December 17, 2014

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RobM's Single Minded for 12/10: Sci Fi Rides High with Copperhead, Eternal, and More

It's time once again to share my thoughts on some of the books that came out this week in single-issue form, and it's yet another bumper crop of science fiction comics, which might be the biggest thing that happened to comics in 2014. Speaking as a person with a long-time love of science fiction, I'm extremely pleased to see everything from space westerns to near-future advances are finding their way into the mix.

I already wrote about Flash Gordon separately because I had more to say then I'd planned, so let's look at some of the other sci-fi comics that came out on Wednesday, along with a few others of note, leading off with BOOM!'s new series, Eternal...


Eternal 1
Written by William Harms
Line Art by Giovanni Valletta
Color Art by Adam Metcalfe
Published by BOOM! Studios

Everybody must get cloned! In a world where human cloning is boosted by the ability to move your consciousness into another body, not everyone is buying into the scientific miracle. With hints of torture for the genetically pure, a resistance movement fights against an overwhelming system at the start of this new sci-fi series.

This one has a very interesting premise, given that while we often see cloning and we frequently have stories where minds can shift from body to body, putting the two together isn't nearly as common outside of the superhero set. It's also often given a chance to appear good before shifting into a great moral evil, but that's not the case here. Opening with stories of teens abusing the ability to die, Harms makes it clear we're not meant to like this advance one bit.

That theme continues as we're introduced to the resistance, who work to save those with genetic purity from being placed in camps. Now camps/preserves/reservations are never a good thing in fiction (or real life), but just in case, Harms adds that this one has "Indian" in its name, which will trigger immediate reactions from American readers, who know just how awful the treatment was of indigenous people in the United States with regards to reservations.

By the time a good cop gets overruled in favor of brutal interrogation techniques, we know that there's only one side to this equation, even if the terrorist actions of the resistance are uncomfortable. All of this is drawn solidly by Valletta, making the world feel very realistic and near-future. We aren't in a far-flung fantastic time period. This is an Earth that could very well be ours within the next fifty years. The art and story make this very much science of the improbable, rather than science of the fantastic.

But despite the strong visuals, great emotion on the faces, and art that moves the story impressively well, I was a bit disappointed that things aren't a bit more gray. I like it when I'm not sure out of the gate who I'm rooting for. When I read Spider-Man, I know that I'm supposed to be rooting for the guy in the blue-and-red spandex. When I read an indie sci fi book, I want there to be a place to make my own decision. Having the bad guys be not just a little bad, but downright evil from their first appearance hurts that feeling of ambiguity that I think makes for the best stories.

That said, once you relax and understand it's looking like a black-and-white story (from the information we're given in issue one--that can change!), Harms gives us some nice pathos and shows the dedication of the resistance--and isn't afraid to kill people off, either. Combine it with panel work that knows you don't just draw everything from the same angle--and has one of the best modern uses of the "Kirby Eyes" I've seen in awhile, and you get a comic that has a lot of promise. Eternal doesn't look like it will make you ponder morality, but it should be a good, solid, science fiction comic, one that I'm looking forward to following as it develops.


Copperhead 4
Written by Jay Faerber
Line Art by Scott Godlewski
Color Art by Ron Riley
Published by Image Comics

Sheriff Bronson's job isn't getting any easier, as she uses some unorthodox methods to try to find a murderer, but the main suspect might also be the same creature that saved her son. Meanwhile, a spurned deputy tries to prove his worth as this space western mystery keeps hitting all the right buttons for me on story and art.

So yeah, this is a Space Western with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure, written by one of my favorite creators who knows how to deal with imperfect characters, Jay Faerber. You might as well have just handed me a plate of supreme nachos, because there's pretty close to a 100% certainty I was going to like this one, and now that we're four issues in, I'm digging it even more.

After using the first few issues to establish the main characters, Faerber moves into kicking the plot up a notch. Because we know the deputy (who was passed over for Sheriff) is trying to show his worth, he's going to risk everything to solve the case ahead of Bronson. Deftly adding in a flashback to his time in the service, where he also had trouble following orders, Faerber really nails him as a sympathetic--if a bit self-serving--character here. Godlewski's visual parallels between past and present in this section of the issue are a highlight, as he draws them to be similar enough to understand the deputy's mindset, but not clones of each other. Ron Riley's coloring finishes the effect, taking a slight tone change to the flashback--nothing fancy, just a bit of a fade--to really complete the effect of the panel sequences.

That's typical of the art quality on this one, where Godlewski designs several different kinds of aliens without going crazy. They're still humanoid, as befits the setting he co-created with Faerber, but there's something different about them. Like fur or scales or elongated necks. My favorite part is how they're sprinkled into the scenes, too. These creatures show the diversity of the universe organically--we don't need a ham-fisted discussion about it.

But the highlight of this one is when Bronson has to talk with her son, who has a very different opinion of her number one suspect. We start at an odd angle, with the eye of the reader looming over the boy, who is reading. The conversation gets increasingly uncomfortable, and that's when Godlewski pulls back in terms of his usual detailed scenery, placing them almost in a stark, black place, which mirrors the mindset perfectly. The looks on Bronson and her son's faces could kill, and his line where he straight-up hopes she fails is chilling.

It didn't take much for me to enjoy this premise, but watching it be executed so amazingly well at every level has been a pleasure month in and month out. Copperhead gets an unqualified recommendation.


Hexed 5
Written by Michael Alan Nelson
Line Art by Dan Mora
Color Art by Gabriel Cassata
Published by BOOM! Studios

Back from the dead, Lucifer, magical thief, and her new assistant, the unwilling necromancer Raina, try to recover the objects lost in their fight against Cymbaline, finds the dark side of an amusement park and even more trouble as this excellent series moves into its second arc.

Hexed caught my eye because of the Emma Rios covers, and I quickly became a fan of the very engaging main character, Lucifer. Michael Alan Nelson keeps her tone loose while making sure there's very real danger--and a price to pay--for all the dabbling in magic she--and the rest of the cast--are practicing. There are some definite echoes of Hellblazer (not that crap New 52 "Constantine" that isn't really John), but Nelson keeps things fresh enough in terms of how he deals with demons, magic, and cut-throat killers to make it feel like its own thing.

The "I don't really like you but I'm stuck with you, and you're a newb to boot" concept works very well here, with Lucifer playing reluctant tutor to Raina, who's been thrown into the deep end. Their odd couple pairing gives Nelson a lot of room for comedy, which Mora plays up at every opportunity by exaggerating facial expressions, body language, and visual clues. (My favorite is when Raina walks in, looking dressed for sex play, thinking "don't be seen" means black latex and Lucifer calls her a Rocky Horror extra. Hah!) Mora's style is very influenced by manga, but I wouldn't call it OEL, either. He uses angular faces, CLAMP-style, but the rest of his layouts and figures feel more like what we see in Western comics. It's a nice blend, but may be a bit too fine for the taste of some, who are used to their horror books looking dark, sketchy, and gritty.

What begins as a simple heist turns deadly fast, and now Lucifer once again has to keep them both alive while trying to figure out what makes the object they're after so important. Meanwhile, she's still got the lagging worry of being tapped to take over for a dying witch and Cymbaline still wants to kill her, too. There's a lot of nice subplots hiding behind the action and supernatural foes, making this one something I'm glad I took a chance on a few months ago. It's shaping up to be a great series to add to my ever-growing horror reading list.


Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla 1
Written by John Reilly
Line Art by Tom Rogers and Dexter Weeks
Color Art by Dexter Weeks
Published by Action Lab

What do you do when you're a brilliant scientist who worries that your aviator girlfriend is in danger from the occult? Look up a crank who lives with his mother, that's what! It's another historical figure mash-up, and how much you like this one will depend on how much you enjoy those kinds of stories.

This is a very earnest comic, and it's clear that the creators took their time to put together a story they're very proud of. They've taken the time to make sure all the little historical details fit together, such as Tesla's run-in with Edison, placing Albert Einstein in a patent office, and other flourishes. But when you throw Houdini into the mix on top of everyone else, the effect is stifling. Instead of following the story, you start waiting to see who's going to show up next. An incredibly strong story can hold under that strain, but the plot here is pretty vanilla: Tesla worries about other dimensions, Lovecraft worries about demons, and when their paths cross, you know what's coming next.

If Rogers and Weeks were able to bring more life to the art, that, too might have pushed this one above treading water, but while their likenesses are pretty good, the panels do nothing innovative or compelling. When Houdini pops out of a barrel, he doesn't shoot towards the reader's eye or the audience. It's played straight. Similarly, our first demon offers no sense of menace. It stands at the stairs like it was calling for dinner, then waits for them to attack in panels that don't try to play up the horror. It faces Lovecraft and Tesla with its claws down, flat, like it's just waiting to die.

You just can't do that in a horror comic. It's not going to work. Not when you have things like Atomic Robo using the same characters, making for an instant point of comparison--which Herald fails badly. This is a comic that tries hard, but just wasn't ready. It's too generic, like something you'd look at--and then pass over--at Artist's Alley at a con. I really wanted to like it, but I just wasn't able to, and those who like historical mash-ups would be better served elsewhere.