Wednesday Comics Woundup: Fear Itself, NonPlayer, Green Wave, Jake Ellis, Orc Stain, Butcher Baker, and Undying Love

I thought I’d take a little break from the cull project, and talk about a few recent single issues that I’ve read recently.

Fear Itself #1 by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen

I’ve long since lost my fascination with the Big Two’s annual cross-over events, but I still succumbed to Marvel’s recent pimping of this, their most recent attempt to win the “HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE WHAT THEY JUST DID” comic book sweepstakes.

The premise here is twofold: 1) The daughter of the Red Skull (Captain America’s arch-nemesis. Very bad. Has a Red Skull. ) gets possessed by an ancient Norse god of fear, and is planning bad stuff, and 2) Odin (king of the Norse gods), finally gets tired of his son’s (Thor, as in The Mighty) whippersnappery, and removes Asgard (King of The Gods. Like Vegas, with more mead, and less blackjack) to another plane of existence.

Fear Itself is one of those comic events that promise that THE MARVEL UNIVERSE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME OMG!!!. I can’t say that we’ve seen quite that level of hyperbole as of yet, but this was a good read, and did exactly what you would hope a number one of this magnitude would do: Have you breathlessly waiting for the next issue. Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen did a nice job here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they have planned next.

Undying Love #1 by Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman

Image has a bunch of new first issues I’ve been looking forward to, and it’s ironic that the one I was looking forward to the least is one I enjoyed the most. Undying Love is the story of John Sargent, an American spy/solider type trying to turn his Chinese vampire girlfriend back into a human.  Awwwww. Despite the horrible title, this was pretty good first issue. Tomm Coker’s Tim Bradstreet-inspired photo-realistic art is the perfect fit for this dark thriller, and I think Coker and Daniel Freeman did a nice job with how judiciously they paced out the exposition. They give just enough plot to ensure our return, but still keep a healthy sense of mystery about the whole thing. For a Chinese Vampire Romance comic, this was pretty good, though heavy on the schmaltz. I’ll definitely try a second issue of this.

Rating: B

Green Wake #1 by Kurtis Wiebe & Riley Rossmo

Probably the biggest disappointment out of all of the titles that came out yesterday. Not because it was so bad, but because I had such high expectations from it. Image has been on fire lately, but their laissez-faire attitude towards letting their creators do whatever they want, can sometimes mean that the editorial tweaks that a more hands-on publishing house like Vertigo could bring aren’t there. And so you have something like Green Wake, a great concept desperately in need of a new script. First of all, the art is really the reason to buy this book, and fans of Riley Rossmo’s work on Cowboy Ninja Viking will be glad to know that his style of colour-as-metaphor continues here, and is perfectly suited for the dark theme of the book. Where this fails is the script. Kurtis Wiebe seems to be overly impressed with the sound of his own voice, and isn’t content to let Rossmo’s atmospheric moodiness speak for itself. The premise is interesting: A murder takes place in Limbo. But Wiebe feels the need to preach, instead of telling his story. Preach about what? Death, I guess. And life. And mortality. Blah. Blah. And Blah. I’m just impressed enough with the look and tone of this book, that I may give it another shot, in hopes that things improve. I don’t mean to be harsh, this is an interesting first issue, just not one that lived up to my expectations.

Rating: C

Who Is Jake Ellis # 3 by Nathan Edmondson & Tonci Zonjic

I’ve written about this book before, and gave it a tentative thumbs up. With the third issue, I may have to revise my stance. Edmondson seems to be stretching out a razor-thin concept as far as he can, as this issue barely moved our story ahead at all. If you’re going to choose to do 5 issues, rather than 4, or 3, then have a reason. Each issue should fulfil a specific purpose, and there’s nothing in issue 3 that hasn’t been seen in the previous two issues. The premise (Former CIA agent with an invisible friend that only he can see) is still engaging enough that I’m going continue with the series, but I really hope that Edmondson fulfills the potential shown in the first two issues.

Rating: C

NonPlayer #1 by Nate Simpson

This is the big one. This is the one EVERYBODY is talking about, and although it just came out yesterday, is completely sold out everywhere, and is going on eBay for over $20.

Although I’m always excited when independent creators get attention, I’m not exactly sure why it’s happening here. This is usually where I would  tell you what the plot is, but it’s not really a plot so much as it’s a not-quite-realized concept: In the near future, it’s possible to plug your consciousness virtually into an artificial video game environment, so that you can basically  play real life Dungeons & Dragons. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Yes, there’s a lead character, but we don’t know anything about her other than that she’s a bit of a dick. There’s no hint as to what her goals are, or motivations, or next steps. All we see is her playing in a game, waking up, and then going to work. Why would I ever read another issue of this?

The reason, of course, is the art. Nate Simpson’s art is the reason why this book is getting the attention it is, and to some extent that attention is justified. His backgrounds, monsters, and battle scenes are nothing short of spectacular. I don’t use this lightly, but the only person whose work I could compare this to is Geoff Darrow. His  detail work is so precise, with colour that almost blinds you. In a good way.  His art really something to see, and very much worth your money if you’re drawn to art first in your comics. Unfortunately, where the art falls short is any time the camera falls on an actual human face. Every person has the same bland, dopey stare, and other than hair and eye colour, there’s nothing to differentiate the characters from each other. I know all of this sounds like sour grapes, and I do think that Simpson is a major talent as an artist, and one that deserves more attention. But he’d be well served to start putting together plots with some character motivation if he’s hoping for long-term success with this comic.

Rating: B- I know it’s high, but the art really is incredible.

Jimmy Olsen Oneshot by Nick Spencer & R.B. Silva

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, and so  I just need to come out and say it: This is one of my favourite comics of the year thus far. Yes, it’s about Jimmy Olsen. The guy who takes pictures and gets bailed out by Superman all time. I’m as shocked as you are.

Nick Spencer is one of the hottest writers in comics right now, and while I’ve definitely seen the potential, I’ve been hesitant to lavish as much praise as some other sites and blogs have done. I think he’s a raw talent, and while his ideas have been quite interesting, there’s really nothing to show that he’s an actual writer’s writer. The word clumsy often comes to mind when reading his scripts. Until now, and it’s ironic that the best comic he’s written is one of the few that he didn’t actually create.

This is actually a collection of backup stories from Action Comics. And so it’s a series of 8 page vignettes about Jimmy dealing with a multitude of problems: Job, girlfriend, alien invasion. The usual. This is a funny comic book. Really funny. Spencer’s grasp of dialogue is extremely confident for such a new writer, and it’s rare to see a superhero writer use wordplay as effectively as he does here. Spencer’s Olsen is a little cooler than what we’re used to, but it’s a welcome change to the character. While this breaks almost no new ground, what it does is give us an extremely entertaining read by a writer that is finally starting to realize his potential.

Rating: A

Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1 by Joe Casey & Mike Huddleston

Image has been promoting the hell out of this, and while nothing in the previews particularly grabbed me, I thought I would give it a shot based on the strength of Casey’s work on Godland. Here’s the story: Dick Cheney and Jay Leno go to the last superhero’s house, interrupt him in the middle of a three-way, and ask him to break into a prison and kill all of the world’s super villains. This is exactly what it looks like: An over-the top tribute to violent excess. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There isn’t, and there’s nothing particularly “wrong” with this book either. It was entertaining enough. But in a world full of books like The Boys, and Casanova, and Deadpool, I didn’t find that it covered enough new ground to justify another look.

Rating: C

Orc Stain #6 by James Stokoe

One of the best books on the stands continues to get better. This is the fantasy epic that I hoped Nonplayer would be. The art is breathtaking, the violence is fierce, and most important of all, the book is extremely character driven. There’s only a handful of main characters, but their motivations are all very easily defined, and very clear. This is an action packed issue, but it’s not one that will make much sense unless you’ve read the first 5 (what are you waiting for? Go on then. I’ll wait). Awesome stuff.

Rating: A

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