world). The First Hero definitely held my attention, and it was a refreshingly accessible read. However, I also found it to be a bit too familiar, with elements I’ve seen explored time and time again in other super-hero comics, albeit in a slightly different way. The First Hero serves to highlight that its unknown creators show a lot of promise that could be fulfilled in the near future, perhaps with a little bit more editorial guidance.
In 1981, a bizarre attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life prompts new legislation outlawing and regulating the use of superhuman powers, and today, those with special abilities are feared by the public and hunted by an elite federally empowered squad of soldiers. One lone idealist tries to protect a teenager whose powers have manifested violently and unexpectedly in Philadelphia, he finds himself cornered by police and by federal forces. Things go from bad to worse when a trio of super-powered freedom fighters turns up to help out their superhuman brethren, but our hero soon learns these new allies may pose a bigger danger than a legion of gun-toting law-enforcement officials.
One of the things that was so striking about this comic was its accessibility, and it was actually even more accessible than I initially thought. See, I had erroneously believed I was reading the first issue of this limited series, and it was only until after I finished reading and went back to gather some information to write this review that I discovered it was the third of four issues. I had no problem accepting this as an opening chapter. Sure, the main plot throws the reader into the middle of the action, but all of the information the reader needs to understand and appreciate the plot is there. I just thought it was a strong storytelling choice, that writer Anthony Ruttgaizer was throwing his audience into the thick of things instead of miring it in exposition, character introductions and a slow build to the action.
The artwork by Phillip Sevy is almost photorealistic, which, given the alt-history, cultural and political elements serving as the foundation of the story, is a good fit for the overall tone of the book. His style is a fairly standard one for super-hero-related comic art, and it serves the story fairly well, telling it clearly. The designs seem a bit divided. While the main protagonist, the teen he’s protecting, the police and soldiers are all rendered in a fairly straightforward and realistic fashion, Basher and Alvin have a much more exaggerated and over-the-top look. Still, Sevy does a great job of conveying the huge scope of some unusual urban warfare here.
I was impressed with the dialogue in the opening flashback scene, which sets the stage for a different vision of the world with a key moment that sets this alternative history into motion. While I’m not necessarily a fan of his politics, I appreciated that Ronald Reagan isn’t played as a joke as is often the case with his portrayal in popular fiction, and connecting this notion of a world in which super-powers are possible to the Reagan assassination attempt really drew me into the book. However, dialogue later in the book was much weaker, as clichés seem to pop up uncomfortably and often. Basher’s use of tired taglines or catchphrases was particularly irksome and took me out of the story. I also found the incredibly harsh tone of Basher and Alvin to be off-putting — which may be the point, but they seemed like caricatures, not characters.
Ultimately, what works against this book is that despite its title, it’s far from the first to explore such ideas and themes. Uncanny X-Men, Civil War, Powers and countless other comics set in the super-hero genre or its periphery have mined this ore time and time again, and it didn’t really feel like anything new was being said here. Nevertheless, this is a promising early effort from these creators, and I’m pleased Action Lab is giving new talent a chance to hone their skills. 5/10
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