It’s an interesting week for #1s in comics, with indie rock-star publisher Image looking at various flavors of Armageddon, and two bold new directions for some of the most beloved franchises in all of geekdom.
It would only ignite the fires of angry debate to state that Star Wars is the biggest franchise in the geek culture pantheon, but what is not in question is its continuing allure. In the comics world, that draw (pun ruefully intended) is often too much for some, be they readers or creators. Dark Horse, holding the franchise rights, has produced a slew of Star Wars related titles, but now they’ve gone and given us what they think fans really want. This week they debut Star Wars #1, and it’s a breath of fresh air in the comics franchise. Instead of traveling thousands of years into the storied galactic past, this tale features all the original trilogy characters that we know and love. Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the lovable droids are back, in a tale set just after the Battle of Yavin and the end of New Hope. Luke and Leia, on the heels of the loss of their mentor and the home world respectively, travel the galaxy scouting for a new home base for the Rebel Alliance, uncovering a possible traitor along the way. Han Solo is just starting to consider that his brash act of heroism, helping a friend during the assault on the Death Star, might be the beginning of bigger changes in his life. All the while, Darth Vader struggles with the idea that one if his children may, in fact, still live. This is the nuts and bolts of the Star Wars universe that we haven’t seen in a long time, and it’s well written by Brian Wood (The Massive, Mara). The characters have the rough edges of the heroes we know, and it’s interesting to see them in this raw state, still forming new ideas about themselves, and the people we know they’ll grow into. Leia is particularly well represented here by Wood, as a strong-minded but overly burdened young woman, carrying the weight of her murdered people on her shoulders. This book is accessible for anyone who’s a fan of the films but unfamiliar with the larger Expanded Universe, and is one to watch in the coming year for certain.
Another bold step forward in a familiar franchise is happening at Marvel, with Superior Spider-Man #1. This reviewer must admit, Spidey was a boyhood favorite of mine, largely because the web-slinger was quick with his mouth, and always had a fantastic sense of humor. In later years, Peter Parker and his alter ego took on more dangerous situations, and became, in my mind, a more serious character. I found myself gravitating away from Spider-Man. The success of the both film franchises has only elevated the Wall-Crawler’s status, and now Marvel has taken the character in a bold new direction, after the ending of a titanic run in The Amazing Spiderman with this month’s recent issue #700. Dr. Otto Octavius has managed to cheat death by placing his consciousness inside the body of Peter Parker. In doing so, he not only has access to his own twisted evil genius but all of Peter’s memories as well. Now, as the lessons of Peter’s life overlap with Octavius warped psyche, how will he continue Spider-Man’s legacy? Octavius’ Spider-Man is played off as pompous and arrogant, with no surprise, and it’s a touch disconcerting to realize that the premise of Freaky Friday has come to the Spider-Man franchise. Still, it’s interesting to see the villain romping around in Spidey’s tights, even if he insists on being a misogynistic jerk who can’t listen to Mary Jane speak because he’s too concerned with checking out her breasts. It’s all too clear who the bad guy is in this story, despite the revival of a poorly staffed Sinister Six, and while it’s certainly a bold new direction when it comes to one of Marvel’s major tent poles, it’s not an entirely original one.
Originality does come to Armageddon, however, as does misogyny, in Image Comics The End Times of Bram and Ben #1. Bram and Ben are roommates and modern day single guys, which is to say, they are a bit of a sit-com cliché: a veritable odd couple with Bram playing the womanizing slacker to Ben’s goody two-shoes nerd who’s afraid to talk to girls. The two are shocked to one day find themselves in the middle of The Rapture, and people all over the globe suddenly fade out of site (not to mention their clothes and personal belongings), whisked away to Heaven as the End Times begin. Bram is one of those to suddenly vanish, only to just as dramatically reappear moments later, claiming to have been the victim of a “clerical error” and full of complaints about the Afterlife being “boring.” Meanwhile, Ben frets, wondering why he wasn’t “good enough” to have been chosen, thought he rest of the story seems to indicate heavenly selection was rather arbitrary, if not a little racist. While there are flashes of light and disappearing people depicted in Australia, Brazil and America, a scene in an Istanbul public square depicts two bored merchants making off hand comments about what a slow day it has been, while exactly no one around them vanishes into heavenly acceptance. This page alone turned me off of the comic rather quickly, as did the Bram’s continued ranting about how all the women left behind must clearly be promiscuous. While this comic is intended to lampoon religion and its harbingers of the apocalypse, it’s unfortunate the writers were some ham-handed about it. One can poke fun at the organized religions of the world without deriding women or homosexuals, as is reflected in the not-so-witty dialogue between Ben and the Angelic Bureaucrat sent to check up on him. (Think crude reach-around references and another angel admonishing his colleague not to “be queer about this.”) This book is a disappointment overall, and a lampoon that’s been done better in the past.
Demons are rampant in the pages of the other #1 offering from Image this month, Repossessed #1. Set in a world where demonic possession is much more common place, the series follows the adventures of Joe (the haggard traditional hero type), Clay (the giant tattooed tough guy who’s NOT content to just follow along in Joe’s Shadow), and Martha (the brainy, bespectacled chik, who’s also a force of her own to be reckoned with) as they conduct “repossessions” for The Dee Agency, Austin’s own Exorcist-meets-Bail-Bondsmen demonic cleansing service. After taking out an demon-infested local preacher, the crew are offered a mysterious mission in Las Vegas, getting more than they bargained for when their assignment leads them to a Dallas strip club king, Filthy Richie. The book, with story and art by JM Hinguet (Hoax Hunters) has a highly frenetic feel to it, while doing a good job of painting diverse characterizations early on. Clay in particular is a fun one to watch, the muscled tough guy who’s also the brains of the operation, at least on this particular case. There’s plenty of potential here for all sorts of fun demonic action, and the story line promises a thrill a minute.