Eight bullets

In my last post, Number one with a bullet, I considered the pros and cons of new #1s. This time I’m looking at eight newly launched titles, and explaining why I will or won’t be back for issue two.

Black Widow #1 – An entertaining done-in-one story that argues the best way to launch a series is to establish a strong take on a character, rather than setting up future stories. Nathan Edmondson’s and Phil Noto’s Black Widow is motivated by the sins of her past, a desire to do something to make up for them, and the belief that her efforts will never be enough. The creative team do a great job staging the espionage sequences, but also handle the quieter moments with aplomb. Noto’s art deserves special praise; his loose lines echo the questionable morality under which Natasha Romanoff operates, whilst the muted colours ground her in the real world, far removed from the superheroics of the Avengers. It’s always nice to have your expectations greatly exceeded, and this is a series I’ll definitely return to.

Dead Body Road #1 – Feels a bit too familiar. Writer Justin Jordan uses too many tried-and-true tropes, taking the most obvious elements of crime fiction and revenge thrillers and failing to assemble them into anything new. And whilst artist Matteo Scalera’s rough and ready work is a great fit for the material, it fails at establishing a unique visual identity. With a creative team this talented these problems might be addressed in future issues, but first impressions count for everything, and this one left me cold.

Harley Quinn #1 – I picked up #0 and was glad I did – the meta, breaking-the-fourth-wall tale felt like a welcome antidote to the grim-and-gritty gloom and doom that is a staple of much of the New 52. But #1 is much more straightforward, and much less interesting for it. Harley Quinn has inherited an apartment block in Coney Island, and is trying to figure out how to pay the upkeep. Adding to her problems, various assassins are chasing the bounty that’s been placed on her head. It’s not a bad status quo for the character, but the (largely unfunny) humour and extreme violence don’t sit well together, and Chard Hardin’s artwork veers towards cheesecake a little too often (sunbathing? at night?). Ultimately, it’s a bit of a misfire.

Loki #1 – It’s amazing how a second reading can completely change your perceptions of something. First time round, I had this issue pegged as a fun enough little romp, with Al Ewing writing a quick-witted, sharp-tongued, but ultimately lovable Loki and Lee Garbett’s exaggerated expressions adding hints of both melodrama and humour. Yet a second read revealed a dense meditation on the nature of identity. Unlike Black Widow, Loki’s mission is not so much to atone for his sins as to have them stricken from the record. To that end, each mission he completes results in one bad deed being purged from Asgardian history, a deal he believes is fair. But he’s fighting not just against the past, but against himself – his determination to avoid falling into old patterns is genuine, but the sense that such a fall is inevitable lingers over the book, a point the final page hammers home. If future issues continue to explore this territory Loki will stand out as one of the most ambitious Marvel titles on the shelves.

Ms. Marvel #1 – It’s easy to root for Ms. Marvel without even opening the book. A teenage female American Muslim in a lead role is hardly the sort of diversity mainstream comics are known for, and it’s fantastic to see new character Kamala Khan given this kind of spotlight. Fortunately, the end product makes for a fantastic read. Kamala’s alliterative name is no accident – Ms. Marvel #1 doesn’t try and disguise its debt to Amazing Fantasy #15, presenting Khan as a socially adrift teen who longs to be something more. G. Willow Wilson’s ear for dialogue and Adrian Alphona’s beautiful, unfussy art create a world featuring believable characters you’ll want to spend time with, including a family Khan loves and is exasperated by in equal measure and friends who have their own hang-ups. An excellent debut.

The Punisher #1 – Nathan Edmondson’s second All-New Marvel NOW! title is less successful. The action scenes paint Frank Castle as something of a generic action hero (“Don’t touch my gun”), the first-person narration is overwrought, and the banter he trades in his local diner doesn’t really suit the character. Mitch Gerads’ kinetic artwork is perfectly suited to the carnage Castle wreaks, but that’s not enough to overcome the other flaws. One of the least successful Marvel NOW! launches to date.

The Saviors #1 – What if your sleepy little town was inhabited by aliens that’d disguised themselves as humans? That’s The Saviors in a nutshell. J. Bone’s black and white artwork is deserving of praise, particularly the early scenes of protagonist Tomas Ramirez living his lazy life. Alas, writer James Robinson takes repeated trips to the “As you know, Bob” well when establishing characters and setting. “You come out here and we smoke it up once in a while…”, that sort of thing. It’s so shameless it almost becomes endearing, but in the end it’s bad writing by someone who should know better, and makes it impossible for me to recommend the issue.

Wolverine #1 – Has Wolverine really turned evil? And given that the answer is almost certainly no, how do you build a series pretending that the answer is yes? It’ll probably take a few issues to find out: we join the tale in media res, with Logan already gone bad and working with a team of ne’er do wells. Taking the credit is The Offer, a man who always knows what to offer people to get them on his side. But exactly how he won Wolverine over remains a mystery. Meanwhile, a handful of flashbacks further the idea that Logan is struggling to cope with the loss of his healing factor. The issue is surprisingly light and breezy, choosing humour more often than sentiment, and even Ryan Stegman’s art has a hint of nudge nudge, wink wink about it. Then again, how could a book starring a body-armour-wearing, gun-wielding Wolverine take itself seriously? Entertaining enough, but I don’t buy into the premise, which is what Marvel are trying to sell the series on. That conflict means I won’t be buying #2.

So Black Widow, Loki, and Ms. Marvel have all won me back for their second issues. In a few weeks I’ll check back in on how the titles are progressing. And no doubt I’ll be buying even more #1s in March, and discussing them on this very blog!

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