When Words Collide: Six Comics Worth Your Time

Mon, December 3rd, 2012 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

NEW NUMBER ONES: SIX COMICS WORTH YOUR TIME

Earlier this year, I did a column where I provided some slightly in-depth (but only slightly) reviews of some new comics, and then kind-of-arbitrarily assigned an "odds I will continue reading" percentage to each. I'm not going to play that game this week, mostly because when I went back and reread that old column, I realized that I didn't even stick around and read many more issues of even the comics I gave myself 80-90% chance to keep reading.

I just don't read many serialized comics anymore, not on a regular basis. Even when I continue to buy them, I save them up and reread in a sustained burst (which is clearly how most serialized superhero comics are designed to be read these days anyway). But I do check in on comics frequently, and I read a bunch of new #1 issues over the past couple of weeks that I enjoyed to various degrees, and though I probably won't come back every month for all of them, I will be interested in checking in on all of them, because they all had something worthwhile. Something I'd recommend to you.

So, yeah, let's look at these six comics that I'm hereby declaring "worth your time":

"Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity" #1, by Brandon Graham

I realize issue #2 of this series has already come out, but I've only read the first issue so far, and it's a good one.

Brandon Graham throws you into his sci-fi world immediately, with only a tiny inside-front-cover blurb to get you up to speed on what may have happened in the impossible-to-find Oni incarnation of "Multiple Warheads." It doesn't really matter. What matters is that Graham clearly has a larger story than he's revealing in this opening issue, and the characters -- and their motives -- are less important at this point in the narrative than Graham's confidently idiosyncratic character designs and alien landscapes.

But when I talk about "design" and "landcapes," that makes the comic sound like some dull, picturesque art gallery tour, and "Multiple Warheads" is actually packed with violence and movement. There's an abduction and an escape, and a variety of characters sprinting toward inevitable conflict. It's high-tempo dramatics amidst open page layouts dotted with beauty.

"FF" #1, by Matt Fraction, Michael Allred, and Laura Allred

My disinterest in the graphic stylings of Mark Bagley kept me away from "Fantastic Four" #1, but this parallel side of the Matt-Fractionverse, we get to enjoy Mike and Laure Allred making comics that look amazing, and so here we have one of the few Marvel NOW! launches that I was committed to the moment I heard the concept and saw who was involved.

And it's an excellent start.

Fraction and the Allreds do a fine job introducing a wide array of characters and presenting clearly-defined voices and mannerisms for each of them, but what really juices this comic is the dynamic between Reed Richards and Scott Lang. In "Avengers: The Children's Crusade," the man-who-was-once-Ant-Man was returned to life, but his daughter died in his arms. The contrast between a father morning what he has lost and a father preciously holding on to what his still has gives this series a heart that thumps loudly, without gooey sentimentality.

Between this comic and "Hawkeye," Fraction is working with some of the greatest artists in the business, and he's writing some of the best comics of his Marvel career.

"Masks" #1, by Chris Roberson and Alex Ross

Not too far from where I live, the Norman Rockwell Museum is currently hosting an exhibit called "Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross." Ross isn't just similar to Rockwell in his painting style, or use of live models, or in the good ol' Americana on display. Like Rockwell when he was in his prime, Ross is favored by the masses but dismissed by the critics. Obviously, because we're talking comics and not million-selling magazine covers and illustration prints hung on your grandparent's wall, Ross isn't part of the national consciousness Rockwell has been.

And I'm as guilty of dismissing Ross as anyone. I have trouble seeing his comics -- particularly everything he's done after "Marvels" -- as anything but American fumetti. They are full of meticulously rendered art that looks like photographs of mannequins in wool-and-spandex costumes.

But I do appreciate Ross's ability to capture iconic imagery, even if I haven't usually liked reading his actual comics. And in "Masks," which is the Dynamite Entertainment pulp mashup series, Ross teams with writer Chris Roberson to give us iconic images of the Shadow and the Spider and the Green Hornet and Kato. The comic partly feels like a truncated adaptation of a larger work -- like some transitions had been cut -- but that doesn't necessarily work against it. The jumpy nature of the first issue gives it a bit more energy than it might have had otherwise, and though Roberson's dialogue is often filled with declarative statements, these pulp heroes say what they mean and let you know about it right away. That straightforwardness, combined with Ross's iconography, gives "Masks" its punch. Right in your kisser.

"Secret Voice" #1, by Zack Soto

Adhouse put out a version of "Secret Voice" #1 a few years back, so this is "Secret Voice" Volume 2, #1, a self-published superhero/fantasy art comic that Zack Soto was kind enough to bring to the Brooklyn Comics and Art Festival last month.

Most of this issue has been serialized at Soto's great "Study Group Comics" website, which, if you haven't checked it out, is filled with superior comics by the likes of Farel Dalrymple, Michael DeForge, François Vigneault, among many other talents (including Soto, of course).

"Secret Voice" is a dreamlike action comic, with troll tunnels and a bandaged hero with a cloak and a costume and a razor-sharp sword. But while Soto may someday explore who these characters are and what motivates them, he seems more interested in depicting their movements and interactions. There's an elliptical quality to what happens, as the protagonist himself feels overcome by forces he can't understand or control, and so part of the comic feels like a logical sequence of events, while other parts seem like partially remembered nightmares. And the whole thing is bathed in a pink and orange color scheme that makes it look delicate and unsettling at the same time.

"Captain America" #1, by Rick Remender, John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, and Dean White

This new Captain America series is wholeheartedly devoted in mind, body, and spirit to the Bronze Age work of Jack Kirby -- it shows you so inside its pages, and Rick Remender goes ahead and tells you so in the letters page -- and that approach is enough to make me interested in the series. Unfortunately, the Klaus Janson inks aren't quite right for the Romita, Jr. pencils. Not for a comic that's trying to recapture some of the sci-fi insanity of the Jack Kirby era. Janson's too rough, and some of his thin linework diminishes the inherent blockiness of Romita, Jr.'s compositions. There are even a few pages where adult characters look to be about 4 ½ heads high, but maybe that's just some lingering "Hit-Girl" proportions showing up in this series.

But enough about the problems with the art (with Romita, Jr. and Dean White, it's going to look great no matter what, even when the inker isn't the best choice for the tone of the series). Remender's story is a tease of what's yet to come -- apocalyptic wanderings, savage worlds, super-science, a child in danger -- combined with some emotionally-charged flashbacks, and the mix proves to be just enough. This isn't a shockingly-packed first issue, but its substantial enough to make me appreciate the approach to the character and curious to find out what happens next.

"Journey into Mystery" #646, by Kathryn Immonen, Valerio Schiti, and Jordie Bellaire

This one's kind of cheating, right, because it's not a number one issue and so I am a complete liar by even mentioning it this week. Except, it's totally a new first issue and in a different marketplace, this would be "Sif" #1 instead of the 646th installment of "Journey into Mystery."

So here we have a "Sif" series -- or at least five issues of it, based on the length of this first arc -- by Kathryn Immonen, and the first issue is very good. It's one of the best superhero comics I've read this year. If I did a Top 10 Single Issue of Superhero Comics in 2012, it would crack the list, to be sure.

First of all, we all know Kathryn Immonen is pretty great at writing smart and funny and action-packed superhero comics, and though Sif may be a bit less inherently comedic than some of her other protagonists, this is a smart and funny and action-packed comic.

But "Sif" gives us more than that, because artist Valerio Schiti and colorist Jordie Bellaire make this comic look amazingly good. Bellaire is simply one of the best colorists working today -- she uses vibrant colors, never obtrusively, and with an eye for balance and beauty and did I mention how unafraid of color she is? -- and Schiti is like Jamie McKelvie crossed with Jeff Smith. Maybe that's just the appearance of the dragon talking, but the linework is clean and the characters have a bouncy sense of dimensionality. This comic is some fine-looking stuff.

Comics can be pretty great, you know? Sometimes.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

TAGS:  when words collide, matt fraction, mike allred, ff, brandon graham, multiple warheads, zack soto, kathryn immonen, journey into mystery

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