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SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Vengeance #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
While all the adults are busy being afraid of Hammer Bros with Asgardian tribal tattoos, Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta take a look at the sexy, hedonistic youth of the Marvel Universe. This makes Magneto angry.

Danny Djeljosevic:
Kyle Garret:
Jamil Scalese:




Danny Djeljosevic:

Joe Casey loves to write about kids. It's made for some of his best, most underrated comics -- The Intimates, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance! and now Vengeance. Hell, writing to a young crowd is how the guy (along with the rest of the Man of Action crew) made his bones working in television! Shame that the state of mainstream comics is seemingly all about marginalizing anyone under 18 that hasn't been completely indoctrinated, which means that nobody -- the die-hard fans who don't care or the casual readers for whom this is right up their alley -- will read an awesome comic book by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta. Which sounds mean and pessimistic, but even Casey himself is aware of that.




Appropriately, Vengeance follows the disenfranchised youth of the Marvel Universe as… well, that's not clear yet what the overall plot of the thing is. But Casey casts his story in the periphery of Fear Itself (we see the opening riot scene happening on TV), where the kid superheroes who aren't Avengers Academy-friendly dance and fuck and fight Magneto and break a curiously young, hip version of the In-Betweener out of some underground stonghold.

Joe Casey doesn't go out of his way to introduce his characters, instead forcing us to know them through their actions -- a great way to shake superhero readers out of their complacency. Nu-Marvel era X-Men fans will recognize Stacy X, Sugar Kane, Beak and Angel Salvadore and everyone reading this book will know Magneto and Red Skull, but it almost doesn't matter because you don't need to know anybody's history to get the obvious cues -- tech support characters, reptile party girls, Nazi supervillains -- wait, why does this explanation sound vaguely familiar?



Oh, shit, now that's a good sign, right? Fuck you, Final Crisis was brilliant -- a dose of superhero comics so pure and uncut that not even the hardcore fans could take it. This first issue of Vengeance reads like a Grant Morrison comic in the best way -- the hedonistic party scene is a bit like the Super Young Team in Final Crisis #2, the tatooed, vaguely Captain America-dressed superhero Ultimate Nullifier seems to recall the smug, youthful dickery of Marvel Boy while his name has the teenaged audacity of a "Magneto was right" T-shirt. The young superheroes themselves -- a Social Network update of Rick Jones' Teen Brigade, a team of kids who used ham radios to unite the Avengers -- brings to mind any hapless superhero team that Morrison introduces, who name themselves and promptly get dispatched by the big bad of the thing. There are a lot of characters in this book that refer to other bits of Marvel history -- in addition to the In-Betweener, we get a new Miss America and a new Black Knight -- but don't require knowing Marvel history. Window dressing to please the hardcore crowd, but remixed for the newbies to dance to.



Even the penultimate page -- showing quick one-panel scenes like extradimensional being monologuing, the Last Defenders standing around the rubble of a defeated monster and a supervillain team forming in a Hot Topic -- gives the first issue of Vengeance a sweeping Final Crisis vibe to it, but with none of the hype of an event crossover. With all that talk of the "importance" of comics, Casey proves that you make a comic dramatically important by writing it as if it were important.

Which isn't to say that Casey's writing is a Morrison knockoff. His work has always been indebted to Moz (aren't we all?), but one of Casey's defining narrative tics is his love for including modern communication as narration. News crawls and Tweets have been targets in earlier, aforementioned comics, but in Vengeance #1 we get text messages between some of our heroes, rendered in that sort of numbered "2 much 4 U" txt msg language that makes every sentence look like the title of a Prince song. Gotta admire the accuracy there.



On the art side of things, we have Nick Dragotta drawing the pictures with Brad Simpson on colors, and the thing looks fabulous. Dragotta's one of the more underrated figures in that retro-feeling Tim Sale/Marcos Martin style, but easily one of the best, displaying dynamic acting and exciting page layouts. Plus, in the one major fight scene of the book, he carries over that bit we saw a couple weeks ago in his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents flashback story where sound effects become a major part of the art. Simpson's colors use that cinematic lens filter-y style that I associate with Lee Loughridge, complete with striking blues, reds and magentas to make the pages pop like precious little else on the stands.

Vengeance has got to be the biggest surprise of the summer -- an under-the-radar six-issue miniseries with the feel of a massive, groundbreaking summer event. New work from Joe Casey is always exciting, especially now that his extracurricular activities afford him not to have to take a lot of shit to get his comics made. He'd been relatively quiet in recent years, dipping his toes back into the mainstream with frings stuff like Dark Reign: Mister Negative and low-key minis like Avengers: The Origin, but with Vengeance makes a gigantic splash, whether or not people are paying attention.



Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.




Kyle Garret:

I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but this feels like Joe Casey’s last hurrah for the Marvel Universe. He dips back all the way to his controversial run on Uncanny X-Men, up to his last foray into the Marvel universe, the Last Defenders. And, as one would expect from Casey, he mixes in plenty of over-the-top storytelling and subversive commentary.

It would not be a stretch to say that I really have no idea what the prevailing plot is to Vengeance, but I’m perfectly fine with that. Too often comics, particularly a limited series, give everything away right off the bat, as if we need to know exactly what’s going to come so that we’ll keep reading. Casey has introduced enough elements to keep me entertained and interested in what’s to come.



What we do know is that a new Teen Brigade has formed, an updated version of a group that has existed, as Ultimate Nulifier tells us, for decades. This is a nod towards the cyclical nature of comics, especially superhero comics. There will always be another “all-new, all-different” team of superheroes just around the corner; this Teen Brigade is the latest.

We know that someone at S.H.I.E.L.D. is feeding the Teen Brigade information, and that the current incarnation of the Defenders will soon be investigating that, no doubt eventually putting them at odds with our lead characters.

We know that Stacy X and the Young Masters of Evil are connected to all of this in some way, although I don’t think anyone really knows how. We also know that one new character, Miss America Chavez, has just discovered another new character, the In-Betweener.

Oh, and there’s a mysterious old man who opens the book, and the Red Skull did something during World War II that would seem to be important to the present day story.



That’s a pretty full dance card right there.

And amid all this chaos of characters and weaving plot lines, Casey manages to give us a recent history of Magneto over the course of just a few pages. He appears as a villain, switches to the self-appointed guardian of mutant kind, loses his powers, then gets his powers back, only to finally leave claiming to have changed. It’s a great way of again needling the Marvel conventions, even if his initial appearance seems a bit forced.



As packed with storylines as this issue is, it could have been a mess, had it been in less capable artistic hands. Nick Dragotta really shines here, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this is a breakout book for him. He’s been given the opportunity to create new characters as well as tweak a few old ones, and what we’ve seen so far looks great. There are a few moments when it felt like I was reading an early Vertigo book, which isn’t something you can say about most Marvel titles. Brad Simpson’s colors add to that feeling; his work establishes the tone in each scene without overwhelming the artwork.

I have to wonder how this first issue -- and this series -- is going to go over. It seems like everyone with a column online about comics picked it for this week, and I’m sure most of them probably enjoyed it as much as I did. But that’s never been a good representation of how well a comic book will do in the sales department. Joe Casey’s never been a big draw for mainstream books, which is unfortunate, given how much potential this series shows. I suppose I’ll just be thankful that this is a limited series, which means, at the very least, it will be around until the end. And so will I.



Kyle Garret is the author of I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At," available now from Hellgate Press. His short fiction has been published in the Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Town Hall, Children, Churches, & Daddies and Falling Into Place. He writes comic book reviews here at Comic Bulletin and blogs for PopMatters. He can be found at KyleGarret.com and on Twitter as @kylegarret.




Jamil Scalese:

Just about the only thing I knew about this going in was that it was about big-time villains and their legacy. So far, I’m wondering where the hell they are.

With the likes of Magneto, Bullseye and Dr. Doom gracing the covers of this series, I expected some hardcore badassery to explode off the page. Joe Casey is working a more subtle game than that. The change of locales switched more times than Gaga’s wordrobe and the reader is presented with a horde of characters and callbacks from a multitude of different eras. Though not on the same scale, this is Final Crisis for Marvel. The exact scope of Vengeance remains to be seen; I’m not sure who is exacting the vengeance and who it’s targeted at. When I put this one down, I wasn’t sure what the hell I just read.



Then I read it again. Instead of being a lazy little reviewer I tried to figure out what was happening in the snippet-sized scenes and understand the significance of the featured exchanges. The standout pages were an exchange of fists and words by Magneto and a brash young hero named the Ultimate Nullifier, who part-times as a raver and model for what you shouldn’t do to your arms. The featured figure, our cover man, arrives on the scene to reprimand the smutty Stacy X (let it go, Joe) for being a little liberal with her goodies and the Nullifier decides to defend her without much cause. Mags abruptly ends it, and departs on terms of having other battles to fight. As ULT, as he goes by on OKCupid, mentions in the book -- the once great human hater has gone a little soft. This brought my attention to the villains who cover the fronts of the six issues in the series. They go from a semi-reverted or defanged (Dr. Doom) to dead (Bullseye) or something in between (Loki). There is a statement I think the creative team is trying to get across -- where have all the bad boys gone?



Casey’s partner in crime on this task is Nick Dragotta, and the book is nearly pristine in its quality. The designs of some of the new characters that pop up here and there are fresh and look great. The script as a whole lacked action so a lot of panels and pages required some finesse to keep interesting. The colors are drawl, dark and majestic at times, though there is plenty of room for improvement.

Issue one of Vengeance is currently a sketchy pickup for someone not invested in the creative team. Or it could be the first chapter of a modern, period-defining classic. It’s just too early to tell. The book has way too much setup for a truly fair assessment of the quality of story.



Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.

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