Black Road #1
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Black Road brings The Massive team of Brian Wood and Garry Brown back together for another series, and for the writer it also reunites him to the world of vikings that he previously explored in Vertigo's Northlanders. The Norse/Christian conflict provides a fertile clash of values for the writer to play with, but the standout here is the hulking Magnus the Black, a ‘hero’ with some obvious failings.
Wood sets the scene with some nihilistic prose, establishing the tensions between the Norsemen of Iskfold who are in the midst of “suffering under conversion.” Wood depicts the Christian infiltration of the Viking village as a disease, and from the way it changed life in certain parts of the world, Magnus’ point of view isn’t wrong. In a township that lives under an unsettled coexistence with the Christians, Magnus the Black is hired as mercenary muscle to accompany a clergyman up the notorious Black Road, so named for its likelihood of death by attackers or other misadventures. What begins as a familiar road journey manages to surprise us with a twist, one that doesn’t so much change the direction as the overall tone of the book.
Magnus is a fascinating character, not least of which because he is so difficult to read at this early stage. Black Road is unrelentingly bleak, with every person that Wood introduces suspiciously taciturn by virtue of the brutal world they live in. Magnus poses even more of an enigma because he hasn’t quite decided yet which side of the fence that he sits on, and it’s striking that from this introductory point there is no clear indication as to what side the audience is supposed to be on either. This is one of the most compelling aspects of the fledgling series, with the enticing notion that nobody is going to come away from this clean.
Garry Brown’s art shares something of a symbiotic relationship with Wood’s dark narrative, as if hewn out of the very pages it is printed on. Magnus is by no means a gentle giant, and Brown convincingly relays his massive upper body strength and physical presence. Action sequences are fluid, making discreet use of speed lines in the rain, which is a cool effect against the dreary grey skies. When chaos descends, such as the burning of a building, the art decays somewhat to reflect this. Colorist Dave McCaig masterfully defies expectations with his tonal choices, bathing the early sequences in heavy shadow or the fiery and bloody reds of a tavern and blacksmith. By contrast, it is the titular Black Road that gets the lights turned on, at first a slate grey sky and eventually even brighter as the sun breaks through with the introduction of a new character.
One of the most interesting things about the first chapter of Black Road is that it feels like a complete piece, so this leaves us with the dilemma of not having a mystery hook to latch onto for the next chapter. Nevertheless, the character and world that Wood and Brown have constructed here are well studied and feel as whole as this issue, and the chance to peel back a few more layer of Magnus - not to mention explore the fascinating tensions between the Norsemen and the Christians - is hard to resist.
Hyper Force Neo #1
Written by Jarrett Williams
Art by Jarrett Williams and Jeremy Lawson
Published by Z2 Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Hyper Force Neo #1 introduces us to Dean Masters, a high school freshman in the future who stumbles upon an adorable robot and finds himself recruited to defend New Sigma City against an alien invasion. Writer and illustrator Jarrett Williams deftly blends all the campy action of shows like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers with a distinctive, manga-inspired artistic style that gives you something to smile about on every page. While this is a strong first issue, Hyper Force Neo #1 suffers at times from Williams’ own enthusiasm, with overstuffed pages pages that occasionally make the story difficult to follow upon first read.
If you’re looking for something new to try with a young comics fan in your life, Hyper Force Neo #1 is a fun read, held back from greatness by the sometimes distracting clutter of its action sequences.‘Civilian’ scenes are often easy to follow without being repetitive, and Williams’ interesting panel layouts work well in simpler settings like Dean’s school. The worldbuilding Williams’ does with the technology available to Dean is clever, reminiscent of video game menus and gauges in a way that’s fun without seeming forced or intrusive. Those same tricks are less impactful during his Dean’s first battles, where Williams seems almost afraid to leave even a speckle of white space visible on the page.
This frenetic energy works in the full-page map of New Sigma City, evoking the scope of it as a sprawling futuristic metropolis. But at times so much is going on in the background that larger overlays over multiple panels, such as Dean in his first appearance as Silver Hype, seem more distracting than impressive. The art is strong -- but on some pages, it’s just too much to take in all at once and may leave readers wishing for a panel or two of breathing room. Colorist Jeremy Lawson does an impressive job giving life to Williams’ intricate and stylized artwork, though, with neon shades and bright highlights that emphasize the retro-future, chromed-out vibe of New Sigma City and help distinguish the small details Williams sprinkles throughout.
Williams has said Hyper Force Neo #1 is his interpretation of the future (an unspecified 20XX), and a world where kids are able to “fully express their individuality in personality and fashion” and have it be embraced by their peers. His intent is clear through each character’s distinctive wardrobe and style, and in the endearingly positive tone of the entire issue. The conflict is young kid versus alien invader, rather than young kid versus other mean kids, with no judgment passed about style or hobbies or backgrounds.
Though Hyper Force Neo #1 may sometimes stumble over the content it’s packed with, Jarrett Williams has delivered with a diverse cast that’s as fun to just look at as the story is to read. After reading the first issue, it’s easy to think that kids want to be like and maybe even cosplay Dean, a cool, confident, nice guy, who does his best and loves to hang out and help his friends. That’s not to suggest that this is a unique occurrence amongst comics at large, or even all-ages comics (there are plenty of strong all-ages books on the market, even just within Z2). Instead, it’s only to say that if it was Williams’ intent, Hyper Force Neo #1 knocks it out of the park.