Spider-Man 2099 #1
Written by Peter David
Art by Will Sliney and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Miguel O’Hara has been back in Marvel Universe for some time, but now his original writer, Peter David, is retaking the reins to bring us an all-new time-displaced adventure. Spinning out of Dan Slott’s run on Superior Spider-Man, it helps bring a cult character back to the spotlight. But part of the appeal of the original series is completely lost, and artist Will Sliney doesn’t do the script any favors. What should be a triumphant return comes across as a muddied, half-hearted one.
The 2099 line was launched in the '90s, and while it gave us some comics of varying quality, arguably the most exciting part about it was seeing how our heroes had changed 100 years into the future. Sadly, that aspect is completely absent, as Miguel O’Hara has found himself in the present. And so David has a tough task ahead of him: How do you set a book apart from the main Spidey book without any major changes? Miguel O’Hara is different from Peter Parker, but he’s not that different. He’s still a hero. He’s just doesn’t have the ol’ Parker Lack holding him back.
David also doesn’t really give us a lot of reason to care about Miguel's crusade. Sure, he’s trapped in the past, and he has to be a party to some pretty terrible corporate machinations to ensure that he’ll exist in the future, but it feels small. Miguel’s storyline is really something that weighed down Slott’s writing toward the end of Superior Spider-Man because it didn’t have the same pathos at it’s center as the main story. David is in the same rut here. He gives us a nice little bit of superheroing, but the humor falls flat and the plot is dry as a board.
Will Sliney is no help. His character work is akin to Mike Deodato, employing heavy, heavy blacks in his shadows, but Antonio Fabela employs the use of computer-generated lightning effects that rob the book of its contrast. So where Deodato is able to create mood with his inking, Sliney isn’t given a chance. But he’s his own worst enemy because the 3D renderings he uses from backgrounds (a common practice by artists today) look incredibly unnatural. So unnatural, in fact, that his characters look out of place against the backgrounds, figures floating in a space that might be a room or a cityscape. Fabela’s colors again fail to bring this aspect to life, only furthering the idea that the characters and the backgrounds are separate because he treats their coloring so differently.
Spider-Man 2099 #1 is a missed opportunity to bring back a fairly popular series. The title character is there, but the world that made his book unique is absent. Fans hoping that this would be a return to form for Peter David will have those expectations met with a middling plot and lackluster character development. The art team is biggest letdown, especially considering that Sliney has drawn some good-looking comics in the past. Going back to the future, Spidey 2099 could still bring about some great stories, but we’re not seeing even the start of them here.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #6
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Luigi Anderson
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Dynamite has really gone against the grain with the creative team of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, giving this character an empathetic, even cartoony vibe, focusing more on the inhumanity of humanity rather than the darkness and danger of dinosaurs. Greg Pak's thoughtful protagonist is just different enough to maintain our interest - at least, long enough to watch Takeshi Miyazawa draw the hell out of some dinosaurs.
There's a bit of a star-crossed lover vibe near the tail end of this comic, and I think that lends a certain familiarity to Turok that will help new readers dip their toes in. Turok rides a velociraptor and Altani rides pterodactyls, and the land-versus-sky dichotomy is iconic enough to put their burgeoning relationship into the line of fire of their two opposing tribes. Greg Pak also seeds some mystery in the front half of the book, as Turok is adopted - or conscripted - into his parents' old tribe, but the reasoning for their departure still seems half-hidden. There's some coercion at play, as the tribe's traditions can lead to an inflated body count, and that also cements Turok as a heroic figure just as much as his compassion for his raptor steed.
But that would ultimately be a lot of exposition and further setup, without a whole lot of narrative meat - that is, if Takeshi Miyazawa wasn't involved. Miyazawa's Turok is wide-eyed and expressive, constantly learning new things about the potentially dangerous new society he's been dropped (or dragged) in. His sense of character design is also methodical and well-honed, with all of his characters looking very distinguishable, and their costumes definitely evoking a purpose and a culture. But what really sells this book is how Miyazawa draws his dinosaurs, with velociraptors tearing apart a carcass or a horde of beaked behemoths charging at the reader.
While some might say that the lack of dino-bloodshed might be contrary to the spirit of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, but I'd counter that you can only go so far with scales and jaws and claws and guts before it starts to get a little one-note. There has to be something deeper to this concept, or it'll go just as extinct as it did during the last iteration of this series. Maybe the mythology that Pak is building will keep Turok: Dinosaur Hunter from going the way of the dodo.
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Kyle Strahm and Felipe Sobreiro
Lettering by Crank!
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Spread is the latest from Luther Strode and Dead Body Road scribe Justin Jordan, and while it’s a well-made book, there are points where it doesn’t read as much more than an amalgam of popular comics over the years. That’s not to say that tropes aren’t commonly used in fiction (especially in a generally monthly serial format like this one), but Spread doesn’t have anything new to say about them. Kyle Strahm and Felipe Sobreiro effectively bring Jordan’s hyper-violent post-apocalypse to life with intriguing character designs and an impressive color palette, but it’s not enough to elevate the work.
Jordan pulls from a lot solid influences in this book, but he doesn’t reconfigure them enough to make them his own. The story features No, a man of few words but many brutal actions, as he faces off against a world ravaged by a pseudo-zombie virus. The hook is the baby he finds named Hope and her place in the world. And since No doesn’t speak very much, Hope narrates the action from the future. So what we’ve got is a combination of Saga’s storytelling method, a “save the world” plot that’s not terribly different in initial set-up from Duane Swierczynski’s Cable (right down to the name of the kid!) and a zombie apocalypse setting. Jordan does a good job of planting the seeds of what’s to come. Readers will definitely come away with questions, but not the feeling that anything has really been glossed over just for the sake of moving the story forward. But the characters are so blank at this point that it’s hard to get really excited about. It’s an easy read, but it feels hollow.
Kyle Strahm and Felipe Sobreiro do their best to put this book on their shoulders, then. And on some level, they do succeed. Spread has a very strong visual style. Strahm’s art is a rough and ugly when it needs to be, perfectly suiting the grotesque monstrosities of the Spread. But he can dial back the more gruesome aspects when he needs to in order to maintain the clarity of the panels. I think that Sobreiro’s colors are a big reason that it works. By casting the monsters in stark red contrast to most of the rest of the book, it allows for Strahm to deliver detail without overwhelming the reader with information. Oftentimes, too many lines can clutter up a page but these two artists avoided that pitfall by taking a more stylized approach that will reward readers who take the time to study the art more closely.
Spread isn’t a bad comic, but the writing comes across as purely utilitarian, and it’s completely outclassed by the art. The familiarity of the book could work for or against this title, depending on the reader. But if Strahm and Sobreiro continue their strong work, they should be able to buy Jordan enough time to really get this story going. Jordan has put himself in a position to deliver on a book that is much more than the sum of the parts presented here, and that’s better than many creator-owned comics can say.
Warlord of Mars #0
Written by Matt Brady
Art by Jack Jadson, Marcelo Mueller and Inlight Studios
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
What do you get for the Warlord that has everything? There's some very similar parallels to Alan Moore's seminal Superman story, "For the Man Who Has Everything," in Matt Brady's Warlord of Mars, but Matt Brady goes one step further to make this story his own. While this issue may be a little hard-going for those unfamiliar with standard comic book tropes, Brady does an effective job of painting a heartfelt portrait of John Carter of Mars.
The issue starts off with a jolt, featuring John in an insane asylum, surrounded by horrific inmates and impassive doctors who dismiss his high-flying tales of Martian races and epic civilizations. That opening alone is already terrifying, but it does make it somewhat easy to miss the real high concept of this comic - namely, John Carter has been attacked by a creature that can make him experience his worst fears, such as the loss of his Martian beloved, Dejah Thoris. As Brady pushes Carter to the boundaries of what his mind and body can survive, he leavens the issue with the interplay between John and Dejah. In an industry filled with misogyny (hell, even Dejah's costume is revealing to the point of exploitation), John and Dejah are truly in a relationship of equals, treating each other with adoration and mutual respect. It's a great dynamic, and one that really gives this one-shot its heart and soul.
The artwork, by Jack Jadson, is a decent showing, as well, with an old-school sort of expressiveness to his characters. In particular, it's great to see the similarities Smith brings to Carter, whether he's clean-shaven in his Martian attire or despondent and bearded in the old West. Jadson also excels with the double-page spreads, particularly one where he has Dejah, Tars, a war party and a giant alien creature all in one bone-laden cave. (And I also give him points for largely keeping Dejah's costume away from the realm of borderline pornographic, a cheap trick that plenty of other artists have fallen prey to.) Inlight Studios does great work with the colors here, keeping the energy high and the characters anything but flat.
Like I said before, this comic may not be best-suited for beginners, as I think you have to know the tropes of mind-control and comic book hallucinations to really understand what's going on - in particular, it takes a few reads to get that even when he's under an alien's spell, John would still find his way back to Mars in his dreams. Brady does his best to try to counteract that with a huge info-dump of a page, but then he goes into the other realm of telling rather than showing. Additionally, because of the breakneck pacing, Brady isn't always able to really linger on some of the horrifying implications of Carter being in an asylum, or pushing his body past the breaking point in his quest to return to Mars.
That all said, one-shots like these would go a long way towards reclaiming the Warlord of Mars for a new generation of readers. Right now, it feels like you have to have to be a scholar of pulp fiction to even understand John Carter's appeal, let alone be a diehard fan - but stories like Brady and Jadson's could definitely reverse this trend. Emphasizing the character just as much as the high concept, Warlord of Mars #0 is a great entree for anyone interested in Edgar Rice Burroughs' mythology.