Today, I’ve got some capsule reviews of a number of new releases, namely the first issues of Gideon Falls, The Highest House and Infinity Countdown, and the final issue of She-Hulk.
Gideon Falls #1 (Image Comics)
by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino
Jeff Lemire is a talented writer, and he’s never better than when he’s working on his creator-owned stories. So it was with some anticipation that I visited Gideon Falls. Unfortunately, this first chapter confused me rather than drew me in. I was fascinated with about half of the book — specifically, the plotline focusing on Father Wilfred, a Catholic priest past his prime reluctantly taking over a parish in a small town. His story has all the elements of classic horror, and his disillusionment with his job and faith made him a fascinating character. My problem here is I found two comics in the pages of the debut issue of Gideon Falls. One is the priest’s horror story, while the other focuses on a radically different (although also damaged) character seemingly living in a dystopian backdrop that’s completely unlike where the priest finds himself. There’s no way to reconcile the two disparate plotlines here. While I’m sure Lemire is going to connect those distant dots, everything felt a little too disconnected here. I don’t mind a mystery. I don’t mind being challenged. But I felt like I was left out in the cold, uninvited to join the writer on this journey, at least for now.
Andrea Sorrentino boasts a style that’s clearly inspired by the work of Jae (Inhumans) Lee, and that sort of noir, atmospheric approach suits the story — both main characters and both main plotlines, actually. As with the script, I much preferred the scenes with the priest, as there was a clearer definition of character and of place. With the shard collector’s scenes, it’s not at all clear what he’s doing or where he is. Sorrentino is clearly trying to turn things on their head (literally at times, with his approach to perspective in certain panels). I also found Steve Wands’s lettering to be a little hard on the eyes at times. He’s clearly aiming for a mysterious, unnatural feel in those letterforms, but his success in that effort comes at the cost of clarity. 5/10
The Highest House #1 (IDW Publishing)
by Mike Carey & Peter Gross
I have to be honest here — I haven’t been in the habit in recent years of perusing the list of releases from IDW Publishing. I found its catalog has been cluttered with an array of licensed properties, in which I have little interest. As such, this creator-owned limited series slipped by me at first, but I’m pleased I didn’t miss it completely. As I began reading, I was initially put off by the stilted dialogue that’s in keeping with the ancient and fantastic setting. but as I waded further into the tale of a slave boy named Moth, Mike Carey’s writing became more and more fascinating. The notion of a slave’s plight and education seemed an unlikely source of grounded characterization, but Carey succeeds in conveying the boy’s wide-eyed curiosity and fear. His script also shows how well constructed the political and social workings of the city-state from which the book derives its title are. Surprisingly, one of the more engrossing scenes was the one in which Moth’s new taskmistress explains his new job as a roofer. Carey clearly did his homework with respect to the shingling of ancient roofs, and he somehow made it interesting.
I was a big fan of Peter Gross’s artwork on the Books of Magic ongoing series from DC’s Vertigo imprint years ago, so it was a delight to rediscover how effective a storyteller he is. The thin, elongated designs of many of the characters are fairly simple, but the way in which he portrays their anatomy and movement is incredibly convincing. Gross’s depiction of the settings — be it a tavern in a small town or the majesty of the seat of ultimate power in this world — is stunning in the level of detail. The artist makes the impossibility of the latter backdrop seem all the more plausible. Given how the script delves into the ugliness of people as possessions and the imposing nature of the future that awaits Moth, colorist Fabien Alquier employs a sullen color palette that adds to the atmosphere the other creators have already fostered. 8/10
Infinity Countdown #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Gerry Duggan, Aaron Kuder & Mike Deodato
My big takeaway after reading this first issue of Marvel’s latest crossover event is that I think I’d really enjoy a Guardians of the Galaxy comic book written by Gerry Duggan. I really like what he does with the Guardians characters here. The blend of super-hero action and humor reminds me of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis era of Justice League. My favorite character in this book was Nova Centurion Bakion, as the notion of a pregnant cosmic cop struck me as particularly inventive, forward-thinking and rife with potential. That being said, this didn’t read like the first issue of an event book. Instead, it read like a chapter of a Guardians of the Galaxy title from right in the middle of a story arc. Duggan doesn’t provide enough background on the various characters and aliens that turn up in this story. Talonar and his Raptors are very much a blank slate to me, and I’ve been reading super-hero comics for decades; all I know is that they look like Darkhawk, so I assume there’s some sort of link there. Duggan drops his audience in the middle of two different stories here, and neither he nor the editors do enough to bring new readers up to speed. And as this is billed as a first issue of a major, line-wide story, it’s safe to assume that one could expect new readers to have some interest.
Aaron Kuder’s exaggerated style definitely works well with Duggan’s over-the-top sense of humor. Kuder’s work here will appeal to fans of such artists as Chris Burnham and Darick Robertson. The sharp level of detail is impressive, but sometimes, he employs a simpler and more cartoony approach (notably when it comes to Baby Groot and Rocket) that doesn’t fit in with the more rendered aspects of his linework. 6/10
She-Hulk #163 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mariko Tamaki & Diego Olortegui
I was initially intrigued by Mariko Tamaki’s initial run on this title (when it was previously just Hulk), but my interest faded after a few issues. I decided to check out this concluding issue, which summed up everything that happened since I drifted away from the book. Tamaki wraps up her tenure guiding Jen Walters neatly here — too neatly, truth be told. Her issues — including her PTSD and the unpredictable nature of her Hulk power — appear to be behind her, as is her time at a big law firm. I get that the aim here is to given the next writer tackling this character a clean slate, but no slates should be this clean. One of the most distracting aspects of the script was the failure to clearly identify Jen’s friend with whom she spends the entirety of the story. I realized it was Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat early on, having read that character’s last series, but she’s only referred to by name once that I could see, and it was a fleeting reference.
All that being said, at the heart of this concluding issue is the notion that young people can be real forces for change in the world; the message takes the form of a teenage mutant who’s taken a prominent role in her student government. Though clearly coincidental, the story resonates in the real-world context of the young survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida leading the charge for what appears to be the first real chance at gun legislation in the United States.
Artist Diego Olortegui’s lighter style is certainly in keeping with that hopeful, positive tone, and I enjoyed his traditional super-hero style. His work is reminiscent of the style of Takeshi Miyazawa. I think the artist could have done a little more to differentiate between the looks of the adult characters and the teens in the story, though. After the initially dark and mature tone of the Tamaki run on this character, I was surprised to find such a brighter look at play here, especially given the somewhat reflective tone of the symbolic cover art. The art represents the effort to close the darker chapter in the title character’s “life” — or to erase it altogether. 6/10