Three for Thursday: Independent Comic Reviews: String Divers #1 and More


Each week, Roland Petalver reviews three independent comic books, meaning anything not from Marvel or DC. This week, he looks at three …

Astronauts in Trouble #3
Writer: Young, Larry
Artist: Adlard, Charlie
Cover Artist: Adlard, Charlie
Published by Image

Astronauts in Trouble is not going to be for every fan of comic books. It is a black and white book, there are no superheroes or zombies, and the story takes place in the 1950s. It is also about as simple and linear as a story can get. In three issues, we have been introduced to an adventurous news team that finds a story in a secret rocket base in South America. The U.S. government, in an effort to stay technologically competitive with the Soviets, has funded a space program to run in shadow to NASA and their work with the Mercury program. Led by Col. MacAdam, this secret program is meant to get American astronauts to the moon before anyone else, including other Americans. The program gets sabotaged by a Soviet agent, however. He blows up a large portion of the base. Mortally wounded, the agent makes his way into a rocket ship and lifts off. Col. MacAdam jumps onto the ship even as it begins to fly into the atmosphere.

Which brings us current to Astronauts in Trouble #3 …

What caught my attention most about this issue had to do with the style of the layouts. Each of the 22 pages of the comic are divided into just two panels. Image describes the issue as, “A poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead. A guy got to the moon like he wanted, and ended up not happy about it.” I would never have thought of the issue as a poem, but having only two panels per page did lend itself to viewing the art with a finer eye, appreciating it mostly.

The issue is more or less about Col. MacAdam and his journey to the moon. From clinging to the side of the rocket at lift off to standing alone and dying on the moon’s surface, Astronauts in Trouble #3 attempts a character study, I think, as to what kind of man would attempt such bold action. Maybe. As I said, this series, to date, has been a fairly simple adventure story. Another way to view the issue is to say it covers what happens to Col. MacAdam while at the same time touching on the chaos he left in his wake at the rocket base. In either case, the comic is pretty fun. Between the large panels and having a front row seat to the colonel’s strength and bravery, Astronauts in Trouble #3, draws the reader in and provides a taste of a well done if simple adventure from a different time, when America’s number one priority was to stay competitive with the USSR.

Harrow County #4
Writer: Bunn, Cullen
Artist: Crook, Tyler
Cover Artist: Crook, Tyler
Published by Dark Horse

Harrow County, now on its fourth issue, has been one of my favorite comic titles of 2015. Its whacky premise has had a lot to do with my attraction to the title:  A young woman is the reincarnation of a witch that died at the hands of the townsfolk of Harrow County years ago. The creative team behind the comic put this young woman, Emmy, in many different situations where her intelligence, kindness and toughness come to the fore. She has shown supernatural abilities to heal, communicate with the dead and leverage dreams and visions to see what others cannot. She is an engaging character made more so because the townsfolk, afraid of her, decide to kill her.

But really, what has separated Harrow County from so many of the comic titles I have read this year has been its ability to surprise. Early on, we think we are getting a story about a girl in conflict with a witch. Then we find out she is the witch. The ghosts and monsters that haunt the woods of Harrow County are originally set up as threats to Emmy, when in fact, they are her biggest supporters. When we see the citizens of Harrow County burn a witch to death, we automatically assume their bravery and her malevolence when the truth could not be more different. These surprises have flowed naturally too. It is not some awkward bait and switch that Cullen Bunn, the writer, and Tyler Crook, the artist, have given us. They have built a rich world for us in Harrow County. That practically nothing is as it seems is a credit to both creators for their abilities to do their jobs so well.

Harrow County #4 offers up the most surprises of the series to date. Emmy, alone and running from the townsfolk, finds herself deep in the dark woods. There she encounters a “Haint.” Described as evil spirits of the forest in earlier issues, we find that these elemental creatures were in fact summoned or created by the witch who would one day reincarnate as Emmy herself. These creatures have been roaming the forest since the witch died almost two decades prior, and they have become lonesome and more than a little unhinged. When Emmy, terrified, runs from the single Haint, we get the sense that it will catch up to her at any moment:

"Emmy’s legs trembled with exhaustion. Her heart slammed in her chest. She could barely draw breath. But she didn’t dare stop. She couldn’t imagine it possible that she’d run far enough, that she’d ever feel safe with the notion of stopping …"

But then Cullen and Crook offer up a sequence of surprises that I would describe as no less than masterful. Part of me would like to lay out each and every part of this sequence for you, but another part of me does not want to share. For one, you should totally go out and catch up on this story if you have not already. I do not want to spoil it for you. Two, I would not do the story justice by describing it in a sentence or two. Really, the twists and turns Harrow County #4 throw at the reader make it no wonder that the series has been picked up for development as a television show. Though this story has so many similarities to stories that have come before, we have not seen it done quite like this. It is unique, dark and fun, while simulatenously very, very human. Read Harrow County.

From Dark Horse:

"Kept prisoner by a monster of her own creation, Emmy is forced to confront the truth about the evil witch of Harrow County and the power she wields!"

String Divers #1 (of 5)
Writer: Ryall, Chris
Artist: Daniel, Nelson
Cover Artist: Wood, Ashley
Published by IDW

So, I picked up String Divers #1 based on the description IDW gave it:

"Meet the String Divers! A renegade team called upon to save the universe from arcane threats at the sub-microscopic level! String theory made real, and real thrilling, in ‘Unified Chaos Theory,’ part 1!"

The cover art, also, was instrumental in my wanting to read the comic:

Happily, the story and insides of String Divers #1 more or less lived up to what the cover and outsides were selling. It’s enjoyable to look at. The artists, Chris Ryall and Nelson Daniel, are consistent interpreters of Ashley Wood’s scripting (did you know dudes could be named Ashley?). And the scripting, though contrived, is interesting enough: physicists have figured out how to reduce androids in size, way down to quantum levels. Once reduced in size, these “divers” discover that many physical laws that have so far only been theorized to exist actually do. Thus, “String Divers.” To be honest, I checked out on this comics’ interpretation of physics pretty early. Narratively speaking, what seemed most relevant was that scientists were able to send androids to a different world. That the story seeks to establish this “other place” as subatomic in nature is cool, I guess. But from what I understand of physics, quantum and string theory and common sense, the science that String Divers puts out there is nonsense.

Having said that, the story and comic work well enough. The String Divers discover life forms where no one expected. They discover a world, in fact, no one was sure existed. While exploring this world, they unexpectedly lose one of their own to a magnificent act of violence that should not have been possible.

The handlers of the String Divers, a group of engineers and physicists, are interesting as well. Tasked by governments around the world to explore and potentially defend humanity from subatomic threats, these men and women work out of a secret lab connected to the atom smasher in Geneva, Switzerland. Their solution is to create synthetic life, reducing it in size, and inserting it to these other, subatomic levels. Again, paying little mind to logic, the story works well enough.

I am interested to see where the title goes from here. It would be nice to see some depth to the solid world building we have seen so far. Characters could stand to be a bit more textured, the larger story arc could have a clearer direction, and the overall production could use some polish. If you like speculative stories, however, it is possible to look past what String Divers does not have to see the makings of what could be a an enjoyable, and wild, ride.

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