When Words Collide: March Comics: Three First Issues Plus A Bonus

Mon, March 12th, 2012 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

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Tim reads four new March comics including Michael DeForge's "Incinerator" one-shot.

I've been writing about comics as much as ever with my weekly "When Words Collide" column here, my ongoing Great Alan Moore Reread project at Tor.com, an upcoming piece or two for Back Issue magazine and a few other things here and there, but I have fallen months behind on most of the monthly comic book series I had been keeping up with.

Although I still buy 40-60 comics every month, I'm up-to-date on my reading with only half of them. With some, I'm two or three months behind. With others, like "Avengers Academy" and "Irredeemable," I'm almost a year behind. No longer doing weekly CBR reviews has lessened my need to stay on top of everything and because the Splash Page podcast is now defunct (or on a lengthy hiatus until Chad Nevett and I feel like getting back to it), I don't really have any external incentive to read new comics on a weekly basis.

I've been operating on a "gotta-keep-up" mentality ever since I started my blog six years ago, but even with the 3,000-6,000 words I'm expected to write about comics each week for various sites and publications, the reality is that I don't have to keep up with…anything. There are enough old Howard Chaykin comics and unexplored runs of "Ultimate X-Men" to keep me flush with "When Words Collide" topics almost forever and it's not like Alan Moore is pumping out new issues I have to read for Tor.

So why do I keep buying all those comics every week if I only read half of them, or less? Because I still like them. I still like comics -- and though many issues don't cry out for immediate reading, there's always a great satisfaction in sitting down with a year or two of a particular run and getting caught up. I had a fun marathon session with "Sweet Tooth" late last year. I read all of the "Legion of Super-Heroes" comics years ago in one multi-week stretch. I read all the "Daredevil" comics ever created last year for my extended conversation with Ryan K. Lindsay. I took a vacation over the summer by reading all 100 issues of "New Mutants."

I like runs, I like entire series, I like diving in fully, reading a stack of back issues that tell a massive story, maybe involving different writers and artists, maybe with a single creative team. These days, I'm not as inclined to dip in for an issue. Few comics work that way for me anymore and as a result, I sometimes think I've grown bored with comics -- certainly the ones getting pumped onto the shelves of the direct market -- but whenever I actually have time to read them, I get excited again. I get swept up by the narrative or inspired by the artwork.

However, the reality is I don't have as much time to read new comics as I did even a year ago. Particularly when it's an issue #32 of something I haven't read since #18 or even if it's an issue #7 of something I'm two months behind on.

First issues, though, always offer the promise of falling in love with something new and this month offers plenty of new #1s. I've actually read some of them (even ones not coming out until Wednesday) because I can find time for comics when hope is on the line.

So here's a quick run-down of a few first issues I've read this week and my thoughts on whether or not I'm likely to keep reading. I'll use percentages to keep it mathematical!

"Saucer Country" #1, by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly (Vertigo)

Paul Cornell's "Saucer Country" #1 lacks the edge of "The Invisibles" with the blandness of "Seekers into the Mystery"

This one debuts on Wednesday and its first issue cover and all of the promotion for the series tells you exactly what it's about: a woman running for president who may or may not have been abducted by aliens. There's no "Thunderbolts" style reversal at the end of this opening issue, where everything turns out to be the opposite of what you'd expect. In the land of the Internet, those kinds of surprises are never to be seen again.

So we're left getting exactly what we've been told we're getting and "Saucer Country" feels all the weaker for it. Paul Cornell tackles American politics (and behind-the-scenes gamesmanship) and Ryan Kelly draws it all in that quasi-realistic, quasi-fish-eye-lens style that he brings to all of his work. When Kelly teamed with Brian Wood on "Local," he was able to capture the unsettling vulnerability of specific times and specific places, ultimately tracking the travels through the life of a recurring character. Here, Kelly is able to bring some of that same unsettling vulnerability to a woman who has declared herself worthy to run for President of the United States. He humanizes what could be a political cartoon.

However, Paul Cornell's script is like a subplot of "The Invisibles" played out as a soap opera. Mysteries abound and the nature of the little green men will surely be explored as the series progresses (as the first issue implies, it could be an actual alien invasion, a hoax or anything in between). Unfortunately, it has less of the edge of "The Invisibles" and more of a different Vertigo forebear: the blandness of the mostly-forgotten "Seekers into the Mystery" with the New Ageisms replaced by primetime television political melodrama.

Percent chance I will continue to read the series: 12%.

"Hell Yeah," by Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz (Image)

"Hell Yeah" #1 plays with superhero archetypes, but not as direct pastiche.

Joe Keatinge has already splashed into 2012 with his and Ross Campbell's vibrant revamp of "Glory" (which instantly became one of my favorite comics of the year after only one issue) and last week gave us Keatinge's second ongoing Image series with "Hell Yeah."

It's rougher than "Glory" and Szymanowicz is not as facile with his panel compositions as Campbell, but this is another strong debut from Keatinge. Like "Glory," it unveils a world beyond our own (and beyond the world of its protagonist), but it's a series that doesn't build off a previously established property. With "Glory," Keatinge managed to juggle the Rob Liefeld and Alan Moore versions of the character into a background mythology working in the service of a new story. With "Hell Yeah," Keatinge plays with previous superhero archetypes, but not as direct pastiche. This isn't "Astro City" or "Irredeemable."

This is a punk rock reaction to the costumed superheroics of the previous generation. While it may be more of a Hot Topic version of punk than even the relatively tame "Zenith" series of the 1980s that did this kind of thing first, it has enough attitude and swagger to make it feel alive.

Perhaps most importantly, it has a sense of humor about itself in the way that "Saucer Country" doesn't, which goes a long way towards keeping me interested in what's next.

Percent chance that I will continue to read the series: 91.5%.

"The Manhattan Projects," by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra (Image)

"The Manhattan Projects" #1 tackles a giantic global conspiracy with real-life historical figures.

In real life Dr. Robert Oppenheimer helped coordinate the team that would build the first atomic bomb. In Hickman and Pitarra's alternate reality, the atomic bomb project is a palatable cover-story for something far more scientifically ambitious. And Oppenheimer is…different

Like Hickman's "S.H.I.E.L.D." series for Marvel, "The Manhattan Projects" takes real-life historical figures and patterns a gigantic, high-tech, insane global conspiracy around them. Unlike "S.H.I.E.L.D." which started strong but soon began to grind against its own inner workings and now feels completely inert, this new series is absurdly full of energy. Nick Pitarra is the opposite of "S.H.I.E.L.D." artist Dustin Weaver. While Weaver (who is an excellent artist, to be sure) presents a chiseled, detail-oriented world, Pitarra presents a deranged, manic, obsessive cartoonish reality that asks, "what would mid-career Chester Brown do if he had the hands of Geof Darrow?" Weird, beautiful, deadly and funny from start to finish.

Hickman, as is his custom, likely has a dense map of the story structure for "The Manhattan Projects," but what's so great about this first issue is while it feels huge in scope, it doesn't feel mapped out. It feels like anything could happen in this bizarre not-our-world and that feels good.

Percent chance that I will continue to read the series: 88.7%

"Incinerator," by Michael DeForge (Secret Headquarters)

I'm including my thoughts on this new Michael DeForge minicomic here because even though it's not really a first issue (it's a stand-alone single issue), it's the best thing I read this week. It does have something in common with the other comics I wrote about above: it presents a weird, off-kilter alternate version of reality.

DeForge does it better than almost everyone.

It's impossible to summarize the plot of this comic in any meaningful way, because it is so much a product of DeForge-the-visual-artist. Basically, it's the story of Slater, a young man with a medical condition. His condition: he has a human head and sort-of-human legs, but his torso is somehow a backwards-facing Snoopy drawing, with Snoopy's ears as his barely-usable arms. Then, the aftermath of a mugging "by college students" leads to emergency torso-removal surgery and Slater must face the following physical and emotional recovery.

Right! That is the comic and its absurdist worldview is abundant.

It's what Michael DeForge does and as I said, he does it better than almost anyone. (Right now, with what he's produced in the last two years, I would say he does do it better than anyone. No almost about it.)

Percent chance that I would continue to read "Incinerator" as an ongoing or any other upcoming Michael DeForge comic book that comes along: 100%

TAGS:  when worlds collide, saucer country, hell yeah, the manhattan projects, incinerator

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