The Black Order #1
Written by Derek Landy
Art by Philip Tan, Marc Deering, Guillermo Ortega, Le Beau Underwood and Jay David Ramos
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The cosmos’ darkest villains have a book all to themselves. Derek Landy and Philip Tan set out to craft a surprisingly humorous action tale in The Black Order #1, but need to find the right mission for them. The titular villains have always crackled on the page, but the question remains if they can carry their own series without Thanos to guide them forward.
The Black Order is attacking the Sinnarian Empire at the behest of the Grandmaster. Emperor Attican is a deranged figure – Derek Landy imbues him with a craze and lust for violence (well, at least a lust for watching it). The larger-than-life characterization balances nicely with the villainous Black Order - Landy’s take on the Cull Obsidian may throw some readers off, but it fits nicely with the tone Landy is going for. Corvus Glaive is having an identity crisis around whether or not he is funny, which gives the issue a humorous tone. It’s not every day that one sees a murderous warlord worried over whether or not his wife notices his witty eyebrows. Unfortunately, this characterization never feels quite complete thanks to a thin plot. The Black Order all make great impressions, but there’s only thin threads as to what they are doing or why, so it’s hard to get fully behind them.
Philip Tan’s artwork is lively and fully captures the Black Order’s murderous sense of fun. Tan’s exaggerated figures help give the book its tone - when you have a character named Big Angry, it’s important that he looks the part. Tan does a fantastic job with the action sequences. In particular, his Proxima Midnight is lithe and athletic on the page, moving from opponent to opponent with furious efficiency. The battle at the end of the issue is a visual splendor - Tan makes great use of perspective and angles in the fights that create a dynamic sense of motion that equals any big screen action. Colorist Jay David Ramos does a beautiful job capturing the crackling energy of the battle and nicely contrasts the colors with the dark costumed Black Order.
However, not all of the artwork is successful. In some places, Tan’s figures appear warped in ways that seem unintentional. The first panel that focuses on Black Swan feels particularly disproportionate, creating an awkward introduction to the character. Not helping the matter is the use of three inkers. Mark Deering, Guillermo Ortega, and Le Beau Underwood all do great work, but their different styles sometimes create a visual inconsistency that can draw the reader out of the book.
The Black Order #1 is a book full of style and fun. Derek Landy and Philip Tan clearly have a direction here with the murderous villains, and while not everything lands, it’s still an entertaining read. The big stumbling block is that readers unfamiliar with the Black Order have very little reason to care about their fates. Corvus Glaive’s small crisis of identity aside, there’s little for readers to grasp on to, and that’s something the series is going to need to find.
Electric Warriors #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Travel Foreman and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
If pop culture is destined to eat itself whole, then comic books got to the feeding ground early. Comic books have been remixing and reinventing their own legends for decades, building on the past as a bridge to the future. Which is what makes Steve Orlando and Travel Foreman’s Electric Warriors especially gripping — it views the DC Universe from such a distant vantage point that none of its cows are sacred.
Orlando and his art team take us deep into the future, a post-disaster Earth of the year 2735 A.D. Having learned nothing from The Hunger Games, wars are averted by a chosen few fighting intergalactic smackdowns. Earth is divided between a dominant animal populace and the humans still struggling for their rights. The Electric Seed has chosen a champion from each side of the gene pool, and not everyone is completely pleased with this.
What’s fascinating about the complicated and just plain batty setup for Electric Warriors is just how seamlessly it fits into the DCU while completely subverting it. The Age of Heroes is a distant memory, and the products of its time - from Trinity symbols to Kal-El’s cape - have become totemic or simply commonplace. “Superman created a world that told humans they couldn’t take care of themselves,” reflects one character. Here Orlando is starting with the premise that the promise of truth and justice lost out, and stuff just got dark and weird instead. It’s a bold move for a mainstream comic book and a hell of a way to usher in the Cosmic Dark Age.
Even more intriguing are the characters we are presented with in this debut issue. Oscar Navarro is the human chosen to be the Electric Warrior, but it’s his brother Ian that we spend most of our time getting to know. The reasons for this play out as we get through the non-linear setup, rapidly introducing other characters so we are caught off-guard when something awry is slid into the narrative. Kana, for example, is a member of the Octopus tribes who has been chosen as Earth's second Electric Warrior. Orlando has found a way to present a whole lot of complex world-building at once and never having to rely too heavily on lengthy exposition.
Much of this is possible thanks to Travel Foreman and Hi-Fi’s (dare I say) electrifying artwork. Split into smaller chapters, the first panel comes flying at the reader jaws-first, setting up the potted history of human-animal relations in a mere four stylishly angled panels. Foreman’s uncomplicated line art on the humans makes the animals and surrounding worlds all the more detailed by comparison. There’s a half-page scene sent on the horizon of something called the Feathered Coast, and its detail looks as though it stretches on for miles.
Hi-Fi plays the human and alien color art off against each other. The humans are imbued with soft pastels and semi-realistic hues, so much so that the future seems nostalgic. The sudden primary color appearance of Superman’s cape (or the "Shroud of Kal-El," as they call it) visually draws a point of difference between the Cosmic Dark Age and the Age of Heroes. By comparison, the process of Electrogenesis - that is, the transformation into the Electric Warrior - and some of the non-human creatures look as through they are glowing through the panels. As Kana steps out of the water, Hi-Fi has captured every inch of the alienness of the bipedal octopus’ presence.
“Heroes either make people weaker or die trying,” laments Ian. If comic books and their heroes are to survive the next few decades, let alone the next seven centuries, then there needs to be more books like Electric Warriors. The final page introduces a character so unexpected that’s sublime in its offbeat audacity. It’s a series that has the potential to change the way we look at the DCU, and not just because of it’s ability to mess with canon. Here’s hoping it maintains this level of momentum.