We’re No. 1!

We’re No. 1! is a weekly feature looking at first issues in new comic series, as well as one-offs and special releases. In his reviews, Jeff highlights stories with diverse characters and plot lines Geekquality readers can care about, as well as points out comics that miss the mark.
TNNoir01CovSyafNOTFINALTwo different publishers feature comics this week by writer Victor Gischler, known for his humorous crime fiction and his work on Comics like Deadpool  and The Shadow. The Black Sparrow, a female thief of Spanish descent takes center stage in one of his new books, Noir #1. Dynamite team up the Sparrow with her former nemesis and another of Dynamite’s pulp legends, the hot headed powerhouse Miss Fury. Issue #1 is all Black Sparrow, however, and tells the story of her theft of a Moonstone, which she now needs Lamont Cranston’s alter ego to help her recover. The book features the sharp dialogue that Gischler is known for, as The Black Sparrow attempts to manipulate The Shadow to her own ends. He’s a no-nonsense sort of guy, while she is all guile and seduction, with a healthy dose of murderous intent. The book gives us an interesting lead character instead of the stock femme fatale villain, as she was in her previous appearances in The Shadow comic, setting up the story for the future.

23696 Gischler’s second offering this week is tougher to pin down. Clown Fatale #1 is a raucous and violent book about four female clowns unlike any we’ve seen, all beautiful women who’ve fallen on hard times and are now “stuck” in the circus life. They often turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with a life of hardship, as well as face harassment from the circus’ attendees. The women fight back violently, only to wallow once again in their misfortune. The book constantly shifts between exploitation and feminist strength, ultimately losing itself along the way. None of the characters are particularly believable (even for a comic book) and none of them garner much sympathy or respect. And don’t even get me started on Aya, an offensive fetishized version of an Asian female character. A deeply troubled woman, she is a sword wielding ninja one moment, and childlike geisha the next, and her portrayal negates any other value that might be found in the book.

Umbral_01-1 Young women take center stage in the next three #1’s this week. Image Comics introduces a dark fantasy world from writer Antony Johnston and artist Christopher Mitten in Umbral #1. Rascal is a girl living in the far away kingdom of Fendin. Despite being raised by the Guild of Thieves, she is close friends with the young Prince Arthir, who agrees to help her steal an ancient artifact known as The Occulus. Along with the staff known as The Mordent, wielded by his father the King, these objects are apparently part of an ancient prophecy that will unleash the beasts of the nightmarish realm known at The Umbral on Fendin. Rascal falls right into the middle of the supernatural event, and into The Umbral itself, and she shows pluck and inner fortitude that make for a great heroine in YA fantasy fiction. Umbral is all about world building, as good fantasy should be, and it will take several issues to determine just how well the world is crafted. With her feisty spirit and enthusiasm for adventure, Rascal makes for a compelling guide along the way. Mitten’s art work, heavily layered and perfectly crafted for such a dark tale, is beautiful to look at even if you don’t end up following the tale further.

protocolorphans_01_cvr Boom! Studios’ Protocol Orphans #1 is an espionage thriller about young people raised to be super spies. These young men and women refer to their handler, a rather brutal and pragmatic man, as “Dad”, though they aren’t related to each other beyond their mission and training. Some of that training, shown in flashbacks, amounts to physical and psychological abuse. While they all show signs of being desperate to please “Dad”, we’re left to question just how strong and stable these young spies could possibly be. Lisa, who at one point strips to her bikini for no particular reason, can’t seem to stop trying to seduce her own “brother” in the middle of their big mission. Parish, the “family” get away driver is also intent on sneaking off to buy beer, which shocks his “siblings”. Expressions of teen rebellion take on a darker tone here, making for a compelling version of a spy caper that would otherwise be a cliché.

MKXM1 Lastly, Marvel bring us a new X-Men story in Marvel Knights: X-Men #1. The Knights imprint from Marvel has been intended to highlight regular Marvel characters in high quality, stand-alone mini-series, and now their focus has shifted to feature new creative talent in the industry as well. This new story focuses on veteran characters Rogue, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine as they head to the backwoods of Kentucky to investigate the mysterious disappearances of several children, some of whom are believed to be mutants. Rogue in particular feels the pain of these young people living in such a sheltered place, far removed from the fast paced world of urban America. From the Deep South herself, she knows that Wolverine’s words are all too true: “Seclusion doesn’t tend to breed tolerance.” The book also introduces a young mutant girl named Krystal, a telepath who is none to happy about suddenly being different from everyone she’s ever known. She’s sadly wrapped up in the local drug trade, and in fear for her life from more than one killer on the loose. While this has the feel of the X-Men dropped right into the middle of Winter’s Bone, there’s a very human element to the story that remind us what the X-Men, at their core, have always been about: what it’s like to be different. The understated art by Brahm Revel (who also wrote the story), and the beautifully darkened and washed out work from colorist Christiane Peter, perfectly set the tone of this very different, yet also very familiar, X-story.

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