Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Mighty #1-6 Review

Every now and then I’ll overlook the first few issues of a comic book that might have flown under my radar and, by the time I realize how awesome the comic is, a large number of issues have come out and I find myself scrambling to play catch up. This is the case with The Mighty, an often-overlooked non-DCU superhero title for DC Comics that is nearing the completion of its first twelve-issue “season.” I was able to snag the first six issues of the series for a fair price at a recent comic book convention and, I must say, it is well worth tracking down. Hit the jump for the details on why The Mighty could be one of the best comics you aren’t reading!

Written by Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne
Art by Peter Snejbjerg, Chris Samnee, and John Kalisz
Letters by Rob Leigh
Covers by Dave Johnson

The Mighty tells the story of a Gabriel Cole, the designated “Captain”—i.e. handler—of Alpha One, a former soldier who was caught in a horrific accident that granted him powers, making him the world’s only superhero. Cole is thrust into the role when the previous handler is mysteriously murdered and must immediately take on the responsibilities including handling public relations, doing follow-up on Alpha One’s activities, and keeping the hero grounded.

Alpha One immediately takes to Cole, who had become a bit of a cultural phenomenon when Alpha One saved him as a child, and strikes up an incredibly intense friendship. Though Cole attempts to stay level-headed, his awe and admiration of Alpha One only fuels the hero’s actions. This often causes problems between Cole and his wife, who recognizes something unhealthy about Cole’s hero-worship and the way Alpha One is behaving.

As Alpha One’s behavior gets darker and more obsessive, Cole begins looking into the background of the previous Captains and takes notice to the fact that Alpha One’s immense power and obsessive behavior has put him in more danger than eh could have imagined. As the first half of the series comes to a close, the pieces are in motion for a major confrontation between the two that does not bode well for Cole.

From the get-go, Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne put on a clinic with their character development. Stories about heroes gone rogue are all the rage these days, but the writing team sets The Mighty apart through the unique personalities and drives of the characters. By only really focusing on a handful of characters, they are able to develop everyone fully—none of the major players can be described as one-dimensional, which makes the story all the more compelling.

The relationship between Alpha One and Cole is perfectly put together and the arc of it is incredibly natural. Given their history, it makes sense that Cole would delve directly into hero-worship the moment that Alpha One initiates the friendship; but what really impressed me is how well this flowed into becoming more about male bonding before Alpha One’s behavior takes a dark turn in the final few issues that I read. This puts an interesting twist on the story, especially since the only other major person in Cole’s life is his wife.

Speaking of which, Cole’s wife Janet may be the most interesting character in the entire story. She is a perfect match and foil for Cole. I could immediately relate to their interaction and the complexity of their relationship—like most wives she plays a multitude of roles in Cole’s life. Because so much attention is given to their relationship, she becomes one of the most non-marquee female characters I’ve seen in a long time. She isn’t merely relegated to being a background plot point—she is a driving force in the story and a major player in Cole’s life. It’s a very refreshing take on what could have easily been a drab archetypical character.

I really dig the plot structure of these first six issues. While the end of issue six is a natural “break point” in the story, it isn’t really the end of anything as there are aren’t any mini-arcs or major storylines beyond the overarching story of the relationship between Alpha One and Cole. The plot is complex and continuous without any stopping-and-starting miniature storylines that are common place for twelve issue miniseries. Every issue flows into one another and only serves to make the single story that much more complex. Its an approach unlike anything you’ll see in most other comics, especially in today’s “writing for trade” climate in comics.

The downside to this is that some story points may get lost on casual readers. Every beat contributes to the story at large, but isn’t necessarily focal to any “act” within the story. Characters and concepts come-and-go, pushing the story forward whereas in most comics they might even be contained to their own specific story within the larger structure. This may mean some backtracking on the part of the reader, but I think in the end that it’s worth it because of the refreshing nature of the narrative.

Peter Snejbjerg takes co-creator credits for the series and handles the art chores for issues #1-4 while up-and-comer Chris Samnee takes over at #5. Both men employ a similar style that has one foot in a pulpy-realism that is a great fit for the tone of the story, while the openness of their designs keeps the art from alienating the superhero elements of the story. John Kalisz is the colorist for both men, which helps bridge the two as well.

Of the two, Snejbjerg is the weaker link. His work is very consistent, especially in terms of his detail work and the balance of more realistic and fantastic elements. He is certainly a competent artist, but towards the end of his run, these elements really start to cause major issues with the overall look of the stories. The interesting thing about this is that there seems to be a progression of his consistency issues that peaks in his final issues—issue one is considerably stronger than two, which is in turn stronger than three, and so on.

When Chris Samnee jumps in at issue number five, the quality of the art picks up in a big way. His work is considerably more controlled in all aspects. His strong expressions fit perfectly with his pulpy designs. His use of heavy blacks and varying line widths add a lot of depth to the story and are used with clear consideration for the situation in the script—he only veers from his “standard” style at times that make sense.

Dave Johnson rounds out the art team with a series of brilliant covers. From his simple, mysterious covers for the opening issues to his more involved issues towards the end of the set, they are all incredibly bold and eye-catching. Best of all, they make sense with what is going on in the issues. Too often if the cover designer isn’t doing the interior art, there seems to be no correlation between the cover and the interior, but here Johnson’s work not only fits with the story, but is a great way to kick off the stories themselves.

Verdict: Buy It. Based upon these six issues, The Mighty is one of the most intelligent and finely crafted comics out there right now. It has an excellent premise that sets its apart from other books in its subgenre of superhero stories that is accented with some of the best character work that I’ve ever read from Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne. It starts off a bit slow, but by the time I reached issue six, the series found its niche and the individual issues were hitting the Must Read plateau. I am a bit disappointed that Chris Samnee wasn’t the artist from the beginning, as his work is a major force behind the success of the later issues—this might have even bumped the first six issues as a whole up to Must Read. As it stands, though, The Mighty #1-6 is a series of issues that are definitely worth checking out and have me chomping at the bit for remaining six issues in the story!

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Monch said...

Thanks! I was wondering if this series was worth it

Allen Gabriel said...

Glad to see I'm not the only one enjoying this series. I thought this book would be overlooked as it came out around the same time as Irredeemable (another comic I enjoy, but I can see why people would dislike it).

El Gostro said...

Indeed,DC should note that one of it's best comics currently parading in the market is unrelated and therefore unnaffected by their regular universe spanning event (no reality pretpunchconning or pesky undead lanterns,bothersome shapeshifting aliens and ubiquitous funny haired Lex Luthor knockoffs appearing just for the sake of the current "crisis")

Anonymous said...

Love this comic.

Issue 9 is awesome.

it gets scarier!

workin on it said...

Just read issue 10 and it's really great! Twisterific! Too bad DC is pulling the plug after issue 12.

Matt Ampersand said...

The sales numbers this series has are really terrible. Hopefully it'll do better in the trade market.

Tromeritus said...

Well...didn't see THAT coming. Sad that the series probably won't be recognized until a while after it's been fully collected in trade.

The series looked generic from the outset. The previews I read were interesting, but I wasn't sure where it was going or what the point was. I may need to check this out.

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