Three for Thursday: Independent Comic Reviews: Image Conquers the Day


Every week, I look to share some thoughts on comics released by independent publishers. This week we look at three.

Astronauts in Trouble #1
Writer: Young, Larry
Artist: Adlard, Charlie
Cover Artist: Adlard, Charlie
Published by Image

To say I was hesitant to pick up Astronauts in Trouble #1 would be a massive understatement. For one, I understood the comic to be done in black and white, and while I have enjoyed many comics done in this style, there have been very few recently that offered well-rounded narratives. Another reason I fought against trying this comic out was that I had no sense of the history of the title. The first Astronauts in Trouble story was published back in 1999. Comics and graphic novels would follow, but I had never read them. The cover for this first issue of the new series looked sophomoric as well.

In short, it is hard to try new things some times.

I made a deal with myself though. If I got to the comic shop, handled the comic and still felt uncomfortable, I would not get it. Case closed.

I got to the comic shop. And while the black and white of the book took some getting used to, I found as I was thumbing through the pages that Charlie Adlard, the artist for the title, brought clean lines and just enough detail to pull off the aesthetic. More, in having the story take place in the 50s, the black and white fit with the buzz cuts, cigarette smoking and the distinctive lingo from the era. I was sucked in.

When I got the comic home and read it, I was happy that I had decided to get it. It was one of the more different and fun books I have run into in a while.

The comic centers on a team of popular newsmen, the Channel 7 News team. Backed by big money and recognizable

wherever they go, they are often first on the scene when it comes to news stories. We meet them as they arrive at an officer-involved shooting, where a cop had shot a janitor by accident — only the news team finds evidence that perhaps this story is more complex than first glance. In a barely convoluted way, they end up in South America, following a lead, where they discover the existence of a secret government space program. Supporting characters are introduced, our heroes are taken into custody, and the comic ends with what looks like an act of sabotage.

Mr. Adlard and his writer, Larry Young, deserve credit for establishing a unique world with well-structured characters. I love the language Mr. Young puts into his characters’ mouths. Snappy with a rough edge, this language sets the book apart. The men in this story come from a different time, and the fact that this difference is discernible in the language is a nifty kind of thing. The humor, lightness and generally fun vibe of the book completes the package. I look forward to finding out where the Channel 7 News team find themselves next.

From the publisher:

"The series that brought THE WALKING DEAD artist CHARLIE ADLARD to the attention of ROBERT KIRKMAN has a new home at Image Comics! In 1959, the Channel 7 News team covers a routine homicide that leads them to a mysterious rocket base in Peru filled with Russian spies. All in a day’s work for the most trusted newsmen in America. They couldn’t know their day’d end up with a hot pilot, a fast ship, cheap beer, and spacesuits!"

Tales of Honor #1 (Vol. 2)
Writer: Hawkins, Matt
Artist: Sejic, Linda
Cover Artist: Sejic, Linda
Published by Image/Top Cow

I like a good space opera. Layered storylines with a lot of characters, epic action stretching across the stars, and suppositions of alien life hit me right where I like it. In comics, Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga may be the best example of what I am talking about. He takes us across the universe and back with some of the most interesting and textured fictional characters we have seen. Many, of course, have tried to replicate the feel and success of Saga. Few have succeeded. Creators lean too heavily on one aspect or another of the story or art, and the resulting lopsidedness damages the overall presentation. After reading Tales of Honor #1, I found the comic to fall somewhere between the awesomeness of Saga and the mediocrity of its many copycats. The world-building, characterizations and scripting are all strong. The artist, Linda Sejic, brings a sharp eye and adequate skills to her role.

The story that Ms. Sejic and her writers, Matt Hawkins and Dan Wickline, give us is based on the Honorverse set of books that were published in the early 90s by David Weber. Many other books, short stories and comics followed. From what I understand, Tales of Honor #1 (Vol. 2) is the first original comic series set in this universe. And, as a reader, the universe is fairly accessible. We are drawn in by Honor Harrington, captain of the spaceship the HMS Fearless and hero to her people. She is respected by her crew and appears to be competent and just. She is also easy on the eyes.

The story sets Honor up as she and her crew settle in for repairs to their ship. Before they get too settled, however,

Honor receives a message from her mother, asking her to find out what happened to her uncle. He had gone to an orbiting “pleasure palace” some weeks before and had not been heard from since. Honor agrees to investigate. After conscripting a couple of her crew and obtaining a private spaceship, she heads off to the pleasure palace/space station and the mystery of her missing uncle. Once there she is welcomed by the management. At the same time, though, she finds that management is spying on her and her crew. The comic leaves off just as Honor begins to get a feel for the space station and her hosts.

Functionally, the story works well enough. It hits what it needs to hit, nothing more, nothing less. It’s just that it is so darn linear in its narrative. It starts at point A, makes sure it gets to point B before finishing at point C. Efficient and predictable, and not totally horrible by any means, this strict adherence to plot simply limits what it could be. Readers like a good surprise. The ones Tales of Honor give us seem forced and artificial. Here’s hoping the comic will loosen up in following issues. Let the characters explore on their own and not so much from the dictates of some predetermined plotting.

From the publisher:

"Set in the Honorverse from the bestselling military science fiction novels by DAVID WEBER, this is the first-ever completely original comics story arc! Honor Harrington’s uncle, last seen investigating a Vegas-like space station for its use of Mesan genetic slaves, is now missing and she takes a leave of absence from the military to find him deep in Solarian territory."

Empty Zone #1
Writer: Alexander, Jason Shawn
Artist: Alexander, Jason Shawn
Cover Artist: Alexander, Jason Shawn
Published by Image

In keeping with the sci-fi theme of this week’s comics, Empty Zone #1 introduces us to Corrine White and her futuristic world. Cybernetics, robots and computer enhanced humans appear to be ubiquitous in this world, and Corrine is adept at navigating all of it. Had William Gibson, all those years ago, decided to make comic versions of Mona Lisa Overdrive and his other cyberpunk stories, it would have looked a lot like this, I believe. I actually scoured the credits to see if his name showed up anywhere, so similar I found the two sensibilities. Mr. Gibson is not credited for this story in any way, but maybe he should be. It was his groundbreaking narratives about transhuman adventures and bottom-up storytelling that have allowed stories like Empty Zone #1 to flourish.

Jason Shawn Alexander tackles double duties on this title as writer and artist. His Corrine and the world she inhabits are shadowy and hard. He does not give much back story to Corrine in this first issue of Empty Zone, but going by what he does give us, it seems likely that she has had some kind of military training, or at the very least experience with martial arts. She is tough and knows how to fight. Further, she earns her money by completing semi-illegal data heists and undertaking corporate espionage. With her one cybernetic arm, tribal makeup and hair, she is fun to look at.

She also may be losing her mind. While preparing for a job, she experiences a series of disturbing visions where she sees a dead lover. While they are hanging out, her lover morphs into an animated corpse. Other walking dead show up and they tear her apart. She wakes hours later, fine save for the missed time. The rest of the comic is an enjoyable blend of watching Corrine dive into the nitty-gritty of her work and the unexpected violence that sometimes rears its head when she does so. Mr. Alexander would seem to suggest that the supernatural edge that is hinted at in Corrine’s visions will be a central plot point for this comic moving forward.

I cannot remember anyone combining established cyberpunk aesthetics with ghostly horror (if you do, please leave a comment). And while Empty Zone #1 certainly feels derivative of stories that have come before, this mishmash, along with the art and scripting, have me excited about this title and where Corrine goes from here.

From the publisher:

"Bestselling artist Jason Shawn Alexander (Abe Sapien: The Drowning, The Escapists) returns to the drawing and writing table with an all-new series sure to disturb readers in EMPTY ZONE: Conversations with the Dead, which will launch from Image Comics on June 17.In this sci-fi horror saga, Corinne White attempts to reconcile with the ghosts of her violent past, literally, as she trudges through a world of dystopian cityscapes, reanimated corpses, & ganglands full of animal human hybrids.“I created the idea for this series 20 years ago. I’m finally bringing it to fruition, through Image Comics, and I’m putting everything I have into it,” said Alexander. “I wanted to create a sci-fi series that veers off into ghosts and the supernatural and becomes something completely different.”"

Next: Has Jamaal Charles Lost a Step?

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