21 February 2005

Indie Spotlight: February 2005

[From the ridiculous to the random to the superb, a quick roundup of notable indie comics (aka, not Marvel or DC proper, though Vertigo, Icon, Image, et al, do qualify) I picked up in the past month. Release dates may vary.]

Realizing a few weeks back that I didn't have a single Image title on my regular pull list, I decided to shine the spotlight squarely on them this month, taking a look at five of their newest books: Beyond Avalon, Freedom Force, Mora, and, via their Two Bits sampler, previews of The Imaginaries and Lullaby. A mixed bag overall, qualitatively speaking, but a refeshingly diverse mix of genres nevertheless.

First up, the well-conceived Two Bits sampler, a flip-book featuring 12-page, black-and-white previews of The Imaginaries and Lullaby. The former is a clever twist on the Land of Misfit Toys concept, asking the question PIXAR answered in Toy Story 2 so well, what happens to imaginary friends when children stop believing in them? Superhero G is the creation of a young boy who discards him in the midst of his parents' divorce, abandoning him to the "Imagined Nation" to fend for himself. Writer Ben Avery has fun with the idea and creator/artist Mike S. Miller (with Greg Titus) offers some interesting character designs, but the overall tone of the story feels a little too clever, and some of the panel layouts are jumbled making the word balloon sequences read out of logical order. As a sneak peek, though, it's effective enough to make me vaguely curious about the first issue, if not enough to add it to my pull list. On the flip side, Lullaby is a more effective stab at tweaking a concept, as the aforementioned Avery and Miller team-up on the writing chores with artist/creator Hector Sevilla for his intriguing twist on Alice in Wonderland. A young girl and her loving parents, on their way to a picnic, are accidentally run off the road and over the side of a mountain, inexplicably landing the girl, alone, in a fairytale kingdom populated by talking animals and ruled by a mad queen. By sheer force of will, she overcomes her obstacles - "When surrounded by insanity, even a child's mind can stand above the crowd." - and eventually takes her place as "the Hand of the Queen." But she wants nothing more than to return home and, newly empowered, sets out on a quest to do exactly that. The scripting here is a lot smoother than in The Imaginaries, and Sevilla's art is a lot cleaner and more detailed. I'll definitely seek out the first issue and there's a good chance it could become a regular read for me.

Beyond Conan, Mu and Ezra, there aren't a lot of good fantasy, sword-and-sorcery comics being published right now, so I was particularly curious about Beyond Avalon. Unfortunately, the first issue is a by-the-numbers affair, capably written by co-creator Joe Pruett, featuring a princess, an Excalibur-like sword, a missing father, and a quest. Co-creator Goran Sudzuka's clean, simple artwork and Len O'Grady's bright color palette gives it all a cold, flat feeling that lacks any edge, and it doesn't help that the protagonist looks like Barbie: Warrior Princess, either. It's not all bad, but it's not all good, either.

I've never been a big fan of Jack Kirby's art; neither back in the 70s when I first started reading comics, nor in more recent years as he's been raised to iconic status in deserved acknowledgement for his overall contributions to the art. A blasphemous admission, I know, but necessary in context to explain my initial reluctance to approach Freedom Force, a pitch-perfect homage to the Silver Age that looks, to my untrained eye, like artist Tom Scioli has actually channeled Kirby, aping his style to a tee. Based on a computer game I'm not familiar with, writer Eric Dieter delivers an entertaining origin story complete with galaxy-spanning, world-conquering aliens; iconic heroes like The Minuteman and El Diablo; and a cold war-themed villian in Nuclear Winter. His scripting is fast-paced and old school cornball - "El Diablo, modern-day Don Juan and super-hero extraordinaire..." - and it could only work with Scioli's Kirbyized artwork. Tom McCraw's colors, simple and crisp, also help recreate the Silver Age mood. Freedom Force is good old superhero fun the way it used to be and, as long as Dieter is able to maintain his tone and not drift into parody, this could be a refereshing antidote to the serious, quasi-realistic superheroes that dominate the industry today.

For all its many faults, the comics blogiverse has one good thing going for it: a diversity of voices praising, and bashing, a wide range of comics, many of which I may have never heard of or read otherwise. Mora, thanks to Funnybook Musings, is one of them. I am a huge fan of the so-called "labor of love," especially when it's quality work, and Paul Harmon has delivered one of the best first issues of a comic I've read in a long while. Narrated by a terribly scarred tortoise and hare, both nattily attired, Mora is the story of "the GREATEST WITCH," and it starts at the end. The very end, actually, with what appears to be Mora's death at the hands of a feral monster. The tortoise and hare then backtrack to the very beginning, weaving an engrossing tale of the parallel lives of Mora, a girl named Anandra, and "one boy lion cub as yet unnamed." Harmon's prose flows smoothly, like a wizened fireplace bard, and his black-and-white artwork is distinctive and varied, bringing each one of his people, animals and fantastic creatures to vivid life. A wondrous debut issue that has me excitedly looking forward to the next.

Image's final tally? One definite addition to my pull list (Mora), heartily recommended to all; one likely addition (Freedom Force); one maybe (Lullaby), one doubtful (The Imaginaries) and one definite no (Beyond Avalon). My opinion of Image overall has definitely gone up a notch or two.

1 comment:

Ryan Murray said...

Now, just don't expect to get any of those on time. This is Image we are talking about here. *stops, looks around for The Atheist #1* - nope, still not out. Damn.