Last year's American Vampire tie-in series, Survival of the Fittest, was an incredibly fun collaboration between main series writer Scott Snyder and talented artist Sean Murphy. It was action-packed, with plenty of great character moments sprinkled throughout. So when I heard that a second tie-in series was on the way - this time with personal favourite artist Dustin Nguyen - I was pretty pleased.
Having gone through the first issue, I'm happy to report that Lord of Nightmares is more of the same dependable American Vampire goodness that readers have come to expect from the series. Set in 1954, a decade or so after Survival, the book opens with the now familiar Agent Hobbes sitting at a London café speaking with a Mr. Tommy Glass. Tommy, dressed in full tourist regalia, claims to be from Dayton, Ohio. More than a simple tourist, he also claims to have some rather intense weapons to be used in assaulting the London Headquarters of the Vassals of the Morning Star.
Considering that those first few pages are literally Hobbes and Tommy talking back and forth to each other in a generic London café, it makes for some incredibly tense reading. While Snyder doesn't yet reveal the goal of Tommy's threats, Hobbes' reactions make it clear that something big is at stake. And when Tommy makes good on his claims, things get even more interesting.
The remainder of the issue follows the fallout of this unexpected assaults on the Vassal organization, and perhaps appropriately, takes us in some unexpected directions. Things slow down again, taking the reader into some more tense conversations that end up both linking this miniseries in with earlier American Vampire stories and linking Snyder's American Vampire in with the wider vampire cultural mythology. Neither revelation is terribly surprising in retrospect, but they're both really well handled and add a great deal of interest to this opening issue.
I've really missed Nguyen's art these past many months, but I can say without hesitation that the wait has been worth it. He is absolutely excellent in this issue, doing a terrific job translating Snyder's script into an actual comic. Pages vary from full-pages splashes to having eight or nine panels, but Nguyen's choices always feel spot on. Pages are never too busy or too empty - they're always just right. I also have to applaud John Kalisz's colours, as his dark, moody choices are the prefect compliment to Nguyen's lines and inks. this is a nice looking book.
Verdict - Buy It. The second American Vampire tie-in is off to a great start. Snyder quickly sets the scene and the stakes, providing lots of reasons for the reader to care about what's going on. At the same time, Nguyen draws the hell out of this book, providing us with some gorgeous visuals to go along with Snyder's words.
It feels like this book has been a long time coming, considering that we ran an interview with Brian Wood on the subject way back when and the short digital comic prologues that came out leading up to this inaugural issue. In this case, the old saying holds true: good things come to those who wait.
The Massive is Brian Wood's latest comic book series, following many other critical successes such as DMZ and Northlanders. The Massive is set in a potential future where a huge, world-spanning disaster (potentially due to climate change) has messed things up pretty badly. But while following the wide-ranging ramifications of these huge tsunamis, melting ice caps, and mass animal extinctions would make for some compelling reading, Wood places the book's focus squarely on the Kapital, a ship manned by a group of environmentalists who happened to be out on the ocean when things hit the fan. Although they decided to continue working towards their mission (which remains somewhat loosely defined at this juncture), their most recent preoccupation is searching for their sister ship, the Massive.
And that's exactly where the book opens, with Mary and the crew seeing a mystery ship on their radar, while lost in the fog near the Kamchatka Peninsula. All that backstory I've just offered you comes out over the course of the issue, with the comic jumping into flashbacks while the Kaptial's crew try to figure out whether or not it's their friends out in the wintry fog. Throwing the reader into the thick of things is a really effective way to kick this series off. As we meet all the main characters for the first time, we get a good idea of what type of people they are based on their reaction to the mystery ship. Mary assumes it's a threat until proven otherwise, Callum Israel, the ship's captain, assumes the opposite, and Mag is somewhere in between. Perhaps a little simplistic, but it definitely gets the job done.
Wood does an excellent job of providing backstory over the course of the issue with those aforementioned interspersed flashbacks. We get a couple of bite-sized chunks to bring us up to speed as the Kapital reacts to their radar contacts, breaking up the present-day tension with some different tension from the past. Dave Stewart, a true Dark Horse workhorse, does a magnificent job with the colours to really set those flashbacks apart from the main narrative. Realistically, he kind of just threw on a sepia tone, but it works really well. It makes a clear demarcation between the past and the present, and it makes all those disasters looks extra menacing.
Of course, colours will only get you so far (even when they are so excellent), but the book is blessed with the talents of Kristian Donaldson, who does a heck of a job making this book a reality. There's a huge range of subject matter for him to draw, from a diverse cast of characters, to many different ships, to enormous natural disasters, and he doesn't skip a beat. It all looks real purty, reminding me of work by Ryan Kelly, another of Wood's common collaborators. Everyone's facial expressions are a little dourer than might be ideal, but they are all living in a post-apocalyptic world, so that could be forgivable.
Verdict - Buy It. Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson put a strong foot forward for the first entry of The Massive. The issue has a nice balance between action and exposition to both grab the reader and explain to them what the hell is going on. There's also a few paratexts at the end of the issue that hints there may be a little more to this environmental group than meets the eye. All in all, I'm quite excited to see where this story goes.
I suppose I have no one to blame but myself. Back in September 2011, when Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1 came out, like many readers, I picked it up amidst all the hype about brand-new (alternate reality) Spider-Man, Miles Morales. The creators were the same on that book as on this one, and while I enjoyed that opening issue, I was really put off by the price point when compared to the page count. $3.99 for a twenty page comic was simply unacceptable to me. So despite my positive feelings on the actual comic, I dropped Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1, never to look back.
Never, that is, until I heard talk of Spider-Men #1. You see, I'd really liked Miles Morales. And I really like Spider-Man. And with my recent choice to stop buying Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man, I thought maybe it was a propitious time to give Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli's Spider-Man work another chance. While I was right, the exact same problem as before remains. I hate paying $3.99 for a paltry twenty pages of content. That feels like highway robbery to me.
The worst part of the whole thing is that, while I'm used to twenty pages from all the DC Comics I read, Bendis has this amazing talent to make twenty pages seem super short. Like, twenty is already not that much, Bendis somehow finds a way to make the whole thing seem even shorter. It's uncanny. In this opening issue we see Peter Parker think about how much he loves New York, encounter Mysterio, get accidentally transported to the Ultimate Universe, and run into Miles Morales. That's it. That first one shouldn't even qualify as a plot point, but Bendis spends, like, five pages on Peter Parker monologuing about how wonderful New York is while we stops some bad guys. It's ridiculous. And it's not like those remaining three events should take all that long either. Bendis truly seems to be the master of decompressed storytelling.
And maybe this will all seem worth it when we can see the story as a whole, but that isn't what we're buying with Spider-Men #1. We're picking up a single issue that is supposed to somehow be worth our money, and Bendis does nothing (beyond some witty one-liners) to make these paltry twenty pages worth the large chunk of change Marvel is charging for this book.
On the plus side, I can say that Sara Pichelli is awesome in this book. This isn't really all that surprising, I suppose, but it should definitely be emphasized. I haven't had much opportunity to see her work, but I'm always impressed by what I do come across. This issue is no exception, as she delivers terrific page after terrific page. I'm especially delighted by how expressive she manages to make Pete in the Spider-Man costume. There isn't all that much to work with, but she gets some distinct body language out of it, along with some brilliant, if subdued, facial configurations.
Verdict - Skip It. This issue is fun, but it is just too short to warrant the cover price. There seem to be some fun ideas bubbling just under the surface, perhaps to emerge in a later issue, but that doesn't give any reason to pick up this issue in particular. Should things pick up, waiting for the trade might be a good idea, but I can't see any reason to buy this in single issue.
Not a bad week all around. While Spider-Men is not my cup of tea, I really should have known better going in, and that still leaves me with plenty of other books to satisfy my reading urges. How did you make out this week? Lots of good books coming your way? Did you give any to your dear old dad? Or if a father yourself, did you receive any?