From off-world reconnaissance to a blend of espionage and ink, from newly made galaxies to a vision of Victorian era England with hand-made monsters, this collection of capsule reviews will take you to unusual worlds to encounter impossible people. Join me as I delve into the most recent issues of Cemetery Beach, Cover, Fantastic Four and Newbury & Hobbes: The Undying.
by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard
The co-creators of Trees reteam for a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi action romp that’s far more playful and less reflective than their previous project. I absolutely love the central concept here: that at the turn of the 20th century, a group mastered off-world teleportation, and today, the rest of the world has managed to catch up, curious to find out what their offshoot of society has been up to away from Earth. The inherent contradiction of the isolated colonists achieving such a marvelous feat more than a century ago only to stagnate when it comes to technological advancements is delicious, but it also serves as an interesting commentary about the miracles of machinery that we all take for granted today.
Though the backdrop in which this story is set is a dingy one, Jason Howard’s artwork brightens it up with his depiction of the powerful personalities of the two main characters: a spy from Earth and a criminal from the colony. I love the mischief in their eyes, and the explosive action Howard depicts as their angular and lithe forms scramble through a dirty, futuristic landscape. The blend of sci-fi visuals and designs that evoke memories of yesteryear are visually amusing as well. 8/10
by Brian Michael Bendis & David Mack
Picking up a new title reuniting this particular writer/artist team was a no-brainer for me, and while I came away from the book entertained, it wasn’t quite the inventive, mature and complex read I was expecting. The premise, revealed by the end of the issue, is simple: given how much globetrotting some popular American comics artists are, it stands to reason that they could be repurposed as assets by the intelligence community. Bendis’ commentary on convention culture and comics-pro camaraderie is a little on the depressing side, especially the frat-boy tone of the exchanges between the comics professional characters. I do like that this isn’t a story about a spy who uses a comics career as a cover, but rather that it’s about an artist who’s unknowingly drawn into that world (no pun intended). The concept seems to have a fair bit of comedic potential in it, but it seems Bendis is going for a more suspenseful tone.
What really took me off guard was the simplicity of Mack’s work throughout this comic. He appears to approach the story with a much more minimalist approach than the more textured style we’ve seen from him in the past. I love his depiction of the alluring spy who befriends the artist; she’s lovely and poised, but not overly sexualized here. But so much of the story seems to unfold on something of a blank canvas; background detail is often scant, and I think a greater sense of place would serve the story better, making it more convincing. 7/10
by Dan Slott, Sara Pichelli & Elisabetta D’Amico
This was definitely a more interesting issue than the first, which essentially rehashed the territory of the long-running story arc in the relaunched Marvel Two-In-One series. Now we catch up with the missing half of the title team, and there are a lot of story elements I loved — and others that didn’t feel quite right. I’m thrilled that we’re seeing Franklin and Valeria continuing to age, growing up, and I adored Valeria’s connection with a brash, exotic prince from an alternate reality. But the notion of a teenage boy just whipping up entire realities based on his whims and those of his friends seems… unethical somehow. It’s wondrous, but it feels a little wrong, as does his assertion, playful though it is, that he’s God to those worlds. It also seems a bit irresponsible to embark on an other-dimensional trek with a ship full of children because it seems fun and educational. I realize I’m likely over-thinking the premise, but it just didn’t sit right with me. Furthermore, unless one is familiar with writer Jonathan Hickman’s FF run and Secret Wars event series, this story would be rather inaccessible and confusing.
Pichelli does an excellent job of capturing the impossible cosmic wonder of the group’s adventures through new realities, but what impressed me more was her depiction of Franklin’s and Valeria’s adolescence. They still look like kids, but not pubescent kids. This makes the appeal of seeing a family growing, maturing, evolving all the more effective. Pichelli does an admirable job of rendering a diverse and weird array of characters and planetscapes, but the group scenes appear to pose some challenges, as the larger Future Foundation group tends to be rendered rather loosely, especially the onlookers. 6/10
by George Mann & Dan Boultwood
According to the PR blurbs accompanying the digital review copy of this debut issue, Newbury & Hobbes is a steampunk novel property that its creator has brought to the comics medium with a new story. To writer George Mann’s credit, he offers up a fairly accessible plot that nevertheless acknowledges the novels that preceded it. In broad strokes, this feels a bit like Holmes and Watson meet Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. The plot is diverting but the tropes feel a bit familiar. What I found most interesting about the writing is that the narration is presented in the female protagonist’s voice; I found Miss Hobbes, with her cynicism and suspicions, to be much more intriguing than the bombastic Newbury, and I kept waiting for her to assert her role in the conflict — but that never came. Still, while she’s not the dominant force in the title due, she’s undoubtedly portrayed as clever and more than capable; I hope in subsequent issues she’s more at the forefront and not shown to be playing second fiddle to her male partner.
Dan Boultwood’s exaggerated, angular style certainly brings a lot of energy, personality and playfulness to the story. It seems like an oddly bright tone of artwork for a story that includes darker and grotesque elements. The more cartoony tone of the visuals certainly make the material more accessible, I suppose, and I’m curious if a darker, more gothic look might have brought a potentially macabre and sinister mood to bear. 6/10