Halcyon #1: So we’re back to “superheroes (BUT THEY’RE ASSHOLES LOL)” territory. We open with a big gruff American super-soldier violently slaughtering faceless Middle Eastern soldiers and thumbs down. Okay, okay, I’ll see where it’s going. There’s some guff about alternate realities and then we cut to a white “urban vigilante” Batman knock-off killing black gang dudes in Baltimore, then it’s over to India where we meet “Agni, God of Fire.” Who is also white. Uh-huh. Thumbs down
Test Pattern #1: Apparently this is part of a collection of stories dealing with various war-themed issues. I’m a little leery about war stories written by American authors, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s starts with sweet mother of Jesus what is wrong with this artwork. I can’t even explain what’s wrong with it in words. Here, just see for yourself:
Every single page is like that. Some of them even have massive infographics plastered all over the place, because apparently I need to know what bandwidth a news van broadcasts in to understand the story. What’s the comic about? Couldn’t tell you. I’m not going to give myself a migraine trying to make sense of that bullshit. Thumbs down
Epic Kill #1: In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I’ve had some prior experience with this comic. I was in a shop in town when I spotted an issue of Epic Kill on the stands and took this photo, which historians will some day use as primary evidence marking the exact moment when modern culture started to crumble. Anyway, it kicks off in a “school for troubled girls” which I guess is what they’re calling mental institutions these days, where our heroine Song is hallucinating a great white shark floating down the hallway. Yeah, I don’t think whoever wrote this has ever spent time around mentally ill people. Although I will admit that a series focusing entirely around floating hallway sharks would get my attention. Song is locked in a filthy padded room with a rat running around in it (hope they don’t get an inspection) and then her and the other girls spend a lot of time in their underwear for no apparent reason. There’s some Bourne Identity bullshit where Song has ａｍｎｅｓｉａ but remembers learning wicked crazy martial arts moves and shit, and I just realized what’s been bugging me about the artwork. It’s poser. The characters are all poser models drawn over in scratchy digital ink outlines. It looks awful. Despite the trashy covers this didn’t turn out to be the zany sleaze-fest I was expecting, instead delivering a painfully generic thriller that’s unoriginal to the point of bordering on plagiarism (the protagonist’s fight instructor and the villain are essentially lifted wholesale from Kill Bill and the “scantily clad female asylum patients beat people up while hallucinating” set-up is suspiciously similar to Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch). The one semi-original idea in the comic, that Song sees dangerous people as hallway sharks and other threatening figures, veers into unintentional comedy when she hallucinates a gang of shady agents chasing her as samurai werewolves with big ol’ Courage Wolf heads. As previously mentioned the artwork appears to be based on some sort of low-quality 3D rendering software with chinless squashed faces drawn on, giving everything a stiff plasticky look. The president shows up at the end. He looks like a cross between Obama and the Hulk and his name is President Cannon. And Song first uses her kick-ass fighting skills when a guy tries to rape her, because strong female characters. Thumbs down.
Burn #1: Well well, someone’s been watching their anime. Specifically Akira and Serial Experiments Lain if the cover art is any indication. So we open with an angsty cyborg kid waking up in the middle of a burning city with ａｍｎｅｅｅｅｅｅｅｓｉａ and the artwork us just hideous. As in webcomic level hideous, as in whoever did the penciling for this can’t fucking draw. This isn’t helped by the barely readable fonts or the ugly designs, with all of the characters decked out in bulky cyberpunk Naruto jumpsuits. The plot is some nonsense about an AI called Cerebus (no, not Cerberus) flipping its shit and causing a robot uprising because humans are the disease, the disease inside the system or whatever the fuck. Wait, I have to show you this part. Check this shit out:
I thought it was strange that they stuck a picture of Laurence Fishburn in the comic as well, but it’s not like anyone is going to ever read this thing and notice it. Thumbs Down
Dancer #1: This one is about an assassin (sigh) who has a ballet dancer girlfriend who doesn’t know he’s an assassin. We get maybe four panels of characterization before they’re being chased around Milan by shady dudes with guns. There’s a highly improbable scene where a sniper tries to kill the main character but instead ends up scoring perfect headshots on two passing strangers in an otherwise deserted piazza, implying that these two dudes were taking an evening stroll and just happened to walk right in front of the sniper’s cross-hairs one after the other. They run around for a while getting shot at and then it turns out that the sniper is Assassin-guy’s clone dun dun duuuuuun! I’m making fun of this, but it’s easily one of the best comics I’ve read out of the batch. The artwork is decent for once, there’s no fucking narration, the dialogue is snappy and to the point. The ballerina girlfriend is apparently Irish and I would like to thank sweet merciful Christ that they didn’t try to give her an accent. The major flaws are the rushed pacing and the stiff, lifeless action scenes, both of which have been a recurring problem (mostly in the comics published by Image; make of that what you will). Apart from that, Dancer seems to be a fairly well-made, if very conventional and not terribly exciting, action comic. Thumbs up
Saga #1: I saved this for last for two reasons. Firstly it’s made by Brian K. Vaughn, the guy behind Runaways (which I love) and Y: The Last Man (which drove me up the wall). Secondly, I was actually considering paying real money for this to do a proper review. Reading the first issue has significantly altered those plans
The story takes place in a sprawling science fantasy universe full of rubber forehead aliens and giant turtles and shit. A woman with dragonfly wings and a horned dude have just formed babby, in one of those implausible birth scenes where the mother pops the baby out in 30 seconds and requires absolutely no recovery afterward. There’s some extremely heavy-handed discussion of Hot Button Issues- oh ho ho, gun control laws! Herp a derp derp
wing bleeding circumcision- because Brian K. Vaughn is a man of the times, examining serious business questions. This was my main gripe with Y: The Last Man so I was really hoping he could cut it out here. No such luck, I guess. It turns out they’re being chased by people with TVs for heads and talking monkeys, or something, due to an inter-planetary war. There’s the vaguely interesting idea of the war being fought by proxy on other planets all over the galaxy because the two main belligerents are too afraid of destroying each other (hello Cold War metaphor) but there’s also fantasy racism and conlangs and clunky world-building. We also get tons of nipples and penises and people saying “fuck”, presumably to try and get a place on the dark-n’-gritty fantasy bandwagon that’s become so lucrative lately. It’s not really bad, but it’s not terribly captivating either. The art is a lot more dynamic than I’m used to seeing with some nice energetic linework going on, although the characters still look weird whenever they have to open their mouths too much (this is a common problem in American comics. I call it cow-jaw). I don’t think I’d voluntarily read more of Saga but if someone held me down and forced me to go through it Clockwork Orange style I don’t think I’d find the experience memorably unenjoyable. That’s….. good, I guess? Thumb too disinterested to really go in either direc- wait, what? The main character’s civilization has “rape camps”? Rape camps. Where they rape female prisoners to make them give birth to chimeric children? Oh. The female protagonist also gets called a whore and a slut a whole lot in this issue. Never mind, then. Thumbs down
Final verdict: Oh dear. That’s not looking too good, is it?
I went into this little experiment with some pre-conceived biases and expectations. Most of which turned out to be absolutely true, but some things did surprise me. I was frankly shocked at how bad the artwork on display was. I’m used to comics having stiff, formulaic posing and facial expressions but some of these things are just plain inept, with faces in particular seeming to be a significant challenge.
The other two issues were pacing and action scenes. I really have to wonder if there isn’t some sort of fundamental disconnect between the stories comic writers want to tell and the page counts that are allotted to them. Often the plot kicks into high gear on the second page, with absolutely no time spent on characterization or giving the reader a reason to care beyond woah cyborg ninjas with guns. In more complicated settings you often get reams of expository narration swamping the pages in an effort to desperately cram the story into a tiny box that’s just too small to contain it. I frequently felt as though I was just getting a condensed digest version of the story rather than whatever the writer(s) originally had in mind. This also has an effect on action scenes, as there doesn’t seem to be enough pages to be able to do anything creative with the panels or give a really impactful moment a lot of space. Instead you often get action scenes stuffed into tiny little panels with absolutely no sense of momentum or kinetic energy. Given how many comics rely on action to propel the story this is a profound flaw.
This may not have really changed my mind about the quality of the medium much (or at all, really) but I sure had fun making fun of people’s earnest attempts to create entertainment. And when you get right down to it, that’s really what’s most important.