June 17, 2014

  |  

Metal Gods 1 and 2

Written and Illustrated by Von Allan
Self-Published (available on Comixology Submit)

The son of two cult-hopping parents seeks them out with the help of his girlfriend and lands in the middle of a grand conspiracy that could change the world as we know it. Armed only with their wits, strength, and love, the pair fight for survival while trying to keep their normal lives together in this new series that looks to mix supernatural storytelling and the very real problems people face in the 21st Century.

Von Allan wastes no time getting the story started, opening with his protagonists spying on a ritual ceremony where a gleefully naked woman urges on her follows to conduct their unholy acts. The two charge into action, expecting the usual fake cultists to split or tell them if his parents were there. Instead, they land in the middle of a fight while a strange transformation occurs before their eyes.

They manage a narrow escape (otherwise, this would be a one-shot comic!) but it's not long before Nick and Lou are deep in trouble against, setting a tone for the series. This unlikely pair of heroes are drawn into something bigger than themselves or even Nick's parents, and if they can't find a way to stop the cultists, their lives won't be only ones forfeited. Though not possessing any special powers of their own, they're able to overcome because of their determination--a character trait that shows this comic's Silver Age influences.

It's a very old-school way of looking at things, and one of the plot points that's either going to work well for you or turn you away. At least this in these first two issues, the worst thing you can say about Nick is that he has the subtlety of a Sherman tank. Modern readers are used to characters who are generally good, but have flaws that give them depth. Even the characters of Kirby/Ditko/Lee and company followed this line, though not to today's extremes. So far, there's nothing to rough out the edges of Nick and Lou. They're very compelling characters--you immediately want to root for them--but they are a bit, well, too good right now. It would be nice to see a sign of self-interest or doubt or temptation somewhere along the way.

One of the things I really do like about this series however, is the use of the characters, even if they need a bit more depth. Lou is shown to be every bit Nick's equal. She's not the damsel in distress or nagging girlfriend or secondary character that seems to be the fate of too many female characters in comics. Their relationship feels very much like that of equals who discuss everything together. She clearly wants to be a part of Nick's life, even if that means being tied up into chasing after his parents. Their relationship is shown as being loving and deep, and this one wins major points for that.

Similarly, while the villains of the piece are of course evil (though in some cases, really comically bad at their assigned tasks), there's a nice gender split among them. One group is led by a male, while the other is led by a woman. The latter isn't sexualized at all, either--in fact, she's starting to rot away. Their true plans and nature are still very much hidden at this time, but it looks to be more than just "destroy the world" territory. Side characters include Nick's boss--a dwarf that's clearly influenced by Oberon--and Nick's grandmother, who has a very positive outlook on life. Nick and Lou themselves are in an interracial relationship, and the bad guys are split across different races as well. Allan manages all this without pointing giant neon signs, too--they're just people here. The reason why it stands out is because despite it being 2014, too many comics are still whitewashed or use racial characters only to fill trope buckets.

Allan mentions in his promotional materials that his goal was to make a series that reflects today's world, just as the comics from the 1960s reflected theirs. In that, I think he achieved his goal while telling a story that's definitely building to something interesting, as the hints increase and Nick and Lou realize they're stuck in the middle of whatever is wrong.

Where this series breaks down a bit is in the dialogue. The opening sequence features a gratuitous amount of cursing that has the potential to throw the reader out of the story. It's over-the-top, even for a person who's inclined to swear, and really hides the character depth that follows. This seems to settle down a bit in the second issue, which I hope makes for a trend. There's also a tendency for characters to talk just a bit too much, again reflecting the Silver Age sensibilities of Allan. Fortunately, there's no aggressive caption boxes and the speech patterns are modern. But it's definitely an area for improvement, and readers should be prepared for it.

Though there are a few rough patches in the artwork as well, overall it's very strong for a self-published superhero comic. Allan definitely has an eye for how to construct panels and keep them varied from page to page. His use of action/speed lines is excellent and some of the best work I've seen in that regard in some time. In a splash page where Lou attacks their tormentors, the lines draw all the attention to the point of attack, but there are still other parts of the scene (such as Nick's stunned expression and body language) that remain in the reader's viewpoint, allowing for a complete picture of what's going on. That's a tiny detail that often gets lost, even in books at major publishers. A person who is at point "a" doesn't magically disappear just because someone else shows up there!

Another thing I liked about the visuals were the use of establishing shots and the gradual progression of characters either towards or away from the reader. It gives the comic a strong sense of movement that overcomes some of the stiffness in Allan's character placement. Returning to the idea of gaining a complete picture, this visual style really makes this feel like we're watching Nick and Lou's lives unfold before us, rather than just cutting out missing elements. Again, this is something to appreciate in a comic--too often scenes will change so rapidly it feels like a page is missing. That's not so here, which is a real tribute to Allan's work.

As with the dialogue, however, there are a few points that could prove troublesome for certain groups of readers. Allan's lines are extremely thin, which makes certain scenes feel flatter than they should, especially in crowd scenes. Despite the good use of speed lines and action, there are times when Nick looks stilted and artificially posed into a panel, rather than natural flow. Allan also has a limited range of facial looks when we aren't in close-up settings. None of these are game-breakers, though. If you read Boom! books before they started getting the bigger names, this is about on the same level. It's solid work that gets the job done, but don't expect amazing things in the detailing.

Metal Gods is off to a very interesting start. If I had gotten this at a show or on a random grab, I'd have come away happy with it. The characters are fun, the plot is fast-paced and involves things I like--cults, conspiracies, and just the right amount of sexual content. Combined with some nice visual work at the layout stage, this one is worth picking up, especially at its 99 cent digital price point, for those who like action stories mixed with a bit of horror.

You can pick up issue 1 at Comixology now.