One more week, four more first issues — there’s patterns, there’s trends, then there’s ways of fucking life. In any case, enjoy this one ‘cuz for the first and probably only time in the history and future of this column we’ve got two — Marvel books this week? I shit you not. But we’re gonna save ’em for the end. First up —
You know that feeling when you just know you’re getting in on the ground floor of something great? Doesn’t happen often enough — I’m thinking Saga #1 had it, certainly Sandman #1 if you wanna go way back, but you know it when you see it — a book that hits the scene fully-formed, with a clear vision of what it is , where it’s going, what it will become in the future, all that. A completely-realized world from top to bottom, everything thought through, from small details to big picture. Invisible Kingdom #1 has it, and is immediately and probably from this point forward the crown jewel in Dark Horse’s Berger Books line. G. Willow Wilson spins a bifurcated tale of interstellar corruption linking two female protagonists, a religious order, and an evil Amazon-esque corporation. Christian Ward kills it on the art, his watercolor-influenced (I say “influenced” because I assume it’s a digital approximation and not actual watercolor) futurist illustration just getting better and better from project to project. I’m hoping and praying and maybe even sacrificing a goat to the Comic Book Gods for this series to have a years-long run, and if you’re wondering if Karen Berger still “has it” as far as picking great projects goes, wonder no more. Between this, She Could Fly, and The Girl In The Bay, her label is finally starting to fire on all cylinders, and you know what? None of these feel like Vertigo books, do they? Nor should they. That was then — this is now.
Speaking of The Girl In The Bay, Corin Howell is eveywhere these days, and that’s a good thing. We took a look at Calamity Kate #1 last week, and this week she turns up at Aftershock, teaming up with writer Tim Seeley for Dark Red #1, a decidedly un-sexy and un-romantic look at a working-class vampire in middle America that reminded me more than just a bit of an updated version of George Romero’s Martin in redneck MAGA country. Which is to say, I loved it, and see some real opportunity here for biting (sorry, I couldn’t resist) socio-political commentary within a popular genre framework. Seeley did much the same with Revival and the criminally short-lived Effigy, and I’m catching that same vibe here, while Howell’s an amazingly versatile talent who can tailor her finely-honed illustration skills to suit the atmospheric and tonal needs of just about any project, this being no exception — hell, kids, what I’m saying is, buckle in and enjoy this ride because I think it promises to be a good one.
So yeah, the Marvel stuff, here we go : popular current Spider-scribe Chip Zdarsky and long-time favorite Spider-artist Mark Bagley bring us Spider-Man : Life Story #1, sub-titled “The ’60s,” and the conceit here is “what if Peter Parker aged in real time”? There’s a heavy Vietnam subtext running throughout this that I found interesting and that lent something of a “real-world” imprimatur to what’s essentially an exercise in nostalgia, but while the art is pleasingly “old-school,” the story never seemed to progress beyond the “interesting gimmick” stage. Now, that might change as things move along here — after all, this Peter Parker is essentially the age we’re used to and it’ll be interesting, I suppose, to see what he’s like in his thirties, forties, etc. — but not five bucks an issue interesting, if you get my drift. The cliffhanger at the end was cool enough that I might give this five-parter one more chance to gets its hooks in me, but it was a cliffhanger centered on Captain America, not Spider-Man — so, like, what’s the point? I dunno, there’s an opening here story-wise to blow the lid off the damnable lie that Vietnam was still keeping all kinds of our POWs after the war (a slice of fiction cooked up by the government, with a huge assist from Hollywood, back when we didn’t want to pay the Vietnamese any reparations, didn’t want to normalize relations with them, and damn sure didn’t want to admit how many of our guys essentially ditched out on the war and/or went over to the other side), but I don’t see ’em going in that direction even though it’d be useful because tons of people still believe that bullshit. But I digress. Zdarsky and Bagley have one more month to win me over.
What won me over right away, though, was Meet The Skrulls #1, which I grabbed on a lark when I saw that #2 hit the stands — and that was good, too, but I’m only going to talk about the first one. Family of Skrulls living in disguise as humans trying to re-launch their empire with a nice, tidy conquest-from-within number on planet Earth. Except the younger daughter may not be willing to play along. Snappy and sparse prose from writer Robbie Thompson, cool and distinctive-for-a-Big-Two-book art from Niko Henrichon, not sure how long this one’s slated to go for but it feels like the start of a nice, self-contained story that might break a bit of new ground by means of an old premise a la Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision — which everyone is still talking about. Maybe this one’ll stand the test of time, too? The signs look good so far.
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