Original Sin #0
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Dave Meikis, Juan Vlasco and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Marvel has been getting a lot of press with their high-concept relaunches lately, but one of the quirkier odd couples in the Marvel Universe these days has to be the all-new Nova and Uatu the Watcher. One is an enthusiastic kid learning the ropes of superheroics and space travel - the other is a bald omnipotent charged with chronicling the universe. We've seen them before in the main Nova comic book series, and Mark Waid and Jim Cheung continue this sweet dynamic with this soft rollout of their Original Sin event.
For some, this first issue might be a bit anticlimactic, but with the #0 in the front, I'm willing to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt for taking the emotional approach rather than the high-octane action to open this event. Mark Waid's Nova is as bright and effervescent as the character has ever been, balancing the sadness and resentment of his father's legacy with the excitement that comes with being a high-flying superhero. Perhaps because of his similarities to Blue Beetle's Jaime Reyes, Sam Alexander has been overlooked, but you can't help but like Waid's take on the kid, particularly the way he makes the Avengers chuckle with his naivete. But Waid tweaks the Watcher's storyline, as well, giving this unlikely pair a really human connection that transcends Uatu's mission to watch the entirety of space and time.
The artwork, spearheaded by Jim Cheung, looks sharp as ever, but Paco Medina also deserves a lot of credit for fitting in seamlessly. Cheung makes the beats with Uatu really sing (well, as much as a mute alien with a bubblehead can evoke). Medina, who I believe handles the brief action beat with Nova, makes his art just a touch more fluid, which I think works great for the aerial action. There's some great epic moments here, such as when Cheung draws monitors drawing from across the Marvel multiverse, but for my money, the best moments of the book are where Cheung just lets Nova be a kid, particularly the "aw-shucks" body language he has when the Avengers congratulate him on a job well done.
That said, some will be disappointed with the narrow scale of Original Sin #0, arguing that a minor retcon for Uatu is not enough to launch an entire event. (To which I would respond, considering Uatu is set to be murdered in this event, any retcon is an important one.) But those who are looking for a smorgasbord of Marvel superheroes will be disappointed, and those who haven't latched onto Sam Alexander's precociousness as a superhero will likely be bored. Waid does occasionally have some slow moments describing Uatu's chambers, but I'd argue that some of that may be setting up future plot points for the rest of the event.
If anything, I can only hope that Jason Aaron uses Mark Waid as an example for the rest of Original Sin. Rather than try to blow up the biggest target possible, Waid zeroes in on a much more vulnerable spot - our hearts. Yes, this may be a whimper rather than a bang - but it's much more readable than some of the Big Two's more action-oriented blockbusters. If this event winds up being the one that focuses on the humanity behind the Marvel superheroes, Original Sin could be the best event comic in years.
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Matt Taylor and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Kali Yuga. The end of days. But when it comes to Edward Zero, it may be a dangerous new beginning, as Ales Kot changes the stakes and shakes things up in this moody spy comic.
The thing that holds back Zero is also the thing that gives it its narrative strength - namely, it's an auteur work, one that you really have to "get" Kot's voice in order to truly appreciate. This is not the kind of accessible, easy-to-follow chunk for the everyday comics reader (or even for people who have been reading this comic for awhile). This issue is all about mood and the buildup of tension. Zero watches his handler, Roman, engage in some mysterious backroom dealings. And then - at a moment's notice - things change for Zero in a big way. It's hard to go much deeper into this comic without giving it away, but the plot, on its surface, feels a little thin.
But Kot is channeling his own Tarantino a bit here, as he isn't content to just let his characters sit. Like a cobra, Kot builds up his characters with chatter that could just be idle... or it could be just softening you up for the kill. Roman asking Zero about the beach, for example, isn't just to set up how business-oriented this human killing machine is, but it also makes you wonder - is this where Zero gets betrayed? Is this where things go south? Or is there when Kot will explode into his gristly violence? Having a soulless killer can be creepy enough, but it's when they start to dance around with words and philosophies, invoking the mythology of the Kali Yuga, that really throws you off-balance.
Artist Matt Taylor does some nice work here, keeping his characters sharp and angular - even if this comic runs into the problem that design-wise, everyone looks so nondescript that it's difficult to tell who is who from an issue-to-issue basis. Like I said before, this issue is primarily about mood, so there's no big action sequences for Taylor to sell, but instead a quiet pane-to-panel storytelling, which particularly excels when he's working on silent pages. But the unsung heroine for this comic is colorist Jordie Bellaire, who puts her stamp on every page, whether its an eerie red on a blue background, or the transition between a dry orange and an oceanic blue.
So you're probably thinking - why a 7? The answer is that at this point, we need to have more than just mood. The story is moving along, but almost begrudgingly, and Kot is so into his own game that he makes it very difficult for new readers to get in. Zero is an emotionless cypher. Roman is more a foil than a fully-fledged human in this issue. Sarah doesn't even make an appearance. There's some backroom intrigue going on in this spy organization, on top of the usual espionage, but without a little bit of exposition to ease us in, it can be jarring for even regular readers to remember all the stuff that Zero has been through.
I mean, it could be worse. But it could also be better. Zero is a visionary product, to be sure, but it's definitely a challenge, as well. It's unclear to me whether it would be easier to read this comic as a whole, or to break it apart as an episodic work - even if the taciturn lead character makes it tougher to follow. Technically speaking, this book is still executed well, but it's getting increasingly hard for this book to stand on flash alone. There needs to be some more substance to Zero, something deeper to resonate and remember. Otherwise, this book may live up to its name.
Evil Empire #2
Written by Max Bemis
Art by Ransom Getty and Chris Blythe
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by Boom! Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
There's always hope that as a book continues, it will improve. Unfortunately that's not the case for Evil Empire, as the second issue is plagued by the same problems that were found in the first. Flat characters are forced into unrealistic situations and while Bemis does attempt to show the plot's effect on the world at large, it only serves to ruin the book's pacing. Combine that with Ransom Getty's uninspired artwork and you have a recipe for a lackluster issue.
Bemis weakest character work comes with his main character and that brings the whole book down. Reese begins to understand that she’s being exploited but she’s never able to make that leap on her own. Male characters are constantly guiding her actions and the fact that the book is completely without another significant female character is troubling. Reese is a boring character and that’s because Bemis doesn’t give her anything interesting to do. Everything that’s happened in two issues of this book has happened around Reese without her really enacting any of it or bearing any direct consequence. (You can probably start making some logical leaps as to the effects on her career but its not in the text and so we can’t make that jump.) The only character that’s exhibited anything resembling control is Senator Laramy.
But even his actions read more like a sinister, one-dimensional supervillain than a nuanced adversary. Throughout history, people have rallied around all sorts of leaders because they were charming. Readers like villains because usually despite how vile they may be, there is something redeeming about them. Senator Laramy doesn’t have that redeeming quality, and anyone that would honestly buy into his mode of thinking would likely be in need of some sort of mental evaluation. It’s not that Bemis made Laramy too evil. He’s just made him too inhuman. And by removing his humanity from the equation, Bemis has made it a huge leap as far as the suspense of disbelief is concerned that Laramy could incite the kind of unrest that he does here.
Ransom Getty gets in his obligatory splash page of brilliance but the rest of the book is pedestrian at best. It’s unclear how much of that lies with Getty and how much lies with Bemis’ script. The script is a series of conversations at dinner tables, in courtrooms etc. Not exactly the most exciting locales. Getty makes some odd choices with panel layouts that serve mostly to fit the text in than anything else. Getty tattoos Senator Laramy’s face with a sinister expression for the entire book and in that case, its probably for the best. Elsewhere in the book Getty fumbles with expressions, failing to capture the anger of some conversations or the levity of others.
I’ve read good comics by Max Bemis before. It’s clear that Evil Empire is his attempt to break out of his comfort zone, but it just isn’t working. Uneven dialogue spouted by characters that have yet to be fully realized set against an increasingly unbelieveable political climate are making this more of an exhaustive melodrama than high stakes entertainment. It feels like there’s an effort being made to say something important but if you don’t care about who’s saying it, then you’ll never get your point across. whatever message Evil Empire is trying to get across is falling on deaf ears because the quality of its package isn’t up to snuff.
Written by Kyle Starks
Art by Kyle Starks
Lettering by Kyle Starks
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
There’s a fine line between the action films of Kurt Russell and the action films of Patrick Swayze. Kurt Russell wore an eyepatch more than Swayze ever did. Russell was tough; he was an 1980s action star. Swayze? He was a pretty boy with flowing hair who ended up dancing in movies and doing other stuff. Even when Russell wasn’t defending fair damsels from Chinese madmen or escaping from NYC, he was Wyatt Earp. He made movies with John Carpenter. That should be enough to show just how tough Kurt Russell really is. Swayze? He had the hair and the looks but Russell had had the swagger and the toughness. Kyle Stark’s Kickstarter campaign for Sexcastle asks, “Have you ever thought, ‘Man, I wish these things were more like the movie Road House?’” No, but I have wished that these things were more like the movie Escape from New York. With Sexcastle, Starks grooves on that Kurt Russell vibe as Shane Sexcastle sports the Snake Plissken eyepatch and the toughness of Jack Burton driving into Chinatown to rescue his woman.
Kyle Starks fills his book with every cheesy action film truism he can imagine. Actually its more focused than just on every cheesy action film; it’s the action films of the 1980s that have captured his imagination. In Sexcastle, Starks has a great time in this cinematic playground. His comic comes off as a love letter to every action film that had a killer line (“I’ll be back!”) or awesome action scene (let’s be honest, the final competition fight in The Karate Kid still chokes me up.) Starks fills his comic with call back after call back to the films of Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Seagal. It would be easy to think of these as worn out and old cliches but Stark has fun with them. They probably are cliches in 2014 but Sexcastle is not about legitimizing or poking fun of them. Starks enjoys them for their awesomeness and their kitschiness. They’re awesomely kitschy or kitschily awesome and that’s what Starks wants to do a story about.
Sexcastle is more than just a romp through these things that Starks enjoys. With a style that exaggerates everything, Starks cartooning helps make this more than just a comic that borrows everything it has from movies. He never takes himself or his story too seriously and that opens you up to just trusting in this book and trusting in wherever it is that Starks is taking you. From the movie action pieces to the completely comic booky origin of Sexcastle’s ultimate weapons, Starks’s artwork makes you want to roll your eyes at it while you’re also eager to see what’s on the next page. He pulls off these moves and sequences that we've seen many times up on the big screen and makes them look lively and fresh on the comic page.
As he blends this fun concoction, Starks lets the story wander as he's trying to cram an ever increasing amount of stuff that he enjoys into it. More and more characters get introduced into the comic, each fulfilling a role whether the story needs them in there or not. The roles are just to have fun with the story but they take away from the focus on it as Sexcastle moves toward the ending. In the end, this comic is about the coolness of the motions and characters of these action stories. Like its role models, the plot ends up being less of a concern of the comic as it gets lost in its love of what happens in it. Even without that focus, Sexcastle has testosterone-loaded charms, something for fans of films starring everyone who loves from Chuck Norris to Ralph Macchio.