Infinity Wars: Soldier Supreme #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Adam Kubert and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Remember the Amalgam Age of Comics? For readers of a certain age and era, the aftermath of the Marvel vs. DC event was either the heights of insane comic book spectacle or the depths of crass fan-service — done-in-one characters like Dark Claw, Spider-Boy and Super-Soldier were garish and weird even by ‘90s standards, but hell if I didn’t trace that cover of Speed Demon for weeks on end after it came out. And it’s that sort of lens that is best to view Marvel’s latest Infinity Warps event, particularly Infinity Wars: Soldier Supreme — as an older reader, you can’t help but see the flaws in execution, but there’s that certain sense of childlike wonder that may bring some readers back down memory lane.
For what it’s worth, on paper Gerry Duggan has some really cool concepts going on underneath the mishmash of magical cloaks and patriotic imagery — in World War II, instead of Doctor Erskine injecting Steve Rogers with a Super-Soldier Serum, he’s secretly enhanced by supernatural forces, making him equal parts sorcerer and Army grunt. It’s actually a decent concept, one that winds up delving into the thorny dilemmas of witchcraft during wartime, while still delivering that wholesome Steve Rogers spirit into some less-than-wholesome terrain.
But that said, this is also a story that needs to be taken with a grain of salt — like the Amalgam comics of yesteryear, Soldier Supreme stumbles a bit as it tries to give as many nods to Captain America and Doctor Strange as it possible. Characters like Bucky Wong and Dum Dum Fury each contribute solid bits to Duggan’s story — there’s a small visual beat involving Fury that’s particularly chilling the more you think about it — but once you start getting to Dormammu Red, the homages start to feel more grating than satisfying.
And that leads to the visuals, as well. As far as layouts and details go, Adam Kubert delivers some of his best work in recent memory here — but boy, is he fighting uphill in terms of character designs. If you think the Dark Claw design from Amalgam Comics is the height of superhero fashion, then you will love Soldier Supreme — while Cap’s star-spangled shield and Strange’s magical glyphs actually work seamlessly together, Solder Supreme’s actual outfit feels busy to say the least, with a cape, a tunic, multiple belts (including around his neck)... it was a lot seeing Humberto Ramos’ sketches, and Kubert goes down swinging trying to turn this bizarre design into something workable.
But at times, Kubert succeeds mightily — whenever he’s able to lean into the dark side of this comic rather than the action-adventure pulp, he’s able to show the gradual corruption of this All-American hero, like when his eyes glow with an eerie green hue as he performs unspeakable witchcraft. Colorist Matthew Wilson also deserves a lot of credit for making this book look as good as it does — he uses a lot of yellows and greens at first, which double not only at evoking a flashback but through the sinister forces at play, while his snowtime scenes give us a sense of foreboding and dread even before the fighting starts.
I’ll be honest — when I first read Soldier Supreme, I didn’t initially have a charitable read on it. The idea of Marvel mash-ups is an intriguing concept, but the overall designs and concepts feel so bizarre that it can be hard to invest in them — it’s not hard to imagine a magical super-soldier in the realm of comics, but would it look anything like this? But upon remembering the insanity of the Amalgam era, the execution and the target audience feels instantly apparent — this isn’t a comic that you can particularly take seriously, nor is it even a comic that you might argue is even technically or conceptually proficient. What it is is a frenzied, insane bit of narrative stunting, a reconfiguration of beloved concepts simply because of the sake that they are so beloved. As a result, Infinity Wars: Soldier Supreme falls into that tricky area, being both for diehards who get the references but also for readers who don’t take these concepts seriously enough to mind watching them get hacked into pieces. But for those of a certain age and era, this is the kind of stunt that — even if it’s not crazy enough to work — it may just be crazy enough to watch.
Patience! Conviction! Revenge! #1
Written by Patrick Kindlon
Art by Marco Ferrari and Patrizia Comino
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by AfterShock Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“How am I, a man of passion, supposed to watch the cardboard version of life? And it’s not like I’m asking for the world here. A story is, what? A character plus some shit that happens? The bar is low!”
The bar is low. And the opening scene of Patience! Conviction! Revenge! #1 plays not only as an reminder of that fact but as a map for the structure of the issue. Writer Patrick Kindlon and artists Marco Ferrari, Patrizia Comino and Jim Campbell deliver a kind of madcap, sci-fi adventure about a criminal mastermind who has been ousted from his syndicate and is looking for a way back in. Aftershock Comics’ curatorial powers strike again — this book is refreshing, fun and really puts Kindon’s authorial voice front and center.
Part of what makes Patience! Conviction! Revenge! a good debut is its uncompromising approach to storytelling. Kindlon lays out the basics of storytelling on the first page and he proceeds to introduce us to characters and make sure “some shit happens” while tossing in “a little action. A twist if you’re feeling clever. Some sex to distract...” us. It structurally really fun, and while he’s mentioned Warren Ellis and Elmore Leonard as influences, there’s something Coen Brothers-esque to it all. It’s partly in the rhythm of the words and the way they're broken down on the panels. Kindlon and Ferrari keep the scene from being overwhelmed by talking heads by panning around Renny’s workshop, letting the art do a lot of the immediate expositional setup while Renny rambles on. It’s a brilliant little bit.
It’s the humor that keeps the narrative buoyant and flowing. Kindlon knows that you’ve probably read a book with a vaguely post-apocalyptic wasteland setting and robots and all the usual trappings of sci-fi story. Quite frankly, Renny is ridiculous — switching from frustrated inventor to a parody of The Man With No Name almost instantly as he leads a robot army across the desert. But like, it’s not the “badass robot army” you might be thinking of. This one has a bot that looks like a Chuck E. Cheese animatronic and another called “Warning Robot” who just flies around and says “Warning!” Renny’s closest companion is a humanoid bot named Robot Paul who shares a lot in common with Douglas Adam’s Marvin the Paranoid Android, and his bit about the pronunciation of “Mojave” had me rolling. Kindlon is taking the piss and it’s wonderful.
Marco Ferrari’s art is a great fit for Kindlon’s story. He’s got a bit of a mix of Jorge Santiago, Jr. and Stuart Immonen in his line work and character designs. And there’s a bit of Chris Bachalo in the way he puts together his backgrounds. Ferrari gives us a few different looks with regards to paneling, but I think it might do more to distract from the narrative than add to it — specifically on a page that features panels laid out as concentric circles. Though it’s clear, that’s meant to set that sequence apart as a flashback. Patrizia Comino’s colors feature a lot of flat washes of color that overtake the whole page. It does give each section of a book an interesting look, but some detail does get lost if you aren’t looking for it. It’s similar to what we’ve seen Bachalo do most recently on his run of Doctor Strange. The method allows for a lot of additional colors by letting light inform the overall palette in a more significant way, but it can make the pages seem like the blend together more and deaden the energy of the art a bit.
AfterShock has given a home to another great sci-fi adventure with Patience! Conviction! Revenge! #1, a rousing debut that delivers on the promise of its opening pages. By putting his own twist on established sci-fi tropes and really leaning in wherever the jokes are, Kindlon has created something that already feels like much more than just the sum of its parts. Ferrari and Comino are already starting from a high floor and it will be interesting to see how their approaches evolve as the team continues to gel.
Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1
Written by Michael and Lee Allred
Art by Rich Tommaso, Michael Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
One of pulp fiction’s greatest crimebusters gets a wryly entertaining new debut in Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1. Helmed by the entire Allred family and graced with the vintage penciled stylings of Rich Tommaso, this new series aims to translate the hard-knuckled action and outlandish baddies to the modern comic scene. While some of the dialogue and cops-and-robbers action comes across a little clunky, this first issue really captures the old-school flavor of the yellow-coated crusader with an interesting tale of duty, corruption, and the heady days of pulp crime fiction.
Dick Tracy is a man who lives and dies by the rule of law — which unfortunately makes him a particularly difficult employee. We open on Tracy losing yet another police position, immediately letting us know that this Tracy is once again a “loose cannon.” While Lee and Michael Allred’s writing might come across a bit antiquated, the brothers really work hard to establish Tracy as just a working stiff, whose “superpower” is an intense work ethic and incorruptible sense of right and wrong. It is that sense of justice that kind of paints Tracy in an unflattering light, especially nowadays when the police are looked at with a more mistrusting eye than ever, but the pair also work to establish an otherworldly quaint setting in their Chicago, which feels like a pulpy retooling of a real-world setting.
And speaking of pulp, the pair’s plot and choice of villains really amp up the pulp factor needed for a proper Dick Tracy reboot. After being fired from city after city for his constant crusading, Tracy receives a new mysterious job offer from Chicago, the organized crime capital of the world. The offer comes straight from major Tracy antagonist Big Boy, who has a plan to use Tracy as a patsy in order to calm down a new no-nonsense governor and the angry public who elected her. I was worried going into this issue that it would either be a cheeky reimagining of the character or, even worse, a bone-dry retelling of the character’s crime-busting, but this story winds up threading the needle and adopting the best parts of both. Both Mike and Lee Allred play their first story fairly straight in regards to the characters and opening story, but they aren’t afraid to play up some of the goofier elements of the property, like the ludicrous villains and Tracy’s lily-white proselytizing about the rule of law. Some of this might come across kind of wooden for some readers, but for a property like this, it is just the right mixture of cheese and wit.
Along with Lee and Mike Allred’s vintage thrills and hard-knuckled action, artist Rich Tommaso, aided by inks by Mike, and gorgeous pop art colors from Laura Allred make this debut issue complete. Though the issue’s layouts are pretty standard, rarely breaking out the traditional grid scheme, the art in said panels really capture the script’s pulpy roots and dry humor visually throughout. The art team also really imbues this issue with an unexpected kineticism for the issue’s finale set piece, as Tracy and mobster Big Boy engage in a fun foot chase throughout the city. Equipped with a keen sense of perspective and well-blocked panels and transitions, Tommaso, Laura, and Mike really send this issue off on a high note and set the bar high for their set pieces going forward in the miniseries. Again, some reader’s might be turned off by the low-key nature of the action in this debut, but for my money, its finale stays true to the spirit of the property while making it pop with delicate inks, rich colors, and dynamic scene construction.
A real blast from the past, Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1 is a fun and well constructed reintroduction of the crime fighter for a new audience. Backed by the considerable talents of the Allreds and Rich Tommaso’s engagingly vintage pencils, this new debut has all the hard-boiled fun of the original strips but with a modern comic sheen.