Agents of Atlas v.2 #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz & Benton Jew
Like many other Marvel readers, I’m thrilled that the publisher finally opted to launch an ongoing Agents of Atlas series. While the first limited series wasn’t one of Marvel’s best sellers, it was highly praised, and for good reason. Despite the stronger link to mainstream Marvel continuity the “Dark Reign” branding brings, Parker’s plot and script for the main story are just as much fun, smart and colorful as this title’s predecessor. Carlo Pagulayan replaces Leonard Kirk as the penciller, bringing a more detailed look to bear. His stuff looks sharp, and he captures the larger-than-life nature of the characters with ease. Kirk’s simpler style struck me as more complementary to the simpler origins of these classic characters, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what we see here in the main story. The conflict is shaping up to be one of the public sector (Harry Osborn’s HAMMER agency) and the private sector (Jimmy Woo’s Atlas Foundation). It’s an encouraging message, in which private citizens rise up to oppose the corrupt establishment.
I love the notion of Parker including occasional backup features exploring the characters’ adventures back in the 1950s. This one pairs them with a certain secret agent named Logan. The plot again is in keeping with the campy appeal of the property. The one aspect that doesn’t quite work is the artwork. None of the characters look quite right, and the Brood-like bugs look awkward rather than creepy or monstrous. Still, it’s a minor gripe about what is otherwise an entertaining super-hero comic. 7/10
Dead Irons #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by James Kuhoric & Jason Shawn Alexander
This comic book looks absolutely amazing. Jason Shawn Alexander’s dark artwork and intense style is the perfect choice for this western/horror series, especially given how compatible his style is with that of Jae Lee, who provided character designs for the title. The action is a bit difficult to discern at times, but it’s meant to be so, as the creators endeavor to establish an air of mystery around the characters and the plot. Alexander’s inky, edgy work is a real treat and stands out as the greatest strength of the issue.
Kuhoric’s plot is basically fairly simple; this is a straightforward blending of two different genres, as we learn both the good guys and bad are monsters. We see one werewolf during the course of this introductory issue, but I assume there’s some vampirism at play as well. I like that the conflict is (or at least will be) a family one, even if it is a gruesome, violent one. Still, there was something about the plot and characters that struck me as a little too familiar, even formulaic. I know there’s no glut of such stories out there, but Kuhoric isn’t breaking any new ground here either. While the story hasn’t hooked me yet, it’s too early to tell if this is going to be simple a so-so series or something more interesting. 6/10
The Mighty #1 (DC Comics)
by Peter J. Tomasi, Keith Champagne & Peter Snejbjerg
On the one hand, I’m a bit tired of seeing new series after new series featuring a flawed Superman analogue and the deconstruction of the super-hero genre. On the other hand, writers Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne offer up an intriguing plot and a well-crafted script that draw the audience into the life of a regular guy who’s connected to that hero and his education about the dark side of the world he once took for granted. Gabriel Cole’s down-to-earth, instantly likable nature is a vital component to the success of the storytelling here, and I must admit I’m intrigued by the S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque qualities of the support organization behind Alpha One, our Superman stand-in. I’m surprised to see this published under the DC Universe banner, as it’s set outside of DC super-hero continuity; it seems more like a better fit with the Wildstorm imprint. Nevertheless, it’s got a better chance at survival in a competitive marketplace with the DC brand at the upper-left corner.
While the writing is solid here, the greatest strength of The Mighty is Peter Snejbjerg’s artwork. His characters are incredibly expressive, and that what brings the characters and emotions to life even more than the script. The Alpha One design is appropriately simple but in keeping with the archetype. I like that it’s not too colorful, toning down the sense of wonder to make room for a realistic feel and the grounded elements of the story. The cover is striking, conveying the nature of the character concept that serves as the foundation of the story while also demonstrating that a darker mood is to be found within. 7/10
Secret Warriors #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jonathan Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis & Stefano Caselli
It turns out the good guys are just the brainchild of the bad guys, so it’s going to take some secret guys to sort everything out and make the world safe for democracy. Bendis and Hickman offer up a solid first issue, capitalizing on the strong work the former has done with Nick Fury as a character in the past few years. It’s nice to see a story that puts Fury in the middle of the action. While Bendis has faltered in several of his efforts in the Marvel Universe in recent years, he’s been right on target when it comes to handling Fury. Hickman’s crisp, dense script works well in this espionage series. Several of his characters are nicely grounded, making for a nice balance with such intense, cool customers as Fury and Quake. Hickman’s coolest contribution to this issue is the slick, sharply designed supplemental material, which spells out the structures of the various organizations integral to the plot as well as who the key players are. Of course, it would have been nice if Hickman’s script for this issue identified Fury’s new “warriors” earlier for those unfamiliar with their previous appearances in Avengers comics and Secret Invasion.
Caselli’s artwork is appropriately dark given the subject matter of the book, and he conveys the youth of several of the characters nicely, making for a sharper contrast with Fury’s tough but weathered appearance. One of the things I like about the characters the most is that not all of them are perfectly fit hero types. This approach is unfortunately limited to the male characters, but the women aren’t overtly sexualized either. I think the biggest problem with the series is that title really doesn’t convey what it’s about. It needs to play up the spy-genre elements more as well as Nick Fury’s central role in the book. 7/10