Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic book reviews you never asked for!
The Good News is that there's new comics on the shelves! The Bad News is that it's barely a trickle (and only a few series I regularly subscribe to - Doctor Aphra, Batman and Detective). Well, I guess that means I'm still back issue diving for new-ish comics for a while yet. . .
SO. . .
As you know (or if you're a new reader, you will soon. . .and welcome!), I've been taking a look at single first issues of series I've pulled from the back issue boxes (not the bargain bins) of my local comic shop during this new comic drought. I call this series of Longbox Junk entries "First Issue Fun".
Reading back over the 3 First Issue Fun entries I've done so far, I notice that almost all of them involve established characters being presented to new readers with varying degrees of success. But what about some completely new characters? Characters without any baggage? Fresh and shiny, with that new character smell? Aren't there any NEW characters out there for me to try to get into?
A while back, I saw lots of ads for a bunch of new DC comics falling under the imprint of "The New Age of Heroes". They were promoted as being new characters and teams spinning out of the "Dark Knights Metal" crossover. But since I'm not a fan of bloated multi-title crossover "Events", I never paid any attention to them.
BUT. . .
Digging through the back issue bins at my local comic shop, I came across whole runs of almost every "New Age of Heroes" title (6 full runs out of 8 total titles) and decided to grab the first issue of every one of them the shop had and give them an honest chance because why not?
So, let's take a look at a few and see what's happening with this "New Age of Heroes" thing!
FIRST ISSUE FUN
THE SILENCER #1
CODE OF HONOR (Part One)
SCRIPT: Dan Abnett
PENCILS: John Romita Jr.
COVER: John Romita Jr.
John Romita Jr.'s art has always been a bit hit or miss to me. Fortunately, this cover is a hit! It's a simple character portrait, but the pose, the action, and especially the colors come together and make this one a cover that makes me want to check out the comic. Very nicely done!
Honor Guest is just an average ordinary woman, living an average ordinary life, on an average ordinary street, with her average ordinary husband and son. But things weren't always this way.
Just five short years ago, Honor was known as The Silencer. . .one of the top assassins in Talia al Ghul's Leviathan organization. She paid her dues and managed to get out with her skin intact and with Talia's blessing to start a new life.
But now the past has returned to haunt Honor. After having to fight off an attacker at the grocery store, Honor gets a personal visit from Talia al Ghul, warning her former assassin that Leviathan is in shambles and that Honor's life (as well as her family's) is in danger.
Honor insists that she no longer wants any part of Talia or Leviathan, but another attack drives home that the former assassin doesn't really have a choice in the matter, she's back in whether she wants to be or not.
To be continued. . .
Based on the cover, I was sort of expecting "Female Punisher", but this tale of a former assassin's previous life coming back to haunt her is more along the lines of a Black Widow story. Either way, this first issue of The Silencer follows a very well-worn path. Maybe a little TOO well-worn in this case. It's well written and the dialogue flows very nicely through the story, but the direction the narrative is going was pretty obvious to me from just the first few pages.
I usually don't mind a good "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." classic story hook to get things up and running in my funny books, but at the same time, it just feels a bit lazy and predictable here. The only real surprise was the Talia al Ghul angle.
THAT SAID. . .
A predictable start still leaves room for improvement, so let's take a look at things from my personal expectations of the two things I want from a first issue. Does this introduce characters in a new reader-friendly way? Yes it does. Honor Guest (AKA The Silencer) is very nicely introduced and the reader doesn't need any additional background material beyond this issue to understand her. There IS an expectation that the reader knows who Talia al Ghul is. . .but even that expectation is fairly minimal through a bit of exposition in the story. So well done on the introductions.
As for the second basic thing I expect from a good first issue. . .does it tell a story that makes me want to pick up another issue? Welllllllll. . .not really. Like I said above, The Silencer follows a well-worn story path that I've already been down many times in comics, novels, movies, and T.V. shows. There might be surprises down the line, but this first issue doesn't really make me want to invest in discovering them. I'm not saying it's BAD. I liked this issue. I'd just rather see what other stories there are out there.
As far as the art goes. . .it's John Romita Jr. He's one of those instantly-recognizable artists that you're either going to love or hate. JRJ's art has always been equally hit or miss for me. On The Silencer, it's more on the "Hit" side of the dial, so this is a pretty good looking comic. I think this is some of Romita Jr's best work I've seen in quite a while.
Overall, what we have here is a first issue that nails introducing a new character to readers, but in following an overly-familiar narrative path it stumbles in telling a story I want more of. It's not a bad issue by any means. I'd say definitely give it a try if you spot it in the back issue bins. . .just prepare to know exactly where things will be going from just the first few pages.
OUT OF CONTROL (Part One): LET LOOSE
SCRIPT: Robert Venditti
PENCILS: Tony S. Daniel
COVER: Tony S. Daniel
I'm a fan of Tony S. Daniel's art. . .I loved his work on New 52 Detective, so I'm VERY happy to see his name on this series. Unfortunately, the cover is a bit underwhelming. It's nicely-detailed in Daniels' signature style, but it just seems a bit generic. I'm afraid based on the cover alone that I'm going to be reading a DC knockoff of the Incredible Hulk. Please let me be wrong. . .
Ethan Avery joined the military because he believes that regular people can become heroes, even if they don't wear capes. After serving honorably, he volunteered for a top-secret project. . .a serum that would give him the power to become a REAL hero.
But instead of a hero, he was turned into a living weapon capable of mass destruction, used by a black-ops government organization for dirty clandestine missions against his will. Ethan is now a man who changes into a brutal monster code-named "Damage" once a day for one hour, destroying anything in his path.
Returning from a mission, Avery summons up the willpower to change into Damage and make his escape from a transport plane over Atlanta, Georgia. As the inner soldier tries to mentally control Damage's destructive rampage through the city, he is pursued by Major Liggett, the sole survivor of the unit tasked with guarding Damage during transport.
After defeating and severely wounding Liggett, Ethan manages to convince Damage to go into hiding. Colonel Jonas, the head of the project that turned Ethan into Damage, arrives on the scene of the crashed plane and the creature's destructive rampage, blaming herself for the deaths and for failing to control her pet monster better.
As Colonel Jonas surveys the damage caused by her failure, Amanda Waller and her superhuman Task Force XL "Suicide Squad" arrives to take command of finding and killing the escaped Avery before he changes into Damage again.
To be continued. . .
Looking at the cover, I was afraid that I would be reading a DC knock-off version of The Incredible Hulk. . .and that's pretty much what I got. There are a few differences here, with the military "super soldier" angle, the one hour time limit on Ethan's transformation to Damage, and the internal dialogue between the heroic Ethan and the brutal Damage fighting for control. But even those differences are pretty obvious grabs from Red Hulk (the time limit), Agent Venom (the military experiment gone wrong), and Jekyll & Hyde (the internal struggle for control).
In other words, like The Silencer, Damage is a story that follows an extremely well-worn path that should be already intimately familiar to most comic readers. In this particular case you CAN judge a book by its cover.
But does that make it bad? Not really. This first issue is mostly action, showing Damage's escape from his military handlers and the following battle with Liggett trying to recapture him. There is enough information given during and between the action to successfully hit the first issue mark of introducing characters in a new reader-friendly way. The only expectation put on readers to know anything outside of this issue is in the appearance of Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad at the end.
What about the second mark I look for in a good first issue? Does it tell a story I want to read more of? Also like Silencer, not really. Again, this isn't a bad comic at all, it's just that I've already seen this story several times. There might be some surprises yet to come, but this first issue doesn't really make me excited to read more of what has been presented to me as basically a DC version of existing Marvel characters.
If I want to read about a man struggling against turning into a monster as part of a military experiment, I can just read some Agent Venom comics. If I want to read a modern day Jekyll & Hyde mental battle of conflicting personalities trapped in one body, I can just read some Immortal Hulk comics. So on and so forth. Anything to be found here can already be found elsewhere.
As far as the art goes, no complaints from me about Tony S. Daniels' fine work here. If there's anything that would make me continue to read this series, it would be the art. It's finely-detailed and features interesting angles and great, kinetic action scenes, many of which are spread over numerous double-page spreads. If nothing else, Damage is a great looking comic!
Overall, what we have here is a story that is basically a combination of Marvel's Incredible Hulk and Agent Venom. It succeeds in introducing the character for new readers very well, and it's backed up by some great art, but in telling a story I want to read more of I can't get past thinking I could just read the original stories that this stands on the shoulders of.
Once again, it's not BAD at all. If you spot it in the back issue bin, give it a read for yourself if you're a DC comic fan looking for an Incredible Hulk/Venom story set in the DC Universe. For filling that particular niche, this comic does a good job.
AND FINALLY. . .
THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1
INFERNO (Part One)
SCRIPT: Justin Jordan
PENCILS: Philip Tan
COVER: Philip Tan
WOW! Great colors on this one! A real eye-catcher. Philip Tan definitely hits a home run with this bright, fiery character portrait. You can almost feel the heat from the flames coming off the page. Outstanding work!
Joe Chamberlain is young man with problems. He's trapped in the small town he was born in, York Hills. . .formerly a mining town until the mines played out, then a factory town until the factories moved. Now it's just a dead end he can't escape. No education, no money, no jobs.
The only things Joe really cares about at this point is his sister, Annie. . .who is working her way through a nursing degree, and is the only person with any real prospects of escaping the dying town. . .and his father, who lives in a medicated haze on disability after an accident at one of the closed factories, barely able to keep up the mortgage payments on his meager pension.
Joe Chamberlain is a young man with problems and no way out.
UNTIL. . .
The cold night a mysterious stranger picks Joe up on the side of the road after his pickup breaks down. He introduces himself as "The Salesman" and, after listening to Joe's problems, he makes him a strange offer. . .become an Agent for The Salesman's "Company" and Joe's (and York Hills') problems will be over. All it will take is an agreement and a handshake.
Joe (obviously never having seen any episodes of The Twilight Zone) shakes The Salesman's hand and immediately searing flames begin to consume the terrified young man as the grinning Salesman gloats about how his "Agents" never ask any questions.
Joe is quickly and painfully transformed into a flaming , but still living, figure that The Salesman dubs "Brimstone" as terrifying visions of fiery death and destruction fill Joe's mind.
To be continued. . .
Okay, okay. . .not bad. Of the three "New Age of Heroes" comics I read for this post, I think I like this one the best. It seems a little derivative of Marvel's Ghost Rider (and maybe Image's Spawn), but not nearly as obvious as Damage's Incredible Hulk/Venom influences.
There's not really much to this story in this issue. . .most of the comic is spent establishing the miserable life of Joe and setting the scene of the dying town of York Hills. With a lot of dialogue and scene-setting and not much action (just a couple of pages of Joe's transformation into Brimstone at the end), what this comic reminds me a lot of is something that Vertigo would have put out. . .and as a big fan of the sadly-departed Vertigo imprint, that is definitely a good thing!
Since most of the comic IS devoted to dialogue, character development, and scene setting, I'd say that Curse of Brimstone nails the first marker of introducing characters in a new reader-friendly way. That's really all that this first issue is! We don't get to know much of anything about Brimstone, but we get to know Joe and the misery surrounding him, his family, and the town of York Hills very well.
Does the comic tell a story I want more of? Yes! Admittedly, there are echoes of Marvel's Ghost Rider or Image's Spawn here. . .and the "When you deal with the devil, you better deal carefully" story path was a well-worn one before comic books were even thought of. That said, it works here. I want to see what happens next. Like I said above, this reminds me of the darker, more character-driven Vertigo comics I used to love from DC as opposed to Damage and The Silencer's connection to the regular DC superhero universe.
As far as the art goes. . .Philip Tan's dark and sketchy style also fits the appearance of this being a Vertigo comic. It's not the greatest comic art I've ever seen, and I've actually seen better from Tan in other places (Like Spawn: Godslayer), but it's interesting and definitely helps sell this in my mind as a throwback to the more experimental art that was often found in Vertigo titles as compared to the slick superhero style of Tony S. Daniel in Damage, for example.
Overall, what we have here is a surprisingly good first issue that REALLY throws me right back to the glory days of DC's Vertigo comics. It leans heavily into character development and scene-setting, with very little action to speak of. In doing so, it nails both introducing characters in a new reader-friendly way and telling a story I want more of. If you're a fan of supernatural-themed comics or if you (like me) miss Vertigo, then definitely pick this one up if you spot it in the back issue bins. I'm not sure where the story is going to go from here, but this is a very nice start.
So. . .DC's "New Age of Heroes". Interesting. . .
Based on these three issues, my main takeaway from this short-lived imprint (The only title of the 8 that hasn't been cancelled and is still ongoing is "The Terrifics". None of the cancelled series made it past 18 issues. Three of them lasted only 6 or 8 issues) is that all of them remind me of something else. . .
The Silencer's "Former assassin whose past returns to haunt her" story reminds me of Black Widow. Damage's "Mental struggle between two minds trapped in one body/ Military Experiment turns man into monster" story reminds me of Incredible Hulk and Venom. Even the best (in my opinion) of the three, The Curse of Brimstone, reminds me a bit of Ghost Rider (or maybe Spawn).
Taking just these three titles into account, I can sort of see why the whole "New Age of Heroes" didn't make enough of an impression for most of the titles to even last a year. It's a bit of a shame, because there's some pretty good talent in these comics. None of the three are BAD by any means, and are all worth a read.
It just seems to me to be a wasted opportunity for DC. They had a chance to bring some new characters and stories to comic fans, but sort of fumbled the ball (based on these three issues) by making everything so derivative of things already existing that it seems that nobody really embraced any of it. I'm not sure if they were trying to play it safe by keeping things familiar, but if that's the case, they played it TOO safe and failed.
But like I said, none of these three comics are bad. The Silencer looks like it would appeal to someone looking for an action-packed espionage/superhero tale. Damage takes the more traditional misunderstood man/monster superhero route for fans of straight-up comic book battles. Curse of Brimstone is a dark, character-driven tale of the supernatural that's should make readers who miss Vertigo happy. Of the three, I can give the strongest recommendation to Curse of Brimstone.
STILL. . .
We NEED some new characters and stories from DC. I was excited to think I would be getting something new here and sort of came away disappointed, with a "Been there, done that" feeling. DC tried, they played it safe, they failed. Now I'm sad.
Up Next. . .
Even MORE First Issue Fun!
I have three more "New Age of Heroes" titles I WAS going to do next. . .but I have the sad feeling that they will just be more of the same. But looking over the First Issue Fun entries so far, I notice that of nine issues, only ONE has been from Marvel. So I'm gonna have some Mighty Marvel First Issue Fun to even things out a bit next time.
Be there or be square!