Written by Charles Soule
Art by Joe Madureira and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Terrigan Mist? More like a Terrigen missed opportunity - despite the fanfare and the hefty expectations, Inhuman #1 doesn't live up to the hype. What was Marvel's big shot for a new franchise seems to fizzle at the launch, as even the legendary Joe Madureira's pencils can't draw together all these bland characters and ill-defined motivations.
The problem with this story is that despite Inhuman #1 being an entry for a whole new segment of the Marvel universe, writer Charles Soule already assumes a bit too much familiarity with the concept, particularly as his narrative is bogged down with leaden exposition on the Terrigen Mists. The story should have a lot of potential - the Inhumans have been cast to the winds, the source of their power strewn across the planet, turning ordinary humans into something extraordinary, uncontrolled and powerful. The problem with Soule's approach, howeverm is that the Inhumans already have a wonderful, colorful cast of characters, with very distinct powersets and personalities, the vast majority of which are overlooked, underutilized or often just plain ignored for the story. Instead, Soule bounces from location to location at a dizzing pace as he retreads old storylines from Matt Fraction's Inhumanity, with a mysterious enemy beginning to collect the cacoons filled with new Inhumans - sometimes for cultivation, but most times for slaughter.
What's more, while soule is trying to introduce a few new characters, like the fire-wielding Dante, he's missing out on the big picture here. It's a poorly kept secret that Marvel is trying to make the Inhumans their new mutants, for the sake of Disney's multimedia empire. But the central metaphor - the persecution angle, the resonant heart and soul of the X-Men mythos - is nowhere to be found. There's a line Soule mentions about not all people with potential deserving it, and while it adds a little bit of tension to know that someone out there doesn't want the Inhuman ranks to grow, there's no human factor here to latch onto. Each of these new Inhumans have the bare minimum of characterization, and as a result, none of them really endear themselves to readers. Combine that with a very scattered narrative focus, and it's hard to root for this book. The Inhumans aren't just without a king (or even a strong central character) - they're without a message.
What will make or break this book, ultimately, is whether or not you like artist Joe Maduerira. His hulking, muscular characters are in full force here, and when he gets to the superhero moments of the book - like Medusa leaping out of a window, holding onto two survivors with her prehensile hair - he really nails it. But this script does not mesh well with his work, as the layouts on the first page, which introduces the doomed Inhuman Kristian, makes it feel like we missed a page of storyline. (Not to mention that it seems like Kristian has a giant head and a little arm.) With Marte Garcia on colors, Maduerira's artwork takes a wispy, painterly quality, similar to Richard Isanove's colors on Andy Kubert on Marvel 1602. But Garcia's colors sap this comic both of energy and mood, particularly as each page has one dominant color that clashes with the page following it.
Right now, the only thing going for Inhuman is style - namely, if you're a fan of Joe Madureira, or are a diehard Inhuman enthusiast. But that's the great tragedy of this book - this was meant to bring in new readers, not to preach to the converted. Right now, we don't even have the great concepts of the glory days of Stan and Jack - beyond Medusa, all these new characters are but shadows of the glory of Inhumanity. Without strong concepts or characterization, Inhuman needs some heart, fast, or this rapidly growing species is in danger of publishing extinction.
Pretty Deadly #5
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The first arc of Pretty Deadly comes to a close with Issue #5, and not surprisingly, it goes out like one might expect any entry in the Western genre – with a bang. However, this is no traditional gunfight as Ginny, Johnny, Sissy, Sarah, Mason, and Molly the Raven take on not only Big Alice, but Death himself as the various plot elements set in motion since Issue #1 come full circle by the story's conclusion. While "Deathface" Ginny has garnered the most attention in this series, and arguably "gets the last word" in the main story, it turns out this series wasn't fully her own. Instead, Pretty Deadly tells the story of Death – of the time it set aside its duties for something else, Nature's attempt to correct itself, and the people who were drawn into this narrative cycle.
The issue picks up with Big Alice confronting Ginny and the rest of the travelers as she seeks to put an end to the threat that Sissy represents to Death. Following the confrontation, the group then seeks passage into the underworld, which provides DeConnick with another opportunity to reveal some of the metaphysical inner-workings of the world she and Rios have constructed. This, of course, leads to the big showdown with Death, which moves in some directions readers will predict as well as others they will not see coming. In all, this final issue of the arc does provide some level of closure for the main story threads; however, there are still questions left unanswered, which will be certain to keep many readers coming back for volume two.
If there is one element to the art in this issue that stood out the most, it was Jordie Bellaire's colors – hands down. I walked away from my first reading of the issue immediately struck by a similar sort of psychedelic horror I experienced as a young child while watching the reality-bending scenes with the Ring Wraiths from Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings. Bellaire's colors create a sharp contrast for Rios' heavily inked images that imparts an otherworldly impression on the reader. Bellaire's choice in colors creates a sense of uncertainty over the setting and whether the characters are still in the real world or not given the charged and supernatural atmosphere in her bright pink, green and blue backgrounds. In other scenes, I almost felt transported to Peter Jackson's "Halls of the Dead" from The Two Towers as the travelers journey to the entrance to the underworld and encounter the Shield Maid. For a comic as concerned with the paranormal alongside the Wild West as this one is, these artistic choices were incredibly effective.
Although I found Rios' line work to be strong, I still struggled a bit with her inking in this issue. On one hand, I felt her inks continued to overshadow some of the finer details and facial expressions in some of her medium and longer shots. For example, in one or two panels during Ginny's battle with Big Alice, it was a bit difficult to discern who was who, and whose arm or leg was moving in what direction. On the other hand, I found Rios' eye for overall composition – in individual panels and the pages as a whole - to be incredibly creative and visually engaging as she shifts the perspective to move the reader from the real world to that of memory and beyond. The spread discussing the Shield Maiden and Death's backstory was a particularly beautiful and effective piece of visual storytelling.
With the conclusion of the story in Issue #5, the use of the dead rabbit and butterfly in their roles as an authorial mouthpiece and the readers' lens (respectively) become more than just clever storytelling devices. We see now that they seem to underscore the aberration in the natural cycle of life caused by Death – and the need to right this wrong (which is highlighted between first two pages of the main story and the one-page short at the end of the issue). DeConnick's use of the battle of the snakes was a particularly brilliant method of foreshadowing the rest of the story to follow. In conflict, it isn't always one of the two combatants who will emerge the victor, and this is something that will play out in this issue.
I've said this in past reviews of the series, and it still holds true up to the end: This is a densely packed comic that does not readily yield itself to its readers in the way many mainstream comics will allow themselves to be quickly read, digested, and placed back on the bookshelf. For a number of readers, this has proven incredibly frustrating because it makes demands of its readers. How does one explain the use of certain images such as the flurries of butterflies and raven feathers? Why is the setting so difficult to pin down – are the characters in another world where rocks mysteriously float in the air or is this simply fog colored in a strange manner? And what's with parable-telling bunny skeleton? What happens with Big Alice?
In part, this book creates different, reality-bending scenarios to force readers to slow down and think about these questions –and more. And while this may prove distasteful for some, others will no doubt find this lends to multiple readings where meaning can slowly be pulled out over time. Some books can be enjoyed quickly, and that's fantastic; still others provide a more subtle and slow satisfaction that is only discovered through several rereadings. This is one such book, and I'm looking forward to seeing how I respond to it a year from now and beyond.
Black Science #5
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The plot thickens with Black Science, as Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera reveal that the Anarchist League of Scientists are playing with even greater forces than they realize. After a few issues that seemed to run in place, Remender and company are suddenly moving fast and furious, as he reveals the identity of the masked man stalking this dysfunctional family of dimensional castaways.
Part of what's made this issue so much better than some of the previous ones is that, for once, Rick Remender is able to take a deep breath and let the audience catch up. Following the breakneck speed of the first arc, it was fairly difficult to read Black Science, but now this comic is more than just a chase sequence in a uniquely drawn environment - there's something more here. Remender taps into his inner Jonathan Hickman here with the greater multiversal conspiracy surrounding the League and its malfunctioning, dimension-hopping Pillar, as McCay's children Nate and Pia are kidnapped by a mysterious man in a gas mask. Is McCay destined to fail over a thousand universes? The Lost in Space comparisons feel more and more apt, albeit with a much darker bent.
The other fun thing about this book is that you can sense Remender is fine-tuning his sense of characterization, pacing and dialogue with this book, and it's fun to watch him play around. There's a real poetry to when Kadir talks about the self-righteousness of our amoral protagonist, and there's a great bit in the intro about why people love liars. You can also see Remender starting to get inside the heads of these characters, playing off their dynamics and backstories in a way that feels natural - sometimes even almost hard to remember unless you've been paying very close attention the past four issues.
The artwork by Matteo Scalera and Dean White is also exceptional. Scalera draws some of the greatest chase sequences this side of Tradd Moore, as there's a real sense of frenetic, forward motion to all of his characters. Scalera's work on these alien worlds is some of the best stuff in this issue, particularly the weird aliens and the cavernous pit that McCay leaps into towards the end of the book. Colorist Dean White continues to make this book evocative and memorable, particularly with his eerie uses of green, orange and purple. Where the artwork falters, however, is in Scalera's character design - maybe it has to do with his panel layouts and compositions, and maybe it has to do with the character coloration and expressiveness, but it's occasionally difficult to figure out which character is which, which muddles one of the big twists in this issue.
If there's anything that continues to hold Black Science back, is that it's still not the most accessible book in the world - there's a lot of backstories, a lot of action, and not a whole lot of differentiation to identify each character. (Indeed, Remember rarely introduces them by name.) There are a lot of small tweaks that could be made to the writing and the art to make this book a more user-friendly experience, as readers spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to make out the action rather than to enjoy it. But if you're an adventurous reader who values style over smoothness, Black Science #5 is still an impressive read.