Two for #1: April 2013A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese, Keith Silva
"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.
Jupiter's Legacy #1
(Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty; Image)
Jamil: What's the saying Keith? April books bring May looks? I know I'm close.
We start this edition for Two for #1 by taking a look at arguably the biggest new series of the month. I've been looking forward to Jupiter's Children -- I'm sorry, Jupiter's Legacy -- for over a year. When the creator of some of my favorite comics says he's written "his Star Wars" and compares the work to Lord of the Rings I'm bound to take notice. When that same creator says he's not selling the movie rights until the whole thing is completed, well, Mark Millar, you lovable mug, you have my complete attention.
The first issue of this twelve-parter is exactly what you'd expect from a series that long, smoldering, patient and mysterious. Jupiter's Legacy is a story about inheritance and the things we receive from our parents whether we want them or not. The multi-page opening details the origin, mission and impetus of group of Depression-era heroes and a clandestine island that apparently grants super powers. We're still way in the dark on what exactly happened on the strange isle, but we do know it beckoned Sheldon Sampson to drag all his friend there, and that it really wants to see America succeed.
After that stage-setting, we're transported to present day (well, March) where we find the next generation of heroes basking in a postmodern way of doing things. Gone are the heroics and now the kids of the greatest greatest generation are something akin to a Kardashian. The issue ends with the lovely girl on the cover seemingly ODing on alien cocaine.
Smacked in the middle is probably the best scene of the entire comic, a mega fight between the heroes of old and one of my favorite rap duos. After a nifty use of their powers Sheldon Sampson (The Utopian) and his brother Walter wage an ideological debate over their role in the world. Millar gets a little heavy handed in his comparisons between present day America and the WWII era, but hey, at least this one has something going for beyond the surface level. As much as I loved Nemesis I'm not sure that book was about anything except blood and terrible people making more of it.
Let's digress here for a minute to inform the adoring public of something I discovered during the monthly Twofer email back-and-forth: this is Silva's first Millar comic! As I expressed to him, I grew up on this dude. The Ultimates, Kick-Ass, Wanted, Ultimate X-Men, that was my cocaine in high school. So whuddya say, Keith? Good stuff?
Keith: What! You're outing me? Well, I guess that means I'll have to get back to writing about comics nobody ever reads and no one would want to option for a movie.
True, my experience with all things Mark Millar is limited; however, what's that we say here, something about every Millar is someone's first or some bullshit? Sorry, I'm trying to get into the spirit of the thing; I've read Millar likes to make things uncomfortable for the reader.
As unfamiliar as I am with Monsieur Millar, I am well acquainted with the deconstruction of the superhero and the unraveling of myths and such which is where Millar wants to plant this particular flag.
Jupiter's Legacy makes a wild promise. It's a big idea book with intestinal fortitude, pluck and baker's dozen of despicable and dislikable characters, again, a hallmark of the great man's work or so I've read. As introductions go, Millar gives the reader what one wants in a first issue: a bit of mystery, hints of sex and some space meth -- you can call it alien cocaine if you want to, Jamil, but we both know whatever it is it's as potent as that Heisenberg shit. Again, Jupiter's Legacy #1 seethes with possibilities the most interesting of which may be how Millar is going to get us to care about the kids. What about the children (the legacies?)! As Millar pulls at the threads of the American superhero mythos how is he going to turn Chole and Brandon from put-upon brats into something heroic? How does one craft a hero? Or is this going to be some nostalgia trip for the good ol' days and how 'the kids these days' are nothing BUT self-serving remoras? That's another discussion for another time.
Why Jupiter's Legacy has my attention is due to Frank Quietly. I'm a Quietly man. As Curt Pires -- our other writer under the hot lights of Two for #1 this month -- said in a tweet: "when reviewers refer to Quietly's art as ugly or wrinkled that's the point where I stop reading." I regard Quietly as a visionary like a Kubrick or a Tarantino, an artist who's going to show me something new every time … something like, say, what separating the mind from the physical body might look like in a comic book.
The genius of this half-page panel is in its simplicity, both in concept and execution. Quietly walks the reader into a "psychic painting," -- oh Proust would be vert with envy, don't you think, Jamil? – and Peter Doherty does the rest as he boxes in (out?) his colors. This is Quietly and Doherty using their skills as visual storytellers to enliven Millar's words and ideas, "eh?" as Blackstar says. In less confident and competent hands a gimmick like this would smack of effort -- Brandon and Chole would be like so cool to the whole thing, you know? It's this moment that makes Jupiter's Legacy more than a stunt.
So, Jamil, some questions: Are you a Quietly man? Who's Jupiter? And who are Jupiter's Legacies? And since when did my beloved Vermont become a waiting room for superheroes?
Jamil: Vermont love! That's how you reel in a Silva fish.
I kind of purposely omitted Quitely from my opening salvo for a couple reasons. One, I know you're a fan and wanted to give you the first chance to gush, and two , the guy is so consistently spectacular that I could honestly give this a "ho-hum" on the Quitely-o-Scale.
Let me violently back peddle as not to get flamed. This guy has set the bar so sickeningly high for himself that I just expect superb work every time. Seriously, he's attached to so many seminal works, All-Star Superman, New X-Men, Flex Mentallo, JLA: Earth 2, that I don't pause when he nails the nuances of a human expression or accurately depicts the lay and texture of clothing without an insane amount of rendering. Aesthetically, he's not my favorite artist, those eyes weird me out, but holy fuck can this dude draw. And yeah, the first panel of the "psychic painting" is brilliant.
For an opening issue Jupiter's Legacy #1 kills it. However, the whole endeavor does lack a bit of focus. The central or prime tension does not come through immediately. Who are we rooting for here? The noble fogeys? The petulant brats? The island? At the end of the first issue it's not clear what's wrong, well, besides from everything.
The biggest criticism that I have is that there are 1,001 spins on the superhero genre and, as of now, this is just another. Other than that it has the makeup of a feisty, grandiose story that will sell a billion trades in 2018 when the movie drops.
Keith: Since, Jamil, you've already let the cat out of the bag we have to communicate back-and-forth and work at this stuff instead of leaving our readers with the impression that we are so simpatico that all of this comes unbidden I'll mention something that occurred to me in our last email exchange. In responding to you I abbreviated Jupiter's Legacy with the letter JL. 'JL' to comic book readers (and conspiracy theorists, I suppose) JL is very powerful and holds a lot of meaning. Now, I know that the preferred and correct (?) nomenclature is JLA, so back you finger-waving continuity no-goodniks.
Millar has assembled a roster of the most powerful analogues (in the world) of Jupiter's Legacy to fill out the team. I wonder if this project -- Millar's Star Wars as you say -- is a nod to the venerable DC team. Perhaps, it's just Millar being cheeky.
Since this is being published by Image, I'm surprised Millar didn't spring for an extra ten pages or so à la Saga #1 given this is the spiritual successor to Vaughan and Staples (so called) masterpiece in the making. As first chapters of grand epics go Jupiter's Legacy works and it works well (enough). I don't know Millar to know if he's always so blatant about making sure the reader gets he is trying to make a point about "the global economy hanging by a thread" and similar events during the Great Depression and how those events echo in our world. I find superheroes bickering about being able to balance budgets the least interesting part of this story, save (maybe) for Chloe and Brandon et al. This issue does a lot to set the table, but I'm not sure what it's being set for … other than it's a banquet, to be sure.
I agree, Jamil, of all the spins on the superhero genre this one doesn't do anything other than rearrange the pieces on the board; new lamps for old, Jamil, new lamps for old. And yet we have some Quietly art to soak in and there's cake.
I'm going to give this a Get It, Jamil, Frank Quietly books are too few and far between to pass up. Cake!
Jamil: You compare it to a DC property, but I got big time Squadron Supreme vibes from it.
One of Millar's most mature works to date and I can't recommend anything less than Get It. I make no promise Jupiter's Legacy will be a modern classic, but the first issue doesn't disqualify it from such an accolade.
(Curt Pires, Dalton Rose, Ryan Ferrier; Monkeybrain)
Keith: Truth is slippery and when set inside the sluice of fiction, watch out. What makes 'truth stranger than fiction,' depends on obscurity -- the more marginal, the more unknown, the more geeky, the better.
Curt Pires triggers my inner fanboy like few other writers today. In LP, Pires and artist Ramon Villalobos took a cultist's love for rock-and-roll ephemera and combined it with an auteur's vision, the result looks and reads like a Jim Jarmusch or David Lynch movie if Chan-wook Park directed the action scenes.
Theremin #1 starts with dialogue so hard-boiled it rings like profane Hammett or Chandler: "Sometimes I feel like life is just one big fucking funeral." But as soon as the eXistenz looking laser pistol blows off the back of Vladimir Lenin's head and the bodyguards 'zzz' their way out of the wall, it becomes clear this story isn't a pastiche or a cover, it's something else, it's P-Funk, it's Pynchon, it's Ghost Dog.
The assassin in question makes Theremin the killer -- it's Theremin, Léon Theremin, inventor of that omphalos of eeriness, the ætherephone better known as the Theremin. In truth, Theremin was a prodigy, a music nerd, an inventor and the KGB's Q. Pires samples from all of this, crosses it with his own fervid imagination and creates a historical fiction made for sci-fi fiends, history obscura enthusiasts and English grad. students. I'm all three, so, Theremin feels made for me.
Help me Jamil, I'm like a raving tween at her first One Dimension concert. Is Theremin as funk as I think or am I one step away from writing Curt Pires fanfic?
Jamil: Aspiring comic writers take note -- this is how you open a new series.
Ten years ago when Marvel did their ultimately unsuccessful open submission Epic experiment I remember they repeatedly drilled home how the submitted scripts needed to capture a reader by the third, possibly even the first, page. If a submission editor did not find it absolutely compelling to continue reading with the first dozen panels then that entry went in the trash pile. Theremin #1 stands as an example on how to snag the reader by his or her short hairs and make them pay attention. Ray guns, brain matter and phasing thugs on the first page? Winner status.
Theremin moves quickly after that. Reaching the end of this bad boy is like when your hand hits the bottom of a bag of delicious potato chips. In the vein of the The Five Fists of Science, or even something like (one of the best movies of all time) The Prestige, Pires and Rose re-imagine the life of one of history's greatest inventors. If you think about it, he's probably the guy responsible for the automatic toilet flush mechanism, a fixture in public bathrooms everywhere. May science bless that man.
Let's get to the nitty gritty, Keith. This is a 13-page comic, which is okay because all digital publisher Monkeybrain Comics allows the creator to spread their wings like that. If this story is best suited in smaller chunks then so be it. The length is no problem, but I am hung up on something I'm not sure I should be... A six-page afterword.
Curt Pires tacks on an essay and I'm not cool with it. I'm already a little iffy on those full-page letters to fans that have pop up at the beginnings and ends of major comics so I'm definitely not feeling a small press book providing so many special features in its first issue. Pires talks about his love of comics, his admiration for Leon Theremin, the creative process and his favorite entertainment right now (FF, Young Avengers, Friday Night Lights in case you wondering). Just post your Twitter handle and say peace out. Let the work speak for itself.
Now this comic is only 99 cents, so I'd be a fool to complain about wasted page space, but a rambling one-sided chat with the author doesn't sit right with me. Am I a dick for blasting a writer for wanting to connect with his audience? I trust you to tell me.
Keith: Ugh, Jamil, really? You want to go there, already? Patience. And no, you're not a "being a dick."
Let me offer you a rose, Dalton Rose, his clean lines and sumptuous colors make Theremin #1 first in more ways than one. Rose's colors -- to use Pires's phrase -- are "four color crack." The cerulean blues of the Moscow night and curlicues of vermillion, amaranth and rose madder within "the Red" grant Theremin a vibe, a wave, a high I want to ride; I want to get lost in. Thanks to the back matter, we get to see Rose's black and white art before he works his color voodoo. What shouldn't have surprised me was how good Rose's art looks in black and white as it does in color; the color enhances the craft already present in the original.
There's a real clockwork aspect to Theremin, nothing gets wasted; it's mathematical to borrow from Adventure Time. The unfussiness of Rose's cartooning coupled with Pires's directness makes Theremin a near flawless work. It's early in Pires's career and yet his instinct to adapt his words to an artist's style shows the trust of a veteran writer.
One page that shows Pires and Rose in synchronicity happens in the flashback of Theremin discovering "the Red" for the first time. He floats (falls?) through the æther as he watches windows of time open up around him, possible worlds and potential realities. Rose draws Theremin's lab coat at it swirls around him cape-like as if he were a superhero, an Übermensch. I'll be curious to see how (and if) Pires and Rose play with this idea of the scientist as an ideal, something to strive for, a literal superman.
Okay, let's discuss Pires's crack problem. I get the metaphor Pires reaches for in his love letter to the comic book shop. I find it unfortunate he feels he has to lean on such a whacked (read: "tired") metaphor. For me, Pires is too smart of a writer for such hackiness. The comic shop 'tis a den of iniquities, it's true, and I too have felt the monkey on my back on my ritualistic runs to the LCS on more than a few Wednesdays, but he's pitching his fellow degenerates here, so who is this testimonial for? Pires loves comics; Theremin proves it more than any personal anecdote or essay ever could.
Jamil: I think that's my roundabout point. Theremin is good enough to see the dedication, love and talent for comics in the pictures and words. Director cuts are cool and all, but save it for the trade, ya' know?
We disagree a little bit on Dalton Rose. He's inventive and gives magical flair to science, but to borrow a phrase from sports, the art plays down to the level of its opponent. By that I mean, when the script calls for sexy high-action Rose throws down the good stuff, but when it's a simple headshot or a couple of characters standing around the fallacies are painfully apparent. His modest style works in "the Red" but does not complement something like a cityscape well. However, I do agree the colors are simply wonderful, giving Theremin a specific visual quality that so many books strive for.
Leon Theremin had his life stolen from him by the oppressive Soviet regime. What I love about this series is that it, in some way, gives that life back. It's purely mind candy, but I like to imagine that if he could read this comic based on his life he'd enjoy it as much as we did.
It's digital, but still a Get 2 because at a dollar you can afford to send a copy of Theremin #1 to a friend looking for something new and digestible. Just read the afterward with caution.
Keith: I hope to be reading Curt Pires comic books for a long time. Theremin has what I need in brainy historical fiction, action and adventure. Get 2
Sorry folks, no Mystery Date this month. Deal with it.