Alpha Flight: Fear Itself #1 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Devon Sanders
Alpha Flight is back! Again. For the… Geez, I don’t even know? What is this the fifth or sixth time? Seriously, I sort of stopped counting with the Omega Flight.
See, the point I’m trying to make is that Alpha Flight’s sort of become the Moon Knight of the Marvel Universe. (Huh. That’s funny.) Alpha Flight, like Moon Knight, seems to be one of those concepts that a writer read when he was a kid and said, “I want to be a writer so I can write Moon Knight someday.” Then, he writes it, realizes that even Alpha’s creator John Byrne only had so much to say and moved on. And then, the next editor or writer who remembered how much he loved it as a kid comes along and the “All-new, all different” Alpha Flight process begins anew usually with them killing an original Alphan or bringing in a new member so that the writer can leave his mark on the title he loved so much as a kid.
This fifth or sixth go-round or as Marvel would prefer my calling it, Alpha Flight: Fear Itself #1, finds the original Alphans Aurora, Puck, Sasquatch, Shaman and Marinna just sort of walking back from the dead following the “war of the gods” Marvel event, Chaos War where they find themselves in the midst of a Vancouver in chaos. (In a case art imitating life, this issue came out the same day the city of Vancouver decided to burn itself down after losing a hockey championship. They do it big up there.) They find themselves in conflict with Atlantean dissidents, the Canadian government and most importantly, themselves and you know what? I really liked it. Conflict is what Marvel does and Alpha Flight: Fear Itself has it in spades. Writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente nail down The Alphan voices quite well, especially and including a haughty Northstar. Artist Dale Eaglesham, as always, provides energetic, solid artwork and a Marinna redesign that I still can’t decide on whether I liked it or not. What’s best about Alpha Flight: Fear Itself #1 is simply that it just moves. It nods at fans nostalgic for the best of the original Alpha Flight while waving a fond “Hello” to anyone who wanted to know what the big deal was some thirty years ago.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Kirby: Genesis #1 (Dynamite, $3.99)
By Adam Prosser
Supposedly, in his later years, after his reputation as a god among comics creators had been firmly established, Jack Kirby was told of another young comics artist who said he wanted to create a comic “in the Kirby tradition”. To which Kirby replied, “The Kirby tradition is to make a new book.”
It would be a bit over-the-top to claim that it’s impossible to follow in Kirby’s footsteps—there are a number of artists and writers who have indeed successfully paid homage to the master, or who managed to do right by characters that he’d created. But to truly capture the spirit of Jack Kirby is a tricky proposition, because the essence of Kirby’s work was to constantly pursue the new. You can capture his mannerisms and artistic elements easily enough, but that’s just pastiche—and imitating what came before is practically the opposite of everything Kirby stood for. So how do you do follow in the “Kirby tradition” AND “make a new book”? I don’t have a handy answer to that question, but Kirby: Genesis, written by Kurt Busiek with art by Jack Herbert and artistic supervision by Alex Ross, at least has a shot at pulling it off.
College student Kirby Freeman (cue eye-roll) is our ground-level viewpoint character into a world suddenly inhabited by superheroes. A pair of enormous celestial figures materialize in the sky one night, taking the form of a pair of figures that were sent out on a plaque on board the Pioneer 10 spacecraft in this alternate reality. (In real life, this plaque was one proposed by Kirby himself to show humanity “as it imagined itself”, but which was never sent out, obviously.) Shortly after the figures materialize and deliver the cryptic message, ‘Show us’, a series of fantastical beings begin to appear across the globe, from the residents of an Atlantean lost civilization to a team of Charlie’s Angels-ish alien cops. But Kirby only becomes personally involved when his friend and childhood crush Bobbi Cortez is transformed into one of the superhumans herself.
This issue lays the groundwork for an entire superhero universe, introducing a flurry of new characters so quickly that none of them really register. Instead, it’s the basic setup and the vaguely suggested premise that have to carry the issue, along with Kirby himself. Exactly what’s going on is, of course, left a mystery, though it’s intriguingly suggested that the sudden explosion of superheroes is a result of aliens encountering (Jack) Kirby’s work via Pioneer 10 and using it as a means to communicate with, or possibly test, humanity. At the moment, though, the “big” concepts are pushed into the background, and the story relies on our connection with Kirby-the-character. Busiek writes him fairly engagingly, with an amusing Ferris Bueller-esque aside to the audience at one point, though he also suffers from being a fairly blatant “fanboy insert” character. Likewise, Bobbi, the object of his affections, has more than a whiff of Manic Pixie Dreamgirl about her, and there are some shoehorned-in pop culture references. Still, he’s a useful mooring point among all the craziness for now; with any luck, he’ll develop in more interesting ways in future issues.
As I mentioned above, consciously aping Jack Kirby’s tics is a sure way to miss out on capturing his actual artistic intents, so in that sense the book is smart to avoid this. What’s interesting is how much the book follows not Kirby’s former work, but Busiek’s and Ross’s. In particular, the story seems to be locked into the same “man on the street looking up at the superhero weirdness around him” structure that Busiek has relied on in the past. Also, there are a few points where the fairly standard comic book art gives way to a different style to indicate the godlike nature of the visiting entities, but it’s not Kirby’s simple lines and expressionistic characters that are imitated; rather, it’s Ross’s distinctive hyper-rendered style. As a result, it’s hard not to feel that we’re reading a new Astro City tale, rather than something that owes more than a passing nod to Kirby.
Still, the characters featured here *are* Kirby’s, licensed from his family and with the proceeds helping to support them, which is nice. Exactly how much of Kirby’s intent will actually be getting through remains an open question—these creations range from aborted Kirby projects to simple sketches that Busiek and Ross have fleshed out in more detail—which is a little unfortunate, since you’d think they ought to be front and center for a book that trades on Kirby’s name. Nevertheless, the King wouldn’t have wanted his characters used for some slavish recreation of his work, so I can’t fault the book in that regard. What he would have wanted was a book that offers the thrill of something new, something weird, something we haven’t seen before, and while the potential is there, Genesis is going to have to try harder to deliver on that promise.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES #1 (Image, $3.99)
By Jeb D.
The necessities of marketing can present a challenge to anyone looking to make a living in a creative field, and this comic is a perfect example of what an obstacle that can be. The fact is, if you’ve read any of the solicitation material, you know that the premise here is, basically, Uncle Sam’s finest vs. Taliban zombies. And no publisher can ignore that: it’s an irresistible hook to get buyers to plunk down their three bucks. But in order to invest the reader in a set of characters that you don’t want to see become human chum, there’s a lot of foundation to be laid and backstory to be told before the limb-munching and brain-devouring begins. And the balancing act is that all this material has to be interesting enough to keep the reader from getting impatient waiting for the dead to walk, but not so compelling that the zombies eventually feel like an intrusion. Writer Mark Sable does a fair job of that balance, but not everyone’s going to take to an issue of a “zombies versus soldiers” comic that never actually gets to that point.
The Hurt Locker is an obvious point of reference for the story of American military personnel serving in a dangerous, often hostile, Islamic country (the story even opens with a particularly disturbing bomb situation). But where Kathryn Bigelow’s film is able to layer sight and sound to create a convincing military environment, the comic writer has to bear down hard on dialog and characterization to achieve the same ends, so both areas wind up being a little on-the-nose, as does the attempt to balance the American’s military mission and training with the perspective of the indigenous population. So, we’ve got a hothead, a sensitive guy, a new C.O. whose approach ruffles feathers… none of it’s terrible, by any means, but it’s all just foreplay, since we don’t get any real “z” action till the last panel.
I can’t fault the gritty art of Paul Azaceta (who co-created Grounded with Sable), or the appropriately dry and dusty color palette of Matt Wilson. But to be honest, I would be very surprised if the average reader missed much of the “meat” of the story (so to speak) by jumping onboard with issue #2. At least you won’t get impatient waiting for the chompin’ to start.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies* #1 (DC, $2.99)
By Jeb D.
Given that Amazons Attack was… how can I put this nicely… not one of DC’s better-received miniseries of recent years, I’m a little surprised to see Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning running a similar playbook in trying to figure out what to do with Wonder Woman and company while the points are flashing.
I suppose the hook here is that the furious Amazons aren’t the angriest people in the book: that’s Aquaman, whose Silver Age identity as a happy-go-lucky fish molester has, in recent years, been grimmed and grittied so that he’s constantly pissed off (usually at us lousy human types, but he’s catholic enough in his spite to pretty much take it out on anyone in the right circumstances). But, lo, his furious heart (there’s a lot of fury in this book) is softened by a plucky Amazon teenager caught in the tentacles of a squiddy, beasty kraken thingy; and after he’s helped her escape (NOT “rescued,” naturally), he tosses his pickup line: “You’re fierce” (delivered with the cheesiest shit-eating grin you can imagine). Diana, naturally, can’t resist this charmer.
Well, we know where that has to lead, and against the advice of a pair of populaces who are both furious and stiff-necked (and I mean literally: artist Scott Clark draws everyone as though they were wearing a stock collar from an old British army uniform), the happy (but furious) lovebirds announce their plans to wed, resulting in an assassination, followed by a melee of furious kicking and furious spear-sticking, with the revelation that [SPOILER] the assassination was part of a devious plot. Somehow, even the fact that these developments will eventually lead to the ongoing story where Diana and company have evidently castrated most of Britain, leaves me unmoved and unmotivated to read further.
I should also mention that the most exciting part of the comic comes in the middle: writer B. Clay Moore (one-time creator of my beloved Hawaiian Dick) and artists Serio Sandoval and Santi Casas, present the story of a team of super-hungry football-players-turned-heroes, who team up with the Justice League to rescue Aquaman from the clutches of the Oceanmaster and Black Manta, with the aid of the oven-roasted chicken, banana peppers, oil and vinegar dressing, and honey oat bread on their Subway sandwiches. The dialog crackles (“We can’t let them get away with that– let’s go guys!” “Yeah, but I haven’t finished my sandwich!“) and Green Lantern’s giant green beach shovel and sand bucket represent a level of visual imagination sadly lacking in the book’s main story. I’m giving this comic an extra half star for this mouth-watering done-in-one adventure.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
*Those of you who read this title as “Furries” should be ashamed of yourselves