5.15.2008

Number Ones: Anna Mercury, Echo, House of Mystery, Iron Man, Kick-Ass

by Bill

They’re brand spankin’ new series and number one first issues! But are they any good? Worth spending money to buy and time to read?

Included in this round:


How good are these? Decent? Maybe even genius (er...I mean genious)? Read and find out...

Anna Mercury #1 (Avatar) – by Warren Ellis and Facundo Percio
Echo #1 (Abstract Studio ) – by Terry Moore
House of Mystery #1 (DC Comics / Vertigo) – by Matthew Sturges , Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi, Ross Campbell
Invincible Iron Man #1 (Marvel Comics) – by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca
Kick-Ass #1(Marvel/ Icon) – by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.


Anna Mercury #1 (Avatar) – by Warren Ellis and Facundo Percio

Disclaimer: Warren Ellis could jot random words on paper and I’d more than likely eagerly read each considering it brilliant work.

The first few pages of Anna Mercury made me nervous. Not nervous in the way an idea or concept is unsettling, but rather with wondering if Ellis had maybe hit the wall of originality. Facundo produced some strong layout and artistry page after page, but equal artistry in words from Warren were lacking. When dialogue was present it lacked being something uniquely Ellis. As the end closed in, Anna Mercury had established atmosphere but did not yet hook. Until the final page, when Ellis’ atmosphere and story had baited the hook which was subtly tossed out from page 1 and let to drift until the reader bit on it with the dialogue on the last page.

Armed with the cliffhanger ending, a reread of the issue provided greater insight to the depth of the concept and layering of the story. In getting to that final page, minimal wordsmithing served to strengthen the shock and give the heroine greater dimension. What at first reading appeared to be something of a routine story became poised as a series of questions the reader is left clamoring for.

Anna Mercury serves as textbook for a launch issue: introduce character, give character some identity, set up reader to form a preconception, yank the rug in the last second leaving the reader seeking more.

$3.99 (wraparound cover). Grade of B+/Brilliant (with that ending positioning to an A/Astonishing)

*****

Echo #1 (Abstract Studio ) – by Terry Moore


Terry Moore did not make Echo an easily read first issue. He used a few conceits that challenged the reader to pay attention to words and pictures. Moore was mostly successful, with only a few instances where the art didn’t reinforce the notion of the story. This may be deliberate on his part, but it’s a dangerous plan since it can frustrate the reader rather than hook them.

Moore equally demanded a significant amount of disbelief from the reader. Echo is a blend of military technology, science, science fiction and realism. To establish a relatable world, Moore infused background elements such as bill collectors and deteriorating relationships amidst the more prevalent science/technology gone mysteriously awry. Nevertheless, the reader must believe the first five or so pages, the recklessness of the military on those pages, and “the viscoelasticity of the suit is similar to an inorganic polymer…I’m no rheologist but, I’d say we may have just created the thixotropic liquid of nuclear weaponry.”

The cumulative effect is to give enough intrigue for a return visit to Echo, be that to resolve the question from the last panel or to understand how the opening sequence and the final sequence relate. Moore’s not developed an overly complex beginning in Echo #1, so subsequent issues appear to be creatively challenging so to avoid answering these initial questions too soon while avoiding making them more complex than the setup allows.

$3.50. Grade: B/Brainy

*****

House of Mystery #1 (DC Comics / Vertigo) – by Matthew Sturges , Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi, Ross Campbell


Initial descriptions were reminiscent of James Owen’s Starchild series in which patrons would share tales in exchange for beverages. Admittedly, this conceit plays back centuries (notably Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) so to accuse Vertigo’s new series of plagiarism or idea theft from Starchild would be inappropriate.

Reminiscence aside, it’s the execution that is important. Sturges, Willingham and company had much to work with and a lot against their being successful. With many incarnations of the House of Mystery, several renown and recognized for their achievement, the newest incarnation had to overcome the title’s brand and legacy, reader expectations and ultimately whether the work was successful on its own merit.

I am pleased the House of Mystery team is successful and the first issue is fantastic.

House of Mystery takes a page from many of the previous series and works them as individual stories as well as part of a larger tapestry. The familiar Cain and Abel, complete with obligatory murder of Abel nods to the caretakers and hosts of yore. Which are then thrown into a mystery of themselves that appears to be playing out with subsequent issues. This offers the shorter two tales a reason to exist as stories within the mystery.

Luca Rossi in the opening and bridge scenes serves up a masterful texture of shadows while offering depth to Lee Loughridge’s colors. Luca is stylistically similar to Eduardo Rizzo, but offers his own distinctive structure and layout. Ross Campbell takes a slight nod to Richard Corben or Mike Ploog but equally provides his own individuality. The comparisons serve to reinforce the House’s published legacy and still give readers a distinctive visual experience. Ross gets props for a visually stunning and stomach churning sequence in his and Willingham’s “The Hollows” story, which serves to firmly establish House of Mystery’s supernatural environment in a very creepy, captivating full page shocker.

As with any anthology, whether the whole is effective from its parts is with each reader to determine. All of the stories were effective in the inaugural issue, and they seemed to introduce regularly featured characters which offers readers a bit more value in anthology than simply a 8-page standalone piece. It makes for more complicated storytelling, forcing the creators to keep track of multiple different stories told and untold, but it provides a lot more substance for readers to work with. Hopefully later issues will remain as dedicated to keeping the overall book relevant of itself while offering different creative experiences. If so, House of Mystery will deserve regular reading.

$2.99. Grade: A/Astonishing

*****

Invincible Iron Man #1 (Marvel Comics) – by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca

Fraction does not waste any time with Invincible Iron Man #1. He’s got Tony Stark in billionaire playboy mode, high tech science to Ellisonian degree, a frightening antagonist with Ezekiel Stane, and lots of effective cuts from scene to scene playing off into a larger than life cliffhanger.

More importantly, Fraction appears to be having a great time page after page. This enthusiasm offers readers a fun book. Salavdor Larocca delivers equally fun pages, although those more action-oriented present far more successfully than some of the more establishing scenes.

The real star of Invincible Iron Man #1 is Ezekiel Stane. In a few pages Fraction has introduced an antagonist as dangerous as Stark, both in genius and in power. When Stane said “I used your money and a lot of your lab equipment to upgrade my hypothalamus. See how the projects relate?” the reader was cued to not only Stane’s relating his work but how the origins of Stane and Stark are parallel. That Stark’s was heroic in nature and Stane’s more narcissistic defines the character’s more confrontational conflict of “good” versus “bad”.

It was also nice to see Pepper Pots in more than “Girl Friday” supporting role. Hopefully Fraction will keep some attention on her, as she’s always been a valued but woefully underused character in the Iron Man mythos.

Invincible Iron Man effectively and decisively answers the question of whether two Iron Man series were necessary: certainly, so long as both maintain quality. Fraction’s series earns its shelf-space and a regular buy without question.

$2.99. Grade: A-/Astonishing (close to an A, really)

*****

Kick-Ass #1(Marvel/ Icon) – by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

Millar and Romita Jr. appear to relish in the cruelty they subject on characters in Kick-Ass, be that in the opening sequence or the final page. Whether it is the pubescent fantasy and frustration of the nebbish main character or a random hit-and-run, Kick-Ass savors every painful, embarrassing and real-world intrusion on the hero-fantasy.

Readers knew Kick-Ass to be an irreverent book (if not previously initiated by early reports) with lines such as “That was just some Armenian guy with a history of mental health problems who read about me in the New York Post. I’m the guy with electrodes attached to his testicles” and “The first time I ogled myself in the bedroom mirror I realized how far off the mark the comic books had been. It didn’t take a trauma to make you wear a mask.” Kick Ass would explore in so many other ways just how far off the mark comics had been with several agonizing, brutal, and painful sequences.

Every one of these scenes are glorious.

Made more the glorious with Romita Jr. going all-out on the art (with Tom Palmer, who gives respect to Romita’s style while giving the pencils weight in the manner Palmer’s renowned for). The pages in Kick-Ass are as brilliant as anything Romita’s produced, switching from tough to tender without demeaning the visuals. These are strong pages and worth the price of the issue alone.

Kick-Ass works best when there is a small flame of hope. When it appears the characters will overcome, maybe win against the odds and the reader is inclined to cheer on the protagonist. When hope is dashed, one both feels for the character and is entertained at just how far the fall is.

The book is not for everyone. It’ll offend the hero-worshippers and those needing to cheer the hero to victory in every scene. For those wanting something scrappier, a story kissing both the real and fantasy worlds of comic heroes, for those willing to relish in the abuse – Kick-Ass is captivating and an excellent read.

$2.99. Grade: B+/Brilliant

7 comments:

Dan said...

I really enjoyed Kick-Ass #1, but decided to go the trade route.

I'm looking forward to House of Mystery showing up in next month's batch of books.

I'm unsure about Invincible Iron Man #1 (any comic with 10 different covers is a little off-putting), mostly because I've found Fraction's solo Marvel work pretty bland. But it was on 75c.

And of course I'm waiting for the trade on Anna Mercury. Love the Ellis!

Jon Quixote said...

Why would you praise Ellis if he jotted random words on paper? That seems more like criticism than praise to me - if he's so 'out there' that his fans can't tell the difference between his brilliant works and his incoherent ones, what does that say?

Bill Ritter said...

As Grant Morrison established on the first page of All Star Superman #1, random words can have impact.

Fans will not agree which are brilliant and which are incoherent in many instances. What Dan (fellow Ellis-whore) might view as incoherent I read as avant garde. It's not a matter of knowing the difference, it's appreciating what the final work represents and its meaning to oneself.

No criticism was truly intended...primarily my point was I'll purchase anything by Ellis, and enjoy the reading experience. In the case of Anna Mercury, my enjoyment was made more so with the last page reveal.

The General said...

I understand what Bill is saying. I think that certain writers, half the appeal is the rhythm and style of their writting as much as the actual content of the story. And, if I have a writer I enjoy - I'll probably enjoy their mindless ramblings more than I would enjoy even the most excellently constructed story by a writer who's style I find lifeless or tedious.

Jon Quixote said...

"Doomed Planet. Desperate scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple." Those aren't random words. That's a stripped down version of Superman's origin. Random words would be like: "Deodorant Pancake. Nose October. Pepper Astronaut. Zelig Shuttlecock." Has Morrison done it again, or am I just contributing to a growing tendency to deify, often to great critical detriment (see Byrne, John. Claremont, Chris. Maybe even Spielberg, Steven. And so forth).

The General said...

"Deodorant Pancake. Nose October. Pepper Astronaut. Zelig Shuttlecock."

Oh! That sounds good! I'd buy that!

Doug Smith said...

Bill, have you read THE ORDER? It spun out of Civil War, was written by Matt Fraction, and featured Tony Stark in a supporting role, Pepper Potts in a fairly major role, and was (if I'm not mistaken) the introduction of young Mr. Stane. One trade paperback is out, and the other is coming soon.