Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
By now, you might have heard about Descender. Announced at last year’s Comic Con International: San Diego and not due on the stands until March, the new ongoing title from Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen has already been optioned for the big screen by Sony and the buzz has found the book covered by mainstream media outlets like Entertainment Weekly. That’s a lot of pressure, but at its heart, Descender is about a lonely robot trying to find his place in a world that’s seemingly left him behind. The title owes a lot to the stories that have come before it. Coming-of-age tales like The Neverending Story and Little Nemo spring immediately to mind, while Nguyen’s artwork feels indebted to 2001: A Space Odyssey and even at points, Alien. While the influences can be felt, the result is something that feels very new and exciting.
Descender hits on a lot of themes that are readily apparent throughout Lemire’s comic book output, but more than anything, there’s a certain, special kind of loneliness that abounds. In a lot of ways, the protagonist is similar to Sweet Tooth’s Gus. They’re both young boys without much in the way of a family who feel lost in a world that is essentially seeking to destroy them. Lemire’s work almost always positions his main characters as “others” in their world and we get that from the boy android Tim as well as roboticist, Quon. Tragedy has struck both of them and it affects how they relate to the world. They’re two sides of the same coin and Lemire sets up an interesting relationship dichotomy between them. What we learn about the both of them in this debut issue provides the potential for Lemire to go in a few different directions depending on what he hopes to relate about transhumanism and just the human condition in general. Tim is an easy character to love and right now, he looks to be the most popular robot in fiction this side of Big Hero 6's Baymax and Wall-E.
Dustin Nguyen has been a well-respected artist for years at this point and if his involvement in a sci-fi space epic didn’t pique your interest in the slightest, you may be dead inside. The creative team has spoken about giving each locale it’s own distinct visual language and Nguyen’s watercolor approach gives the title an interesting feel. The book starts out with lots of wide open white spaces, a fairly traditional presentation of a futuristic society, but as the narrative ramps up and the reader is introduced to more concepts and the passage of time, the pages begin to be packed with more and more information and color. That’s not to say that the pages are overly busy but there’s a sense of discovery inherent in the artwork. The best sections feature Tim in the solitary emptiness of his home. Washes of blue and green fill the nooks and crannies of the abandoned station, communicating the eeriness of being alone. It’s chilling.
Descender is an stunning debut. It’s obvious why Hollywood jumped on this train early. Lemire and Nguyen are building their world at a rapid pace without leaving their characters behind. They’ve created enough questions to entice readers to read the next issue but haven’t forced too many concepts that the main narrative gets lost. Science fiction is experiencing a new renaissance in recent years and Descender looks to be finest addition from the comics medium since the debut of Saga.
Miami Vice Remix #1
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Jim Mahfood and Justin Stewart
Lettering by Jim Mahfood
Published by Lion Forge Comics and IDW Publishing
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Appropriate f-bombs and sinister drug deals deem this remix an odd and impressive upgrade from network tame to HBO wild. Joe Casey, Jim Mahfood and Justin Stewart each bring a distinct creative spirit to this iconic and trend-setting team of undercover cops.
Quintessential palm trees, Atlantic waves crashing and splashes of pink from a few flamingos open Miami Vice Remix #1 as Crockett and Tubbs are breaking all kinds of rules on the streets of Miami Beach. No surprise there, and that’s good because it feels nostalgic. The distinguished modernity is in Mahfood and Stewart’s art.
When reminiscing about Miami Vice, the aesthetic of Jim Mahfood isn’t anywhere near the ballpark of that memory. But it will be from here on out. It’s the kind of stylization that you either love or hate, but you really ought to love it. There’s a playful irreverence to his style which fits right into the vernacular of Rico and Sonny.
Miami Beach brings to mind bright colors and blue skies. Justin Stewart’s colors not only capture that essence, but he takes it a step further and punches up Mahfood’s lines with unexpected uses of color like the dark green cityscape and bright yellow panel accents. The color of the issue is just as integral as the lines and story because it emotes such a powerful presence. Especially when the stakes sky-rocket, and the art vibes ominous with dense uses of negative space, making for a bit of abstract foreshadowing.
While brilliant color may be a go-to trigger for denoting a Miami setting, this Florida girl thinks of the linear nature of the art deco buildings and gridded streets. Mahfood cleverly bends those straight lines making the boulevard look like he’s been sipping tea with Salvador Dali. Of course, Mahfood’s sketched out lettering only compliments this funky freneticism.
Where the art thrives off of kinetic energy, the story suffers. The first half of the issue moves rather seamlessly and the stride feels good. Then, as things get darker for the city of Miami and Tubbs and Crockett, the plot juts around quickly and unexpectedly. The rough starts and stops on the tail end of the issue not only pull you out of the story, but end on a low note. All things considered though, the content of those twists and turns do add a nice layer of interest to what could have been an utterly predictable first issue. Casey makes an honest effort in exposition as this deviant duo clumsily heads into uncharted territory.
While exposition is part-and-parcel to a first issue, so is some character development. This is where Miami Vice Remix #1 is also lacking. It relies too heavily on the icon status of Tubbs and Crockett, assuming the reader has some previous knowledge of the characters. While that may be enough for many, Miami Vice happened 30 years ago, I think there are some who wouldn’t be so quickly charmed by good cop/bad cop one-liners.
For the leaps and bounds of aesthetic innovation in this issue, it is tempered by a clunky plot and too easy character moments. Still, the novelty is enough to spend the cash and hope for some better juju.
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Trevor Hairskine
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
For one of the first original properties from the successfully revitalized Valiant, Divinity #1 brings together two of the most interesting incarnations of science fiction together, as the optimistic and fantastical pulp novels of the early 20th century meet the paranoid and harsh competition of the space race. It's a relatively successful marriage, but not one completely without fault.
Orphaned on the doorstep of the Russian foreign minister at the end of World War II, Abram Adams (incidentally, how could you not become a super-human with an alliterative name like that?) grows up to become a poster-child for Russian superiority. In peak physical condition and a gifted scientist, the Soviet government hand-pick Adams for a 30-year expedition to the furthest reaches of the universe. In 2015, a cocky climber called David falls to what should have been his death. Stranded from his party and suffering a brutal head injury, he falls in with a native tribe. Cue the returning Adams, who seems more than a little different...
The basic story is solid. With Russia weighing heavily on the world's mind, remembering the paranoia and dedication to science over morals that fueled the lengthy Cold War make for a compelling story. Divinity #1 is a comic book of arrogance and hubris, so it seems fitting that Matt Kindt's script reads like a lurid documentary. Each panel is packed with lines and lines of redundant exposition. (“This is how David Camp became lost,” announces the script, as one very lost man walks through the desert.) It's narration for narration's sake, and it's utterly unnecessary. On a more positive note, Kindt uses the extra length afforded by Valiant Next's prestige format to highlight Adams' determination and struggle. The bulk of the issue is spent showing Adams' physical and mental development, while a board of government officials calmly debate his fate in outer-space. Adams' tragic yet inspirational character is one of the high points of the entire issue, although his stern demeanor and puzzling powers at the issue's climax suggest a dark turn for the transformed cosmonaut.
Penciller Trevor Hairskine knows how to draw a stoic face, but seems less able to illustrate happiness. The single panel which called for smiles came out more like smug sneers. Luckily, the script calls for sternness 99% of the time, which is rendered ably. Hairskine's real strengths are in his ability to render absorbing and detailed backgrounds, attacking a Soviet classroom and a verdant jungle with equal enthusiasm.
Colorist David Baron accurately reads the tone of each scene, reflecting each stage of Adams' journey with a unique tint. From the somber grays and purples of Soviet Russia to the fiercely warm oranges and cool summer blues of David's attempted journey back to civilization, Baron has a shade for every emotion. It's a nice change from the norm, as modern colorists tend to pick a single tone and focus on that palette throughout the entire issue. Although cohesive, such a tone can seem a little repetitive 20-odd issues in, and Baron's ever-changing palette works remarkably well.
Although the narration tends to distract more than help, there is one particular page where the entire creative team comes together in perfect synergy: a dream sequence, in which Adams' imagines himself leaping under a yellow moon set on a purple sky. He meets friendly aliens and introduces himself to their beautiful queen; all powered by the pulp novel he was reading at bed-time. It's a sequence straight out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, and it provides a nice character moment for the otherwise aloof Adams.
Divinity #1 is unashamedly an origin issue for its two unfortunate protagonists, offering nothing in the way of a supporting cast and very little progression past Adams' and David's stories. As such, it's almost impossible to see where Divinity is going; which is a somewhat questionable decision for a four-issue miniseries. Despite the intrusive narration, detailed artwork and thoughtful coloring combined with a gripping premise make for a solid book with great potential for issues to come.
Written by Jimmie Robinson
Art by Jimmie Robinson
Lettering by Jimmie Robinson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
When comics historians look back at the last couple of years in genre waves and troughs, “dystopias” and a renewal of interest in science fiction might just be one of the leading chapters. It’s unsurprising given that we are at a similar time of hyper socio-political awareness to past spikes in sci-fi interest, and the return of “relevant comics” comes with increasingly interesting ways to couch commentary in narrative. With Empty, Five Weapons creator Jimmie Robinson not only taps into this zeitgeist but draws upon a legacy of post-apocalyptic wastelands that will undoubtedly spark recognition with a number of readers. Yet at its core, it’s an action-adventure story as well, and this is where the multi-talented Robinson’s strengths are.
After a brief prologue set in a utopian society, Robinson thrusts us headlong into a less than ideal barren landscape, filled with unfamiliar creatures, like a horned fox. Stricken by a cancerous root system that destroys all life and vegetation, a lone hunter is found in the desert. Tanoor, covered head to toe in scars and bandages, is running out of meat to hunt, but the elders insist that hunting out the source of the roots is folly. However, when Tanoor encounters the seemingly alien Lila floating in the river, a chance emerges to restore life to the village and put an end to the blight.
From the opening pages, in which a creature is chased into and eviscerated by Tanoor’s waiting blades, Robinson barely pauses for breath in this first issue. Despite a fair amount of exposition, and establishing the central conflict between the traditional and the progressive elements of the village, the story moves along at a pace. The structure is one that we know, and draws from the same kinds of narrative thread that held Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo’s Debris together, and in turn Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The common themes it shares with all of the hero’s journey monomyth actually allows it plenty of room for world building.
Empty‘s art style is based in pseudo-ancient Egyptian design, from the elder’s robes to the structures of the villages by the river. Yet it could be anywhere, which is what makes it universal. The elongated limbs of Tanoor feel otherworldly, and Lila’s character design is even more alien to compensate. Robinson has an eye for framing action in a cinematic way, and the climactic chase in this issue feels like it stepped out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Robinson’s choice of lettering, eschewing with speech bubbles and relying on stylized connecting lines, is incredibly effective in directing the eye in a particular direction. There are, however, a handful of times when the sheer amount of text in a small panel threatens to overwhelm without the traditional structure, but this is the pickiest of nitpickings. Empty is a handsome book to look at.
As familiar as some of Empty’s elements might be, it’s a strong debut to this new series. All of the pieces have been set up in this opening chapter, and while the path seems relatively clear for Tanoor and her strange companion, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be this fun along the way.
Help Us! Great Warrior #1
Written by Madeleine Flores
Art by Madeleine Flores and Trillian Gunn
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The Great Warrior is powerful, brave and confident. She’s also super lazy.
That last part is what made me fall in love with the character on the first page of the book. In Help Us! Great Warrior, Flores has created a slice-of-life story, but the life we are looking into is both fantastical and wholly relatable. The series is a counterpart to the webcomic of the same name, similarly quirky and full of fun gags. In this first issue through BOOM! Studios, however, Flores seems to be spinning the thread of a plot that will reach through the span of the title. Her efforts have produced a truly enjoyable book accessible to all ages and teeming with positive representation.
The thing about the Great Warrior is that she’s an atypical female hero, and not only in appearance. Though she is definitely not human in shape, she still conveys all the charm of any carefree young woman we might know who also happens to wield incredible power. That said, she sometimes priorities herself above her duties, as we are all prone to do, she has moments where she seems a touch self-conscious, and she values sweets over almost everything else. Still, she’s fierce in battle, and when Hadiyah urges her to defeat the demons that have encroached on their land and threaten lives, she does so impressively (even though it does take her a little while).
Within the first issue we’ve learned a great deal about the character and, despite her penchant for staying in bed rather than saving the world, she’s absolutely lovable. Her friends are loveable, too, with Hadiyah serving as the leader, voice of reason and motivation in most cases and Leo offering support as the Great Warrior’s best friend. I’m especially pleased with their unique and easily recognizable designs (Hadiyah’s eyebrows are fantastic). Representation is important, also, and here the only two human characters excel as well, with Hadiyah’s name and attire clearly suggesting a Muslim background, and Leo’s name change subtly hinting at her identity as a transgender woman.
Speaking of designs, Flores’ art is a delightfully, sugary brand of cute that works well with the theme of the book and pairs beautifully with Trillian’s color work. With such a rainbow at work through every page the panels could be garish, but instead the palettes have been chosen carefully enough (and the backgrounds muted enough) that it all works together in candy-colored pastels. The characters are also highly expressive; even the Great Warrior, as simplified as she is in form, clearly projects whatever she’s feeling.
A testament to this book is that if you were to remove all the dialogue and text, you would still be able to understand almost everything happening and all the associated emotions for each member of the Great Warrior’s party. This fact is what, in my opinion, cements the title as a fantastic all-ages comic, though I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll gladly pick up the next issue as an adult.
Satellite Sam #11
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Howard Chaykin
Lettering by Ken Bruzenak
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“You’re all a goddamn circus, and you killed him,” exclaims Martha Danning in the middle of her husband’s wake; funny thing is, she isn’t entirely wrong. Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s seedy look into the Golden Age of Television is stocked with characters that can only be described as reprobates and perverts but, at least they all have each other and they have the job. As Satellite Sam’s closing arc chugs toward its conclusion, #11 slows down the forward momentum of the plots that Fraction is juggling in order to allow the characters to mourn the loss of one of their own, uniting them all in a shared melancholy even while their individual dramas threaten to swallow them whole. The LeMonde Network may be a circus, but after it loses its ringleader, at least the monkeys know to grow silent, even if the silence is short-lived.
While the death of director Dick Danning is a pallor that hangs over the entirety of Satellite Sam #11, Matt Fraction isn’t about to allow us to forget just how deviant some of the main characters are. The issue opens with a hilariously inappropriate breakfast conversation between LeMonde’s head, Ginsberg, and his man on the FCC Commission, Reb Karnes. Fraction has never been one to shy away from these character’s kinks, but this exchange which finds the good doctor finds himself having coffee with the politician while Karnes’ wife serves as his footstool, complete with ballgag and constricting corset, might be the first one completely played as a joke; the real feat being that it lands and lands hard. Fraction also gives us another great punchline at a different breakfast table as he bookends a scene of Eugene and Eve discussing their options amid the racial pressures of the time with a clever visual turn starring newlyweds Maria and Guy. As Maria sips her morning coffee, a man exits their bedroom with a smile and a jaunty “good morning” to her. Seconds later her new husband steps out with the same smile on his face and a powerful thirst. Both Fraction and artist Howard Chaykin play these moments simply and straight as both last night’s hook up and Karnes’ wife are entered into frame with little fanfare and scenes happen organically around them. Satellite Sam rarely goes for straight up gags, opting instead for acidic turns of phrase and wordplay, but these two bits really go for it and add some much needed levity to the grim procedure of Satellite Sam #11
While it is sandwiched between two comedic scenes, the conversation between Eugene and Eve is also an important one in regards to the future of Satellite Sam. Matt Fraction, and in larger part, Howard Chaykin, pulled off something very special with the character of Eugene, and now the title gets to reap the narrative rewards of it. See, for so long as a reader, I just assumed that since Eugene worked in television at this time, that he was a white man, as problematic as that may sound. That said, since Chaykin and Fraction finally revealed Eugene’s true parentage and his day-to-day effort to pass as Caucasian, the title has become much, much more interesting as it starts to delve into the troublesome politics and prejudices of the time. This turn also speaks to the level of ambiguity at play in the work of Howard Chaykin. His grayscale renderings, though specific in set details and character design, lend themselves to this kind of turn; one I wasn’t expecting in the least. Of course, now that the cat is out of the bag, its so painfully obvious, but it is amazing to see that an old hand like Chaykin is still capable of that kind of ambiguity, especially on a title where every character seems to have some huge secret hiding just behind their eyes.
While these scenes guide Satellite Sam along thematically, it is Fraction’s dealing with last issue’s cliffhanger and Dick’s subsequent funeral that puts the series back on solid ground in regards to its main plot; the death of Carlyle White. As Micheal recovers from his night previous and the crew gathers to bury their fallen leader, he receives a call from a nearby hospital and is greeted by a battered Libby, who driven off the road by a mysterious black sedan after she visited Carlyle’s secret kinescope storage. Satellite Sam has often been a book that took its time when it came to its main murder plot, often allowing large chunks of information to go unadressed for months at a time, but as the title nears its finale, Fraction has imbued this scene with a real sense of urgency that carries into Michael and Libby’s appearance at the funeral, which yields another big piece of the puzzle in the mystery of who killed Satellite Sam. This funeral scene also allows Fraction to show the audience just how odd the LeMonde crew is, even without their addictions and sexual hang ups. As they all commiserate over the loss of their friend, they can’t help but talk shop and wonder exactly how the show goes forward without Danning. Dick’s wife, of course, is horrified, admonishing them as they discuss air times, “Can’t you people even go the length of Dick’s wake without talking about television?” “Apparently not, ma’am,” replies Gene, giving the audience and Dick’s incensed wife a stark look at just who these people are and who they always will be.
Satellite Sam, with its sleaze-filled serial narrative, has always been an interesting and daring entry into Image Comics’ oeuvre, but with #11, Fraction and Chaykin show that Satellite Sam is much more than just lace and ribald visuals. It is a well researched slice of the times starring men and women who are committed to their jobs to the point to ruin. The crew of Satellite Sam may not be the best group of people or the most reliable, but they have each other and, by God, they have their show and sometimes that’s enough to keep them from spilling over the edge. For how long they can keep teetering on that edge, who can say - but at least they won’t blow their start times.