Black Lightning: Year One #1 (DC Comics)
by Jen van Meter & Cully Hamner
The title character of this origin series has really transformed into little more than a superhuman crime-fighter. Even with a new lease on life as a member of the Justice League, Black Lightning seems to be devoid of any real personality. I’m most familiar with the character from his role in Mike W. Barr’s Batman and the Outsiders in the 1980s, and at that time, his non-hero moments were defined by his failed marriage. But as Jen van Meter reminds us here, creator Tony Isabella crafted the character as an inner-city role model, as a community organizer who faced overwhelming opposition from the forces of social corruption. Van Meter does a nice job of depicting Jefferson Pierce as someone equally devoted to family and community. She incorporates Isabella’s original vision of the character with revisions DC has made over the years. More importantly, she’s really done a great job of bringing a sense of history and community to Suicide Slum, the ugly little corner of Metropolis that several Jack Kirby characters call home along with Black Lightning.
The real draw of this book is the artwork. When this project was first announced, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in reading van Meter’s retooling of the Black Lightning origin, but I knew I’d want to see Cully Hamner’s art. While the visuals are brighter in tone that I would have expected, the action is entertaining. Again though, the artist like the writer has done a great job of establishing a real sense of place and realism in the setting. And the setting — physically and socio-economically — is as important a “character” in the story as is Black Lightning. 7/10
Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us #1 (Oni Press)
by Chynna Clugston
It feels like it’s been forever since Chynna Clugston took us along to visit with Bleu and her friends, and I quickly remember why I enjoyed previous Blue Monday series in the past. The writer/artist wisely offers plenty of exposition, as the premise of this new story — Bleu’s quest to lose her virginity — flows directly from a previous plot involving the main character’s obsession with her English teacher. While Clugston maintains a comedic tone, there’s a stronger sense of drama at play. One really gets the sense that Bleu has reached an important turning point in her life, and the direction she’s chosen isn’t the wisest of paths. The characters — especially the girls — are quite attractive, but Clugston manages to achieve that without sexualizing them. While this is a story about sex, it’s not a T&A book. The Ameri-manga art style is still as lovely as ever, and it also seems to owe some small nod to the Archie house style as well. In fact, one could describe Blue Monday comics as Archie comics for a grown-up set. There’s a raunchier tone to the interactions among the teens, and it tackles subject matter with which teens today would actually to contend (rather than conflicts caused by broken-down jalopies, for example). The pop-culture references peppered throughout the book seem more like they stem from the time when I was a teen (i.e., the 1980s), but there are more modern elements as well, making for something of a timeless feel. 8/10
Fantastic Four #562 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch &
When the Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch run on this title began a few months ago, I was underwhelmed, disappointed that they’d mishandled a couple of the characters and offered up a generic conflict with a supposedly “unbeatable” enemy that the reader knew they’d beat in the end. It didn’t take these seasoned creators long to offer stronger storytelling. The most recent arc — to which this issue serves as an epilogue — was thoroughly entertaining, and this transitional issue shows that Millar gets the familial riff that’s a vital part of the property. The Millar/Hitch FF seems to stand just slightly outside of regular Marvel continuity; it’s not hindered by the event-driven approach that’s an integral part of the wider Marvel line. This issue features a number of touching, character-driven moments that celebrates both the heroes’ fantastic nature as well as a grounded, relatable side. Franklin’s short time in the spotlight was especially powerful in its own quiet, down-to-earth way.
Hitch’s artwork certainly reinforces the more grounded elements in this script, given the more photorealistic look for which the artist is known. Wisely, he doesn’t try to make everything look too realistic; the Thing doesn’t need to look real, nor should he. I remain intrigued by Hitch’s choice to offer white, empty gutters, lacking any kind of linework to better define them. The approach seems to bring a brighter look to the book, and avoiding a darker, grittier tone is a smart move when it comes to illustrating these characters. 7/10
Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #1 (Radical Comics)
by M. Zachary Sherman & Bagus Hutomo
Four covers for an unknown property from a new comics publisher is overkill, wouldn’t you say? Of course, overkill is in keeping with the mecha-war sequence that serves as the starting point for this series. Ultimately, this is a war comic with sci-fi trappings, not the other way around, and I think writer M. Zachary Sherman makes the mistake of focusing on the main conflicts rather than characterization. The macho, military-minded dialogue struck me as cliched, and I felt I really didn’t care about any of the characters. Hutomo’s artwork is lovely to look at, and his apparently painted approach is nevertheless effective at conveying the darker and grittier tone of the violence. However, it doesn’t convey action or motion well at all. Though the individual images are attractive, they’re also confusing. While this art is effective at establishing a dark atmosphere, it doesn’t tell the story well. It doesn’t help that we don’t see the characters in the first half of the book, only their vehicles and armor.
I have to give Radical Comics credit, though, for offering a great value. There are almost 50 pages of story and arc in this debut issue, and the cover price is a scant $1.99 US. That’s great bang for the reader’s buck, and it gives the small publisher a chance to attract readers. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the whole mech genre, so perhaps others will find the story and/or action more compelling. 4/10