"Tech Jacket" takes its eponymous galactic guardian off the sidelines of Kirkman's Invincible universe and back into his own title. Aged from high school student to community college dropout, Zack Thompson is still having a great time battling and dating aliens, though his enemies may have other plans. Keatinge and Randolph's first issue captures the exuberance of their protagonist with cinematic style and a fun tone, but the story never rises from promising to excellent. As an opener, "Tech Jacket" #1 accomplishes everything it needs to but not much past that.
After reading, I definitely understand why the "Tech Jacket Digital" issues sold so well. Zack is a winningly grateful and enthusiastic hero -- not much responsibility angst or darkness here -- and there are enough layers and textures in his universe to fill a series. The alien allies, the villains and the state of Earth-interstellar relations are all promisingly introduced, with just enough information to get the reader interested. Issue #1 does a stellar job establishing the editorial viability of this character.
The real star of the story, though, is Keatinge's tightrope-precise pacing, a near-perfect balance of character moments, plot movements and scene-setting action shots. He covers quite a lot of ground, and at times it might feel too speedy for readers who are new to the character. However, each new element is introduced as a teaser for things to come rather than as a static info dump. This eases the sense that the reader is simply being brought up to speed, while also setting the stage nicely for Issue #2.
That said, on the line level, Keatinge's script doesn't always land. The relationship between Zack and his dad is fun, but the lines can sometimes feel like they're trying too hard for a "cool dad" vibe. There are one too many uses of "hot damn" and mentions of junk food like burgers and donuts. Some of the mechanics of their interstellar communications don't make sense either, but the pacing and the space battles make up for it.
Speaking of the space battles, readers who want to see aliens get punched and ripped apart in gloriously gory Technicolor should check out "Tech Jacket" #1 for Randolph's art alone. With a style that's equal parts mech manga and ‘90s action movie, Randolph delivers cinematic and wonderfully choreographed fights. His zeroing in on pieces of the suit -- outstretched fingers, jabbing elbows -- gives the panels a precise focal point that grounds everything in an easy-to-understand physical space. Zack still feels like he's in space, but moving viscerally rather than floatingly. The colors from McCaig keep it feeling otherworldly but not too cartoony, no small feat while the character are ripping out alien tongues in space suits. Admittedly, when drawing the more mundane scenes on Earth, Randolph is less impressive. The facial expressions don't vary much, which doesn't add a whole lot to the dialogue. I found myself looking at the surroundings rather than the characters. More variety and complexity there could really help those scenes.
"Tech Jacket" #1 is well done, and it leaves Issue #2 well set up. With some fine tuning and a subtler grip on its characters, it could easily evolve into a must-read space adventure.