Written by Mark Waid
Art by Fiona Staples, Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
As a publisher, Archie Comics has thrust itself into the modern world; offering up a unique new spin on its classic characters through its horror lines and equal representation for disabled and gay people. Despite this, the town of Riverdale itself still seems strangely anachronistic. There’s undeniable appeal to Riverdale as a 50’s tinged Pleasantville, but it’s hardly relevant to young readers, and might even go so far as to be alienating to anyone not drawn in by nostalgia for a white-picket fenced America that never truly existed. Enter Mark Waid. Eternally a solid hand when it comes to all-ages material, Waid has teamed up with Fiona Staples to rejuvenate Archie Comics’ core characters into more than just fond cultural mementoes.
As we’re dropping into the heart of this reimagined Riverdale, we quickly learn that auburn everyman Archie Andrews and his longtime main squeeze Betty Cooper have broken up, and the whole of Riverdale High School has been thrown into disarray. Yet it’s clear that Waid – or the rest of Riverdale as a whole – isn’t willing to give up on the romance that made them all believe in the power of love, as we get to watch Kevin, Jughead and company plot to get Riverdale’s ultimate power couple back together.
Despite the drastic visual overhaul, Waid hasn’t strayed too far from the source material. Archie #1 is a refresh rather than a reimagining. He’s tightened up the story-telling to a modern standard, and Staples’ angular and neon-drenched artwork is very much in vogue at the moment, but Waid hasn’t tried too hard to make things current or different for the sake of it. Okay, Archie plugs his twitter feed in the final panel, but as it comes after the finale instead of randomly disrupting the issue’s pace, it’s forgivable. Reggie’s still an imposing greaser with a leather jacket, Jughead still has his peculiar whoopee cap (a hat that was last in style around the 1930’s) and Archie’s still impossibly upbeat. The biggest change comes from Archie’s best friend: Waid’s Jughead is less of a food obsessed oaf and more of a sardonic Machiavelli working on the side of good.
Meanwhile, Staples’ deep understanding of body language absolutely sells this issue, which is thick with unspoken emotion and missed opportunity. Her art style is a little more realistic than we’ve come to expect from Archie, a far cry from the rusty but comforting house style that these characters have been trapped in for far too long. Staples’ proportions are true-to-life, but her features are impossibly sharp. In profile, Archie looks like a Tin Man in a skin-suit, which is a little off-putting. On a more positive note, Staples’ expressions are on point, always accurately reflecting the emotions needed from Waid’s script. Staples’ deep understanding of body language absolutely sells this issue, which is thick with unspoken emotion and missed opportunity.
Of course, there are some minor hiccups with this change-up in style, particularly as this book gets started – Waid’s Archie introduces himself to the reader directly, in a set-up that seems to owe a lot to the “kid-with-a-camera” set-up of many modern Disney Channel sitcoms. It’s direct to the point of being too-on-the-nose, and comes off as a little clunky and awkward. Away from the direct line to Archie himself, Waid’s script is a triumph of teenage drama, perfectly capturing the hormonally-charged cognitive dissonance of life at high school.
Waid and Staples’ respectful reboot must come a relief for longtime fans of Riverdale’s most optimistic teenager. The modern art-style combined with this faithful take on Riverdale gives Archie #1 an air of timelessness. It should have been so easy to redesign the entire cast into unrecognizability and make smartphones integral to the plot, but Staples and Waid thankfully ignore this temptation. While there are a few telltale signs of a learning curve – perhaps both for creator and reader alike - at its core, Archie #1 is a successful injection of energy and relevancy into the most innocent universe in modern comics.
Negative Space #1
Written by Ryan K. Lindsay
Art by Owen Gieni
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“We are islands. The waters are death. 90% of us is wet all the time beneath the surface. The rest drops under eventually.”
Depression is something that most people will deal with at some point in their life. It’s been romanticized by artists as a muse of sorts, a necessary state of being to fuel the creative process. Ryan K. Lindsay and Owen Gieni’s Negative Space imagines that there are monsters that are fueled by negative human emotions and that a corporation harvests our emotions to keep these secret monsters at bay. This corporation engineers your bad days. The monsters feed off the ensuing malaise. It’s a heady idea, and at the center of it is Guy, a suicidally depressed writer who has writer's block while working on his suicide note. Artist Owen Gieni is tasked with bringing this dark world to life, and it’s probably some of his best work yet.
Lindsay starts the story very small before slowly zooming out to give us a bigger picture of the world. He lets the narration flow in and out as it serves the story so the book doesn’t feel overwrought. But having a writer for a protagonist lends itself to some truly stunning passages that can really put a reader on their ass. There’s honesty in Lindsay’s writing, and while Guy isn’t a very likable character necessarily, he feels real, and you feel for him when things happen to him. He’s like the morose stranger that you frequently see on your morning commute or at your job, a dark cloud always overhead.
As Lindsay widens the scope of the story more and more, there’s a shift from something personally dark and depressing to a realization that the world is already that way in general. Rick, the worker we meet at the Kindred Corporation, takes pride in his work making other people miserable, but he doesn’t really seem like such a bad guy. I mean, considering the monster on the cover, what’s worse - that thing attacking us or one person being sad? It almost becomes something of an emotional quandary. This is a story with no really heroes. So who should you be rooting for when it seems like everyone sucks? The characters are compelling, but we can’t really tell if they are good or not.
There are some issues with pacing that make the issue a bit of an uneven read, but those problems only crop up a few times. I also think that Lindsay holds back some information about what’s really going on to force the reader to have questions they won’t find answers to here. That approach might be frustrating for some that are looking for something a little bit more straightforward from their narrative.
Gieni creates an incredible world for Lindsay’s words, though. Gieni employs a sketchy, watercolor approach to his art that is fitting for the depressing tone. The palette is dark and grungy. Guy is even teardrop-shaped further underlining his sadness. The character designs are Disney-like in the way they help further explore what each character is about and embody their personalities. And Gieni’s monsters are exciting as well even though we don’t get much of a look at them in this issue.
Overall, Gieni’s shot selections and panel compositions take on a very film-like quality. There’s a lot of focus on things that aren’t characters or actions in the background. A piece of paper blowing in the wind or a car pulling away bring little bits of tension to some smaller moment and the pay off in those cases is enormous. Gieni’s work is a big reason for the chemistry between Guy and Wood, for instance, something that would not have worked as well without how his subtle approach.
Negative Space is another great comic book from a couple of creators who should soon be household names. It’s a combination of a big concept relating to a smaller idea and strong execution that makes this one hold up. Lindsay and Gieni are a great team with strengths that definitely complement each other. It feels a little bit like this will read better as whole work, not broken down into individual issues but this is a strong start.
Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War #1
Written by Mike Johnson
Art by Angel Hernandez and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Space is far from the final frontier when it comes to Star Trek in comic book form. Having made the logical crossover leaps to Doctor Who and Planet of the Apes, and the rather less likely meeting with the mutants of Marvel’s X-Men, naturally, you can only spend so much time boldly exploring strange new worlds, before some of those new lifeforms and new civilizations intersect with the DC cosmic universe. The last such encounter happened during the 2011’s Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes, so it was only a matter of time before the intrepid crew of the Starship Enterprise came face-to-face with someone at the heart of the DCU.
Regardless of which of the twenty-odd variant covers you choose to pick up, the story begins on the planet Mogo, with the familiar Guardian Ganthet being pursued by a dark lantern. Escaping to a another universe, the Star Trek team find his remains and a collection of power rings on a rogue planet. Upon investigating further, they encounter enemy aliens, while some are chosen to wield the rings of power. It would barely be a spoiler to suggest that the paths of the two titular characters intersect by the time the issue is out.
This is about as introductory as a first issue can get, as Mike Johnson doesn’t overburden either the Star Trek or Green Lantern camps with explanations as to how those worlds work. As such, there is a fair bit of assumption that the reader will know the significance of the rings “choosing” various members of the crews, not to mention who anybody is aboard the Starship. He is probably safe in this assumption too, as the likely reader is probably a fan of at least one of these franchises, and the net result is that we are pleasingly thrown into the action almost immediately. The Star Trek team reacts as fans of that series would expect them too, perhaps in keeping more in the spirit of the original series even if the shopfront is from the recent J.J. Abrams reboot. This is unsurprising given Johnson’s intense familiarity with the characters, having continuously written them since the launch of the 2011 IDW comic book series, including the prequel tie-ins to the last film. The seamless authenticity is appreciated, as it never feels like a careless cash-in.
Similarly, artists Hernandez and Sanchez don’t simply approximate the actors Chris Pine or Zachary Qunito, as is so often the case with licenses. The look and feel is an authentic one, right down to the occasional piece of lens flare. It’s amazing how well the visual narrative of these two worlds works so well together, as startled crew members ponder lantern rings sailing past them on the way to new hosts. Seeing the Enterprise bathed in a green glow, or the rest of the crew lit up with the remaining colors of the spectrum, is a magnificent sight. Yet it is hard to top the reveal of a character on the final page of the book, one that will be an interesting foil for Kirk in the future installments.
Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War makes a genuine attempt to reconcile these two universes on a surface level, even if it is on a superficial level for the moment. One of the intrigue plot developments in this first issue is the person who doesn’t receive a lantern ring, and the fallout of that will undoubtedly play into the character dynamics in the future issues. It’s a pleasing union to kick off this event, and one that fans of either camp will be hard pressed to find fault with.
Strange Fruit #1
Written by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid
Art by J.G. Jones
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Sometimes, a comic book comes around, and due to unforeseen real-world events, it seems fatefully timed. With the real-world debate around the use of the Confederate Flag in the southern United States, it seems fitting that a book like Strange Fruit would debut. Based on an idea from J.G. Jones, he and Mark Waid craft a tale about the Jim Crow South with all the tension that entails.
The story opens in 1927 as the small town of Chatterlee, Mississippi prepares for a possible flood in the wake of near-constant rains. The potential for a natural disaster has only amplified the racial tension in the segregated town. In fact, much of the script by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid focuses on the tenuous relationship between the poor African-American class forced to work on the levees and the whites who have forced them into that position. As it becomes clear that the levees may not work in their current state, several men harass the workers at a segregated café in the hopes that this will cause them to work more fiercely.
J.G. Jones and Mark Waid do a good job at setting up this premise, but the script falters just a touch in establishing character. Other than an African-American man named Sonny, who is assaulted by members of the Ku Klux Klan, none of the characters are given time to show much of a personality beyond their archetypes. There are hints at a larger framework for some of these characters: a man named Elliot seems particularly protective of his son, even if that instinct is triggered by his own racist attitudes. However, the script doesn’t really delve deeply into that dimensionality just yet. What it does do, however, is show the rules of the world before flipping them upside down with the arrival of a being that seems to be above the laws of men. There’s a definitive sci-fi element here that immediately plays itself out in an interesting way. The final page could not have any more immediacy in terms of its real-world connections.
Pulling double-duty on Strange Fruit #1 is artist J.G. Jones. The painting here evokes a sense of history and myth that plays well into the story being told. As a storyteller, J.G. Jones shows good balance between the panels that move the story forward and those that are simply meant to be striking on their own. The dialogue scenes and the action bits towards the end are still strong images, but there’s a sense of momentum that carries the reader through. Then you have the more meditative images of farmers working their livestock, and the awe when Sonny stumbles into the unnamed being that appears in the climax. These are images that sit in the reader’s mind long after the issue has been neatly put away in a long box and will get readers to come back for the next issue.
A minor flaw of Strange Fruit #1 has to do with the placement of the word balloons. The painted style displayed by J.G. Jones is so rare in interior comic book art that it almost demands the reader’s undivided attention. But there are a handful of panels that the reader is not allowed to savor due to the word balloons crowding the panel. This isn’t necessarily the fault of letterer Deron Bennett, who has the unfortunate task of trying to find the space to fit the wordy script onto the artwork. Both the artist and writer should take into account the fact that the words must fit on the page as well as the images. Luckily, this is a small problem and most of the panels are fine, but it is still something that can be felt in the earlier parts of the issue.
Strange Fruit #1 is an engrossing debut with a provocative premise. J.G. Jones and Mark Waid develop the world that instantly lives in the minds of their audience. While it would have been nice to see the characters move beyond their archetypes in this issue, this comic does a lot of things right in terms of establishing this scarred world. And with recent real-world events, Strange Fruit proves to be not just a comic of the past, but one of the present as well.