-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
This time around, we find a bevy of #1 issues featuring some serious sci-fi storytelling, seasoned with a hint of the supernatural. We have Counter-Earth and the New Men, we have a mystic symbols carved on asteroids, conscripted criminals fighting aliens who destroy terraforming towers, and cosmonaut who transcends humanity at the edge of the galaxy.
We also have a bunch of Marvel characters engaged in a role-playing game GM’d by Rocket Raccoon, because it was a thing we didn’t know we wanted. But we did.
The Dying and the Dead #1
words by Jonathan Hickman, art by Ryan Bodenheim, published by Image
synopsis: Colonel James Canning is watching his wife die slowly from cancer, when a man approaches him from a secret city and offers a trade; his wife’s life for the retrieval of something that was stolen.
-J.: We start this sci-fi-packed post with… the supernatural. Go figure.
Steph: This was a really good first issue. Just enough backstory to let reader in on what the hell is going on, just enough of the plot to make the reader wonder how the hell Canning will pull this off.
-J.: The art is freaking gorgeous. It kept me in the story when the long-winded characters almost knocked me out of it. Mystical discussions and philosophizing about mortals and mortality aside, this was a good first issue. It has elements of a Delta Green story, but with less of a veneer of realism. It also has Bodenheim’s sublime artwork, so I’m making a deal with this series.
Uncanny Avengers #1
words by Rick Remender, art by Daniel Acuña, published by Marvel
synopsis: After twins Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch discover Magneto may not be their father, they teleport to a hidden planet looking for answers. Naturally, things don’t go well. A joint team of members of the Avengers and the X-Men assemble to try to stop them. If they can find the siblings.
Steph: Do you know how many Avengers books there are? there’s Avengers, Secret Avengers, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Avengers World and previously Young Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Avengers Disassemble… There are a lot of Avengers.
-J.: It’s uncanny.
-J.: This title seems like a cynical #1 to me. We have a pre-existing group of heroes, some of whom are very different versions of themselves. We have a bunch of pre-existing plotlines, which need to be explained on the title page. We have so many teams to follow — Magneto’s not-kids, the Avengers Unity Squad, and the New Men of Counter-Earth… not to mention a MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER we don’t see in an early panel. It’s like I’m reading issue #158, not issue #1
Steph: Considering this is a continuation of an Uncanny Avengers series from very recent I can see why. I’m must admit I’m confused as to why they started over again.
words by Tim Seely, art by Marley Zarcone, color by Ryan Hill, published by Vertigo
synopsis: Chondra Jackson, a former child actress, is trying to make a new life as a police officer in rural Ohio. Then a body is found with the logo of her famous TV show tattooed on it’s mummified back…
Steph: I was a little ‘meh’ about this book.
-J.: I dug this one. It develops a solid slice-of-life vibe, even if it’s a slice of a former Hollywood life. Then Seely infests the story with just enough weirdness to make me want to know what the hell is going on. Love it.
Steph: I just wasn’t sure if I was supposed to root for Chondra or not.
words by Grant Morrison, art by Chris Burnham, published by Image
synopsis: Worshippers of elder gods are wreaking havoc on innocent people, and the world is going to end in 33 days. A man called Nameless seems to be the only hope of stopping these atrocities.
-J.: “Dear -J., we noticed the universe was missing a Mythos / Morrison mashup, so here you go. Love, Image.”
Steph: Even as a fan of both Lovecraft and Grant Morrison, I found it a bit difficult to follow this book. I get that you’re jumping from dreams to reality, but in the beginning the plot was a bit muddy. I mean it got clear by the end when I went, “oh, well, crap.”
-J.: I expect it to get plenty muddy again before too long. It is Morrison, after all. For the moment, it’s reminding me of a post-space-age Randolph Carter with much greater stakes. Burnham’s art feels like the right fit for the story, and I’m on fully board to see where Morrison drives this thing.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #1
words by Kieron Gillen, art by Salvador Larroca, color by Edgar Delgado, published by Marvel
synopsis: The story of what happens between the of the battle of Yevin and the attack on the planet Hoth, told from the point of view of Darth Vader.
Steph: I really like the idea of this. I had always wondered how they got from the destruction of the Death Star to the Planet Hoth. Also wouldn’t the Emperor be so pissed about all that? Answer: Yes. Very.
-J.: I’m finding the new Star Wars titles difficult to review. On one hand, you get these fun conceits with well-known characters, telling stories that are in the background of the movies. On the other hand, they aren’t doing anything terribly exciting. I get the desire to use well-known characters, but compared to what Dark Horse was doing before, Marvel’s version of this galaxy feels awfully small. That said, I could look at Larroca’s Star Wars art all day long.
words by Ed Brisson, art by Damian Couceiro, color by Michael Garland, published by Boom Studios
synopsis: In a dystopian future, convicted criminals have two options: life in prison, or fifteen years on the planet Midlothian as soldiers fighting an alien army. Samara Simmons choses Midlothian.
Steph: Cluster was okay. Seriously, sometimes that’s all you can say about something.
-J.: I enjoyed it, even if it didn’t pack the punch of a certain other prison-focused comic book set in a dystopian future. I like Samara, and I want to see her journey… even if I have little interest in the supporting cast.
Casanova: Acedia #1
words by Matt Fraction, art by Fabio Moon, published by Image Comics
synopsis: Quentin Cassady can’t remember his past, which is dangerous if you’ve led a dangerous life and dangerous people come looking for you.
Steph: Normally I am not a fan of the Jason Bourne-amnesia-but-can-kick-ass-without-realising-until-the-moment-presents-itself kind of story, but I liked this.
-J: It was charming and action-packed. And yet I still think it opened really slow. The first acts of Fraction’s stories tend to open slower than I like, but I love it by the time the whole arc wraps up. I suspect the same will happen with Casanova.
Black Vortex #1
words by Sam Humphries, pencils by Ed McGuinness and Kris Anka, published by Marvel
synopsis: the Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Men come together to keep a mysterious mirror, the Black Vortex, from the hands of those who would seek to exploit its terrible power. The power to make you a “better” version of yourself.
Steph: I like Marvel because they seem to realize a good sense of humor can be key in a comic, Black Vortex is no exception to this. Snappy one liners and the combination of the ridiculousness of the Guardians of the Galaxy with X-Men makes for a pretty good first issue.
-J.: If Uncanny Avengers was “how not to write a #1,” Black Vortex is the opposite. It’s has the same potential pitfalls as Uncanny, but tends to avoid them. For all the various characters, plotlines, and changes in space & time, I know what’s happening. The “Black Vortex” is an ancient piece of technology that unlocks a more powerful you, but not in a good way. Murderous, power-hungry former despots want it, and that’s bad. The witty heroes are tempted by the Vortex, but must destroy it. Got it.
Steph: It’s like the evil, tangible version of the Mirror of Erised.
-J.: THAT’S the name I was trying to remember. It also reflects what I like about this crossover event so far: it’s relatable. You can look at some alien planet, ancient artifact, or character interaction, and relate it to something you understand. Plus, Captain Marvel tells Beast that he’s the best GM in the galaxy. That scene makes me all sorts of happy.
words by Matt Kindt, art by Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, David Baron, published by Valiant
synopsis: In the space race of the Cold War, Russia has developed secret technology to reach the outer rim of the galaxy. Abram Adams, a gifted you man, is chosen to pilot this mission.
Steph: I liked this at first, but as it went on it got a bit confusing. It reminds me of when I first saw 2001: a Space Odyssey when I was about 7. It was pretty, but I had no idea what was going on.
-J.: Oddly, with all the supernatural and sci-fi stories with this installment, this is the one that is lingering with me. It may be the engrossing cover by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic. It may be the mix of “Shadow Out of Time” meets 2001. It may be that after all the sci-fi titles this month, the beautiful weirdness of this first issue has me looking forward for the rest of the series.
To Sum It All Up…
Marvel gave us two issues, one a how-to — and one a how-not-to — guide for crafting an approachable sci-fi story in comic book form. There was also plenty of the supernatural to go around this month, from the sumptuous lies of The Dying and the Dead, to the dream-quest of Nameless, to the traveler beyond space and time in Divinity.
You know, I happen to game with a GM of Hank McCoy level brilliance and a gal who is easily equivalent in her own badassery as Carol Danvers… so yeah, that all sounds great to me!