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.
This week there have been some disappointments, but also some interesting releases, beginning with The Woods #1,from writer James Tynion IV (a Game of Thrones name if ever there was one) and artist Michael Dialynas. This unique book tells the tale of the entire student body and staff of Bay Point Preparatory School who, right in the midst of typical school day, suddenly disappear. The whole school, building and all, is suddenly transported to an alien landscape on a strange moon orbiting an unknown gas giant. The wooded area holds only one clue, a strange pyramid that seems to point into the hart of the woods themselves. That’s exactly where the school’s brightest student, Adrian Roth, and determined field hockey player Karen Jacobs decide to lead a group of kids, looking for the answers that might solve the mystery and get everyone home. The two are not the only characters in the book, with the supporting cast including students Sanami Ota, a natural leader and Karen’s best friend; Isaac Andrews, who can’t quite seem to break into a role in the school drama; Benjamin Stone, an imposing kid who refuses to play football; and Calder Macready who… well OK, Calder streaks in the halls and is generally a hotheaded jerk. The point is, these kids are well represented as just that: kids. In too many stories we see high-schoolers who are woefully grown up, struggling with love affairs and tragedy as if being in a Shakespearean drama. The kids of Bay Point aren’t at all interested in dating each other (Isaac is the only kid who even mentions a crush, and it’s on a character who’s not depicted in the book) and there is little of the traditional teen drama that could easily have weighed down an already hefty concept. These kids are forced to fight for their survival on the edge of space and they approach it the way real teens would: awkwardly at first, but fiercely bound together by their friendships. Lovers of the unusual situation mystery (a la Stephen King) will see more here to like than lovers of Vampire Diaries, and it’s a refreshing take on young people in genre fiction.
There were a couple of unfortunate missteps this week in unexpected places. The first happens just at the end of Marvel’s Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (WARNING: BIG SPIDEY-SPOILER AHEAD!) The hugely popular Spider-Man has a new book written by superstar Marvel scribe Brian Michael Bendis, and on the surface this is about as good as it gets for inclusion in comics. But Miles’ world is decidedly white: his girlfriend is white, he seeks out advice on sharing his secret identity from Mary Jane Watson, and even his teachers (who insist he go to class even though he’s lost his father) are white. While Miles’ best friend Genke is Asian-American (and a bit of a stereotypical “smart kid” who makes Miles’ web shooter fluid for him) the two kids seem to occupy the typically white mono-culture of comics we’ve seen for decades. They are the only characters of color in the book, aside from Miles’ father, who is seen only in flashback. And the ending of issue #1, while certainly a shocker in the true Marvel Comics way, marginalizes Miles almost out of existence. Peter Parker is back, and frankly it hardly seems fair. The best part about Miles being Spider-Man is that he IS Spider-Man. He’s not the Black Spidey, or the clone Spidey, or the side-kick Spidey. In this Universe, Miles simply is Spider-Man, right up until the moment that Peter reappears. No one who reads comics can possibly avoid the deflating feeling that suddenly, Miles simply is not Spidey anymore, not all the way, and it was honestly a little heartbreaking. I’m not certain that it’s right to suddenly feel that Miles’ spotlight has been stolen, that it isn’t horribly wrong to think Miles can only be Spidey if Peter is dead and buried, that it was the only way a Black kid could ever assume the role. That’s certainly not true, and Miles has more than earned the moniker while always respecting Peter’s legacy, but I am still hugely disappointed in Marvel for the way it’s all handled.
Image Comics delivered a bit of a disappointment with Madame Frankenstein #1,from Jamie S. Rich and newcomer artist Megan Levens. Madame Frankenstein had the most potential with a title like that, but the titular “monster”, a woman named Courtney Bow who was killed in a car crash in the early 30’s and resurrected by scientist Vincent Krall, isn’t portrayed particularly well. She is a woman who needs saving by a man in the most literal sense, a man who is very concerned with her face and the flush of color in her cheeks, less with her limbs which are poorly attached or her personality, which has vanished in his experiments to revive her. He even removes her old name and gives her a new one, Gail, after scaring her into submission with fire, the thing that destroyed her in the first place. He treats her more like a pet to be trained than a loved one returned to life, and it’s unpleasant to read. One hopes that Courtney will reclaim herself, throw off the shackles of her creator as her namesake did, and perhaps destroy him, but frankly, I’m not sure I want to keep reading after the way she was treated in issue #1.
Meanwhile, Image’s Nailbiter #1 presents us with solid characters in a horror story with a unique twist. In the town of Buckaroo, Oregon, Edward Charles Warren is the serial killer known as “The Nailbiter”, a cannibal who eats his victims fingers first. Buckaroo is the home to a whole slew of serial killers in fact, and Warren is the 16th “Buckaroo Butcher”, an unusual fact that lures an FBI profiler to the town to try to solve the mystery. It appears he has stumbled on answer, when he suddenly disappears after calling in his friend, Army Intelligence Officer Nicholas Finch, to reveal the great secret to him. Finch finds Buckaroo a bit of a challenge and crosses paths with two women: a rebellious young teen Alice and then hard edged Sheriff Crane. Crane and Finch team up to search for the lost profiler, which leads them right to the door of The Nailbiter himself. Why was he acquitted years before when caught red-handed (literally), and how can this monster help these two cops discover the secret of Buckaroo? It’s a complicated plot but Crane and Finch, in particular, make it worth following. It’s great to see two detectives who don’t fit the usual molds, and even better when it’s clear that almost anything can happen in such a complex story.
In the digital publishing space, newcomer Magneteic Press launched Naja #1, a prelude chapter to a full graphic novel by JD Morvan and artist Bengal. Naja is the number three assassin for a mysterious master known only as Zero, and she could not be more of a stereotype is she tried. It’s not a negative female stereotype, thankfully, merely an unoriginal hitman archetype we’ve seen before. Naja feels nothing, and she’s as blank and passive as can be, longing for the chance to feel anything again, anything at all. She mindlessly does as she’s told, and goes through her missions almost like a robot, killing on command and never asking why. There is no doubt that Bengal’s art is both beautiful and original, and Naja does have a visual look to her that’s original and realistic. She dresses seductively at a party, where her beauty can be disarming in the right moment, but sensibly when on the run. Still, her character is rather flat (despite the fact that it’s supposedly intentional) right up until the moment where she predictably falls in love. Ugghhhh. The tale seems to suggest that falling in love at last will either be her undoing or her saving grace, and it gives the story an unnecessary Disney Princess twist.
There were honorable mention from Marvel Comics (we keep coming back to them, don’t’ we?) this week as well, with Greg Rucka’s Cyclops #1, a father-son tale featuring the famed X-Men team leader going on space pirate adventures with his long lost father and his father’s first-mate/girlfriend, Hepizbah. She is a little known X-character but has always been a good one, a woman who holds her own among pirates and saves Corsair, her man, as often as he might save her. Here, she teaches young Scott how to fly in outer space, and she’s seen as a charming teacher and confidant, who is also good with a laser blaster. Meanwhile, fan favorite Avenger Black Widow has some choice scenes in the kickoff to Marvel’s big summer crossover event in Original Sin #1, though really all it did was make me wish once again that she’d get her own movie already.
And lastly we attack a book with the venom usually reserved for offerings from Zenescope Comics, largely because it seems to actually be emulating those guys. It’s Chaos #1 from Dynamite, and its cover art right away is enough to put off most serious readers. Three demonic women of some sort, all of them in their underpants and leather lingerie surrounding a demonic cowboy? The characters are part of a cross over event from several horror titles, apparently, and the book seems to pit them one against the other, rather than gather them into some sort of sultry super group as the cover suggests. The story inside is about a group of monstrous humans (a werewolf, a vampire, etc, etc) who try to make more of themselves by fighting evil gods, but the tale is hugely confusing, mostly because there are simply too many people in it. By the time I got the entire cast of Tim Seeley’s book sorted out in who’s who columns and rows, the book was over, having incurred my wrath on numerous occasions. Why are all the victims of the vampire goddess young scantily clad women of color? (To their credit, even some of the other chararacters in the book wonder aloud about this?) And why is the one white woman that gets rescued by the “heroes” of the book perpetually naked throughout the story? You know what, never mind. I don’t care anymore, and neither should you.