Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reviews of FREEDOM FIGHTERS #1 (DC Comics) and THE SCOURGE #1 (Aspen Comics)


Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art: Travis Moore
Publisher: DC Comics

“Um...I know its a cliche, but Houston, we have a problem.”
-- Human Bomb

Yeah. It's the Freedom Fighters. Name 'em all: Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, Human Bomb, The Ray, Dollman, Firebrand, and The Red Bee (maybe also Miss America and Manhunter, a cheap rip-off of The Spirit). Basically, all the Quality Comics heroes from the 40s except for Plastic Man and the Blackhawks. I was first introduced to them in one of those multi-issue JLA epics in the 70s that teamed up the JLA of Earth-1 with the JSA of Earth-2 and the Freedom Fighters of Earth-X. As established within the DC continuity at that time, the FF lived on an Earth where the Nazis won WW2 and they continued to fight the fascist tyranny in the modern day. Years later, the Earth-2 series ALL-STAR SQUADRON retconned the FF as originally inhabitants of Earth-2, but who crossed over to Earth-X to help fight the Nazis there.

Establishing the characters on the alternate Earth gave them a powerful iconic position as, rather than forgettable members of a legion of costumed characters, the sole super-powered heroes of an Earth perpetually embroiled in an endless World War of brutality and oppression.

Then the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS series changed all that and plunked the team back into a continuity that didn't seem to need them. They were outdated, kind of silly, what with the half-naked lady and the corn-pone patriotic cliches spouted by Uncle Sam and the walking “pull-my-finger” joke, The Human Bomb. I do you make this team relevant to the modern DC Universe?

Enter Grant Morrison.

Morrison came up with some whacked out concept for reimagining the team for the modern day that gave them a unique place in the DC Universe. Now, they are tied into the S.H.A.D.E. (super-secret political organization) that sprung out of his SEVEN SOLDIERS project. In other words, the FF deal head-on with political intrigue/ideology, super-heroics, and delightfully twisted villains.

I am a fan.

I bought both the 2006 and the 2008 mini-series written by Palmiotti and Gray. In fact, I believe I even named the 2006 mini-series as a “Best Of” that year in the @$$ies. If I didn't, then it was a close call. So, yeah, I'm pleased to see this new FF ongoing on the stands. Although, if I might digress, I am only committing for 1 year because of Dan Didio's apparently new policy to never keep a team on an ongoing more than a year at a time to “keep it fresh.” “Keep it fresh” to me is just a signal to me to “drop a title” just like I did on POWER GIRL, BOOSTER GOLD, JSA, BATMAN & ROBIN (when the creative team switches in a month or two), etc. With monthlies priced like they are, it's always nice to know that I only have to commit for a year to a new DC title.

This first issue beats the pants off of many other first issues I've been reading lately. I do read a lot of first issues because I'm always looking for the next great thing. But very few ever make me want to pick up the second issue...and even fewer make it to the third. This is good old super-hero action and intrigue. No pages and panels of team members sitting around chit-chatting and sipping coffee. Nope. We kick off the book with Black Condor and Firebrand taking out a neo-Nazi super-villain group calling themselves “The Aryan Brigade” with some outstanding losers like “Bonehead” (who has, yep, bony spikes sticking out of his head). Then the story shifts to the Human Bomb landing a spaceship on an asteroid headed for Earth. Mission? Blow up the giant hurtling rock. Problem? HB discovers the asteroid is actually inhabited by some humanoid alien creatures. The story promptly shifts the action back to Earth where Phantom Lady and Ray encounter a small town full of alien-zombie-fied humans.

Once the Earth is safe again (a feat accomplished through highly entertaining means), the team is reassembled by Uncle Sam for a meeting with the President of the United States to undergo a mission to recover a Doomsday Weapon apparently hidden beneath Devil's Tower by the Confederacy back during the American Civil War. exciting cliffhanger that makes me already start counting down the days until issue 2 hits the stands.

So, here's the deal. Palmiotti and Gray know how to write solid, entertaining comic books. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about humorous super-hero (POWER GIRL), serious super-hero (HAWKMAN), western (JONAH HEX), or time travel (TIME BOMB). It's always always good. FREEDOM FIGHTERS is no exception. In fact, it allows them to play around with the more...psychedelic world of the Morrison concepts...and still give the reader a good, rousing super-hero adventure.

I don't know who Travis Moore is, but he does a bang-up job on the art.

Great characterization. Great pacing. Great concepts. Great art. All adds up to a great little comic book.


Writer: Scott Lobdell
Art: Eric Battle & David Curiel
Publisher: Aspen Comics

“You want impossible?! Turn around!”
-- Unnamed Cab Driver

This is a funny comic to review. It's difficult to truly assess it on its own because it's one of those first issues that is essentially the first 15 minutes or so of a movie. As a monthly comic book, it may be a good chapter in a graphic novel, but as a stand-alone floppy....I'm not sold on it.

THE SCOURGE is not a “bad” comic. That is clear. It lets fly the opening salvos of a monstrous assault on humanity and I see the potential inherent in the idea even if it is very derivative in some parts--particularly derivative with what look almost exactly like the “eggs” from the ALIEN film franchise as the source of infection for this transformative plague. The vampire and zombie obsession of the last decade doesn't show any sign of lightening up anytime soon, and the splinter concepts like THE SCOURGE feed off that interest. In this case, instead of vampires, zombies, or werewolves...we now have people infected with something that causes them to transform into living and breathing gargoyles.

The lead hero is a police officer named Griffin, who we learn through his internal monologue, has some personal problems. It is he and his best buddy, Newburgh, who are out on a mountain climb and encounter the aforementioned “eggs” and experience the subsequent infection and transformation of Newburgh into a monster. End of Act 1.

In evaluating why the comic didn't totally work for me, I've gone back through and tried to isolate the writing, art, or both and see what works and what doesn't.

The art is decent. Eric Battle can draw. There's some flaws, but generally, he seems to be a good storyteller and an above average penciller. I'd actually have preferred to see a separate inker on his work to see what someone else could bring to his pencils as far as mood and detail. The dialogue is good, though the cabbie saying “For fig's sake...” had me flashing back to things like “Sweet Christmas!” and “Holy Cripes!” It's a puzzle. Why does the combination not work like I think it should? I'm stuck, once again, having to focus on the pacing of the story. There are lots of panels, but not a lot happens from page to page. In other words, it seems to me that a lot more needed to happen in this comic to hook me. I'm curious about where the plot goes from here, but by the end of this first issue I am not particularly concerned about the lead characters.

Writing serial fiction is not as easy as it seems. The process of structuring individual stories to be able to stand on their own merits and still be a smaller piece of a larger story is a learned skill. Again, not a bad first chapter of a graphic novel or first act of a movie, but for an individual comic book it really needs to be more substantial for me to commit to the individual issues. Instead, it inclines me to prefer waiting until the first storyline is collected so I can get a whole story.

In sum, THE SCOURGE #1 is a decent set-up for something big, but rather than make me want to commit to the monthly it made me want to wait for the trade.

1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to pick up the trades of the original FF miniseries, just haven't gotten around to it yet. Sounds interesting.


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