Two For #1: February 2013A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese, Keith Silva, Francesca Lyn
"Every comic book is someone's first comic book."
-- The eighth of Chuck Dixon's Ten Commandments for comic book scriptwriting.
If you read comic books there's a very good chance you read a lot of #1s … a lot. On any given Wednesday there are about ten bazillion new series launched and in a highly competitive market it's tough to wade through them all.
That's where the team of Silva and Scalese come in. Every month Keith and Jamil will each pick a #1 issue from the previous month to review. Two writers, two number ones, hence the very clever title, "Two for #1." Or Twofers if we're feelin' lazy.
When it comes to comic book criticism the only thing more exciting than two nerds bullshitting about comics is when three nerds bullshit about comics, so each month a Mystery Date will select their own premiere issue, you know, to spice things up a bit.
The point is to tell you whether these new comics are worth a damn, and we'll give our suggestions on whether you should Get 2, Get It or Forget It altogether.
G.I. Joe #1
(Fred Van Lente, Steve Kurth, Allen Martinez, Joana Lafuente, Neil Uyetake; IDW)
Jamil Scalese: Another month, another edition of Comics Bulletin's #1 column. Rejoice, loyal fan.
We got a bit of a loose theme this month: teams. Yes, Keith and I, the ultimate team, who already represent camaraderie, collaboration and unity with our brilliant banter and in-depth dissections, are looking at a couple of team books, and then are joined by our Mystery Date to discuss a comic with three different creative teams. We didn't plan on that type of harmony, but you'll enjoy it just the same.
My pick this month is a divergence from my last two selections because it's more in tune with the purpose of this column. Rather than go with a title I was going to buy anyway I selected a comic I had marginal interest in, testing the premiere issue to see if it's engaging, succinct and readable enough to reel in a fringe fan. Much like Ghostbusters, IDW has rebranded and retooled their G.I. Joe line, and they're doing this with three brand spankin' new ongoings. The first is G.I. Joe #1 by the formidable team of Fred Van Lente and Steve Kurth.
Follow creators, not characters. That's a soft rule that helps one find quality comics in a crowded market. I'm here for Fred and not Joe. A few years back I stumbled across a Taskmaster miniseries by Van Lente and Jefte Palo that absolutely blew my mind. Since then, I've kept an eye out for the writer and this looked too good to not to check out.
The concept is simple, but very novel for the franchise: after Cobra outs the Joes to the public as a taxpayer-funded group of secret mercenaries the military rebrands them as a super team, equipped with individual personas and quirks to market to the general public. It's the battle for the heart and minds of the American people, and it all starts in Ohio apparently.
Van Lente gets massively meta in this thing, and that's why it works for me. He excels at balancing the macabre with the lighthearted, it's his gift, and he highlights the source material for what it is -- a cartoon about war.
What say you, partner? Does this new spin make you want to scream "Yo Joe!"?
Keith Silva: Scream? Yes. The question is in what context: pain or triumph.
From its inception, G.I. Joe marches in lock step with exaggeration, big for bigness sake. I mean, have you ever seen this? So, in that sense Van Lente is … what's the word (?) … "embedded" … like a tick. Since our mission, if you will, here at Two for #1 is to determine if this is a good #1, I'll cut to the chase: maybe; however, as we both know, knowing (why) is half the battle.
G.I. Joe is a classic character, a known commodity, so, why is Van Lente bent on making it so up-to-the-minute? I can see the thought, planning and "what ifs" Van Lente has put into this series, but does it make it better? I don't know.
In its Marvel inception, G.I. Joe was transformed (nudge, nudge) from a toy into a comic book. It took a visionary creator like Larry Hama to turn a marketing strategy into art. Van Lente acts as if he wants to reverse-engineer the process. I like the idea of G.I. Joe (as a team) as the public face of the American warrior (a curious twist on the original meaning of the term). Van Lente gets to imagine what say Seal Team Six would be if it was treated like the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Miami Heat. Which, the more I think about it, that's fucked up and a great departure point for a fiction.
The art team of Kurth, Martinez and LaFuente are good enough for government work. Call it a "house style" and not much more.
I like that you went to the outskirts of your comfort zone, Jamil, are you O.K. or do you need to call in a nine line?
Jamil Scalese: I'm dandy, Silva, and ready for more.
The art in this issue is certainly standard fare type stuff. Kurth's pencils are crisp, legitimate, and he seems to understand what Van Lente is trying to do here. Some of the action looks a little stiff but the tonal balance between redshirts getting shot in the face and a dude dressed up like a "cartoon duck" is achieved and that counts a lot toward the overall success of G.I. Joe #1. The only thing that felt somewhat off-putting is the buxom approach Kurth took with the last page "surprise" villain, but the Baroness just screams so much sex that maybe he gets a pass.
Fred Van Lente certainly does shift away from the status quo, but his approach is very pragmatic and crafty. As he points out -- the Joes drive tanks and giant planes. They dress in absurd clothing and go by funky code names. They're kind of built to be a type of super hero team, a public darling for the American people to put their support and enthusiasm behind. I was going to make the Seal Team Six allusion, but you beat me to it. I'm shaking my fist violently over my keyboard.
The amount of Joe folklore that's stuffed inside this issue is impressive. However, we're missing the most important thing about the brand -- those zany and loveable characters. The team assembled here is eight strong, and features fan favorites (Tunnel Rat; Badass Shipwreck), stalwarts (Duke; Roadblock), retooled characters (Doc), and a pair to stand in for Snake Eyes (Quick Kick) and Scarlett (Cover Girl) since they're not available. The final member is Hashtag, yes Hashtag, a ROTC journalist of Indian decent. She serves as the team blogger and the main vein between the G.I. Joes and public.
My biggest problem? Not enough snake-themed terrorists. Van Lente promises appearances by many major Cobra baddies, and that's a good thing because they're the real strength of the popular toy line. Still, the creative team of this debut issue put in work to make the titular heroes as interesting as the wacky bad guys.
Do what I did. Get It, and see if it speaks to you. I liked it for the small moments and novel ideas, but the bigger picture needs to solidify for me to become a regular.
Keith Silva: Jamil you have the weather gage (if not the weather dominator) and I, sir, must yield. I don't know if in its many comic book iterations G.I. Joe has ever been treated as a superhero team à la the Avengers or the Justice League; so, in some ways Van Lente makes a smart choice to "play 'em as he sees 'em." When he runs out of making references that will fly past most new readers like a Skystriker XP-14F is when I suspect this series will really take off, until then, Forget It.
Uncanny X-Men #1
(Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Nick Lowe; Marvel)
Keith Silva: As words go, "uncanny" is a beaut. It has a German root, heimlich, which means "homey" or "comfortable," so unheimlich (in English "uncanny') means the opposite, unfamiliar or eerie. Unheimlich can also mean "secret," "concealed" or "hidden." End etymology lesson.
Down to the black leather costumes and "Cyclops-Was-Right" power salute, Uncanny X-Men #1 aspires to be opposite, unfamiliar and eerie. Chris Bachalo's cover echoes a similar John Cassaday group shot; happier times when Cyclops took point and (in both word and deed) told his fellow X-Men: "We have to astonish them." Here he reaches out with menace and anger. The time to astonish is over, now Cyclops means to make might right.
Brian Michael Bendis rounds up the usual suspects in a "Usual Suspects" sort of way. A mystery man has "come in" to S.H.I.E.L.D with some juicy gossip/intel, there's a bit of a tête-à-tête with Maria Hill and a charming little anecdote about a recent visit this would-be mole made to the seaside town of San Diego. Because what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego (in the past) Bendis gives the story a sense of action where there is none (in the present). It's a clever feint and I wonder if it speaks to larger themes given what the gentleman from San Diego has to say.
So, Jamil, are you ready to give the ol' one eye salute or do you think Uncanny X-Men #1 deserves more of a one finger salute?
Jamil Scalese: Ol' one eye salute, eh? This is X-Men, Keith, not Vampirella.
This particular #1 represents the beauty of our column's format -- I would have never read Uncanny X-Men #1 if you hadn't picked it. You're right though, "uncanny" is a wondrous word, and it's certainly a popular one, gracing four covers at the LCS this past week. (Including UXM #2, which came out before the publishing of this column.)
I'm not really a X-Men fan, but due to my love of Marvel, and the connective properties of that universe, my interests frequently often brush up against Mutants. While I love a lot of the individual Xavier's kids (they don't die they multiply!) the core concepts of the X-clan just don't speak to me, and quite frankly, rub me the wrong way at times. Mutankind's perpetual "woe is me" attitude doesn't resonate, and their love/hate protector relationship with humans has worn down. With these themes serving as a huge part of this particular title you can imagine I wasn't totally invested. That's just me though, because I'm aware that some people enjoy those elements and want more of them.
T o me, I'm reading X-Men comics for the costumes and powers and if I'm sticking around it's for the story. Credit Bendis for delivering a very astute and kinetic opening to this one. The modern master of conversational superheroics tells the reader everything the need to know and manages to present big action and cool ideas in a fairly short amount of time. You're right about this being all about the framing sequence and not the action happening in San Diego. The last page of this comic gives the whole thing energy and purpose, and actually sends genuine ripples through the rest of the X-books. Earn that flagship status, UXM!
The script is solid and has no huge holes, sowing seeds for plot points down the line. The other half of this creative endeavor is Chris Bachalo, and the platoon of inkers that really help solidify his work. When I hear Bachalo's name I immediately think of the X-Men, as his work is so closely associated with the brand. I appreciate his approach; it's almost like the angst of graffiti with a touch of a Adult Swim cartoon.
Still, I had a few problems with the art, but not "deal-breaker" problems, more like, "we're need to talk" problems. So, before I dominate this with a wall of text, Señor Silva, how did you feel about the visual aspect of Uncanny X-Men #1?
Keith Silva: I'm "Team Bachalo," 'nuff said. What I find curious about the editorial decision to put Bachalo on this book is if X-readers should draw a parallel to the kick-off of Wolverine and the X-Men which was a Jason Aaron joint with Bachalo (obviously) on art, coincidence?
As I read about the "master of mystery" (hint hint) talk about the events in San Diego, I came to these conclusions: 1. is this guy even telling the truth or is it a shrewd set-up? One need not be an English grad-school nerd to spot an unreliable narrator when one sees one. 2. As Cyclopes marshals his forces, how long before these two schools of thought (Wolverine and the X-Men and the Uncanny X-Men) cross over? If so, it should happen in a few months than way it could be like a summer camp color war.
Angsty Adult Swim, huh (?), Bachalo is a style guy, I'll grant you, but where's the "graffiti" come in? He's excellent when it comes to scale (maybe that's what you mean?); I wonder if he would ever consider drawing something cosmic for Marvel. His composition in the double-page spread of the Sentinel attack is gorgeous and gives a great sense of size. What I like about Bachalo is he isn't afraid to go big and when he does he knows how to use perspective to (literally) increase the magnitude of the threat.
I have a Magik problem. I admit it and I am seeking help for it. I get these Uncanny X-Men are supposed to be the "Wild Ones," the Tura Santana(s) of Marvel's merry mutants. So, why does Magik have to look like she's a GWAR cosplayer? The spikes, really, really? Demon sorceress or whatever, that uniform is not practical. The "boob window" and thigh-highs are ridiculous enough. Does she really need to look like an inside-out iron maiden too?
Jamil Scalese: Bachalo certainly is a style guy, and he's no shy guy either. The vet lets the pencils and colors loose on this one, unleashing fury like Cyclops's new multidirectional eyebeams. That Sentinel double spread is great, as is the one depicting the aftermath of the battle. As I alluded to before, the inks by Tim Townsend and co. coagulate the work, which is vital because I've seen some Bachalo joints that were a bit too chaotic and ragged for my liking.
My graffiti allusions aside, we are sour on the same points. What the hell is up with these costumes?
Obviously, Marvel wanted to differentiate these Mutants from the other ones, and handing out new uniforms for the gang is good way to do that that. However, these aren't the matching fighter pilot jackets from the Morrison era, they're all different, and huge divergences from each character's status quo. Your gal Magik not only looks like Tura Santana, but like Marvel's Satana too, and given their shared abilities it's a little weird that they give her that smutty metal look, even if she is a much darker character since the good ol' days.
Bachalo must've ran out of deep reds and purples, 'cause Magneto is rocking an all white cape and helmet. It's unsettling, to be honest. I don't think the ex-villain has ever rocked any other color scheme before, that is if you don't count Joseph. But the shade, or lack thereof, isn't my problem. it's that fucking helmet. You couldn't fit a dime through that thing! Mags is already really old, and now he has 0% peripheral vision and when he breaths heavy it probably gets all sweat and grossy in there. Just retire, dude.
I have other qualms too. I like Cyke's new headpiece, it's kind of evocative of how his powers work now, but that rest of his suit looks like he was pulled out of Tron. Somehow, the Phoenix Force de-aged Emma Frost to her early twenties, and I guess the whole White Queen motif is out the window now. And the rest of Scott's recruits fail to impress, from the androgynous black kid, to the overweight Latino "Poink," to whoever else was standing around in the background.
It just all looked kind of goofy, but super professional and well structured. A combination of campy, adventurous and workmanlike. It's a Bendis comic, it's a Bachalo comic, it's an X-Men comic, and if you're into any of those you need to Get It. If not, look elsewhere for your high action and double crosses.
Keith Silva: Whatever Cyclopes's problem or the basis for Magneto's deception I'm sure it will all get worked out and maybe all the mutants won't sing Kumbaya under the statue of Jean Gray -- or maybe they will. Either way, I won't be there to join in on the chorus. Leave It.
Dia De Los Muertos #1
(Riley Rossmo, Jean-Paul Csuka, Alex Link, Christopher E. Long, Dirk Manning, Nick Johnson, Riley Rossmo, Megan Wilson, Kelly Tindall; Image)
Francesca Lyn: Hello gentlemen! Thank you for allowing me to be your Mystery Date. I am really excited about the comic I picked and I hope this review will encourage others to check it out.
Riley Rossmo's Dia De Los Muertos #1 is a series of three short tales revolving around the Mexican holiday of The Day of the Dead. Two more issues are planned for this miniseries. Each story within the issue is self-contained with a different author penning each tale.
The three stories are very different meditations on The Day of the Dead. The first story, "Dead But Dreaming" explores one woman's journey into the land of the dead. Her story of self-discovery and adventure is rendered in simple, thickly outlined drawings with lots of color. The second story "Reflections" uses color in a less naturalistic way. In this story we are introduced to Zan, a paranormal intuitive life coach. Zan is first seen talking to a client who is a patient in a hospital. The interior of the hospital is shown in a garish green, recalling the harshness of florescent lights as well as the sterility of the environment. In later scenes, other colors are also used with a similar expressionist style. The last story, "Te Vas Ángel Mîo" is the most poetic. In this story we follow what happens to a musician after he meets a woman who looks exactly like a girlfriend that died a year ago. Is she his lover returned to him?
I really appreciated that each story had its own distinct look. It was obvious that a visual artist was the driving force behind this unique and creative work. Each story attempted to realize an original idea and follow that idea along to an interesting conclusion. I also really loved how Rossmo incorporated the colors and iconography of the holiday into each story. I am definitely picking up the next two issues of this series.
Jamil: Hola, Francesca! ¡Bienvenido! Thanks for joining us for the February edition of Twofers. I am so glad you picked Dia De Los Muertos #1 for review. Even more so than Uncanny X-Men, without prompting I would have never, ever, ventured to read this nifty little book from Image via Shadowline. As a result of your excellent choice I haven't denied myself a rich cultural experience, and the hot, hot fire that Rossmo delivers in all three tales.
Projects in comics come about in zany ways. This one formed when Jim Valentino approached Riley Rossmo with the opportunity to helm a new horror book, and by the suggestion of the Canadian artist they decided to move forward on an anthology inspired by the Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known to us gringos as the Day of the Dead.
A guy from Saskatchewan covering a Mexican day of celebration? Makes no sense, but I love it. In fact, I'm not sure any of the creators in this issue are Latino, which speaks to the permeation of Mexican culture into the everyday (North) American experience. However, I think the Day of the Dead is one of those experiences a lot of people know about but have no real exposure to since it overlaps with one of the biggest commercial celebrations of the year. Who needs sugar skulls and visits to graveyards when you can dress up like Iron Man, eat candy and go to places made to look like graveyards?
Rossmo is not the only creator in this book, but he's certainly the one that keeps it moving. Each story is distinct, potent, and individually memorable. Perhaps it's my unfamiliarity with the holiday but I was surprised with the level of emotion in the shorts, and with the primary artist's style heavily inspired by Bill Sienkiewicz I imagine you enjoyed at least some of part of this, right Keith, or do I presume too much?
Keith: Oh, Jamil, you flatterer, you. Yes, Rossmo has a bit of the Sienkiewicz in both style and espíritu. Like both of you I found the package as enchanting as the treasures therein. I almost passed on Dia De Los Muertos and I fear if I had I would wind up like Juan or Katrina or Zan in search of something out of reach, displaced or never found.
Your instinct is spot on, Jamil. Rossmo's impresario role lends this comic cohesiveness. As we know, collections or anthologies have a propensity to uneasiness; Rossmo's hand in each tale exorcises those particular demons and leaves us with the dead.
Allow me to lay bare the truth: I am in love with Katrina, her mysterious scar, her emerald eyes and her badass dreamy dead-cycle. I want her wings. Sexy and soulful in equal parts, she owns it all.
There's this quote writers write when writing about writing, it's from Samuel Clemens and it goes something like: "I would like to have written a shorter letter but didn't have the time." Dia De Los Muertos proves Clemens's axiom. Each of these stories (encounters?) strips out fat and leaves the lean. Or is it a dream, knots of disparate elements, all of a piece, all sensible in the most nonsensical ways? Rossmo imbues more life in twelve pages than some of his peers can manage in a dozen issues.
Dia De Los Muertos rests outside the living, its power amid those dreamers or like Zan, listeners. Perhaps we should spend our time now amongst the dead? Si?
Francesca: Jamil, thanks for the history behind the genesis of these stories. It would be interesting to find out if any of the writers had celebrated the holiday or spent any time with a community that did. I also think that Keith is spot on with his critical assessment on how much is packed into these brief stories. I love the transient, fleeting tone of this work. It really works. In fact, the only place I felt like I really wanted more was in "Reflections." I could see a character like Zan with his own series.
This was a treat to read. I am absolutely down with spending some more time with the dead. I say Get 2 and surround it with marigolds and sugar skulls.
Jamil: I agree Francesca, it's a big-time Get 2. Not only is this anthology supersized at 36 pages, it's dimensions are actually larger than a typical comic and it's printed on a non glossy paper. It's almost like a hyper professional ashcan.
The stories are pretty short but do pack a hearty punch. "Reflections" certainly feels like it could go on for issues and issues. The layouts by Rossmo and finishes by Jean-Paul Csuka help break up the book, and keep it together, too. More importantly, those inconspicuous and vividly pastel colors by Rossmo are just friggin' inspired. It's a haunting little story, and not just because of the implied molestation.
Keith, we might need to fight over Katrina. She's a serious babe. Then again Aislara from "Te Vas Ángel Mîo" is also capturing my heart. It's probably her way with words. Even though I don't speak her language she's my favorite character from this collection, and it was cool to discover that Dirk Manning wrote the story after being inspired by the cover art.
In part, I believe the creation of Dia De Los Muertos stems from the entertainment industry, just like most commercial entities in the United States, trying to tap into a sprawling Latino market. That's fine by me because it exposed me to something I'm generally unfamiliar with even though I took two semesters of Spanish in college. (If you're paying a attention I just revealed I don't speak Aislara's language... no clue how I passed those classes.)
Keith: Dia De Los Muertos overwhelms, there is no other way to put it. From its outsized size to its heart and soul, this is a comic book as much as it's a labor of love. It's ironic, I suppose, that stories that celebrate the dead can feel so vital and so alive -- which is the point, yes?
Jamil, when we wrote about The Black Beetle last month, I referenced that childhood feeling of getting lost in the four-color wonders of the Sunday funnies, Dia De Los Muertos has the same effect on me. Rossmo's colors teem with dynamism and dimensionality; I love how Rossmo masks Juan's appearance to give him an ethereal look as he wonders in a kind of afterlife with his Aislara. No wonder Manning was inspired to write what turns out to be the collections strongest and most potent story, "Te Vas Ángelo Mîo'. Beauty inspires beauty.
Do yourself a kindness, get lost in Dia De Los Muertos and give honor to Rossmo and his dark chest of wonders. Get 2.
Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.
Although tall for his age, eleven-year-old Keith Silva did not possesses the prescience to imagine that one day he would have a Twitter (@keithpmsilva) or a blog (Interested in Sophisticated Fun?) or write for Comics Bulletin -- halcyon days indeed.
Francesca Lyn is a professional student who is sick of being shown where the manga section is without being asked and prefers to watch movies where Liam Neeson saves somebody. Despite wearing black-framed glasses and being the recipient of a liberal arts degree, she does not care for the work of Chris Ware and thought Blankets was "just okay." She often tweets incomprehensible things at @francescalyn and annoys the four people that follow her on tumblr at meme-patrol.tumblr.com. She and her friend Jillian started a feminist science fiction reading group that can be found at integratedcircuit.tumblr.com.