Quick Hits Reviews: Image has some Issues (The Old Guard & The Few)

The Old Guard #1

The Old Guard #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Leandro Fernandez
Colors by Daniela Miwa
Letters by Jodi Wynne
Design by Eric Trautmann
Edited by Alejandro Arbona
Published by Image Comics

Greg Rucka is writer who's great at a lot of things. He writes complex, interesting female protagonists. He's skillful at establishing fully realized worlds in a way that's user-friendly without spoon-feeding the reader. He's a master at epic tales of war, combat and the supernatural. And, he's great at partnering with terrific artists and getting out of their way (in this case, the terrific Leandro Fernendez and Daniela Miwa on colors). It's good news then that The Old Guard brings together all of these different skills. The Old Guard is a story of mercenaries/soldiers who appear to be effectively immortal, and at least in some cases have been active for thousands of years. This is a great, engaging concept - sort of a meets a military adventure book, if your team was comprised of Vandal Savage, The Eternal Warrior and Forever from Lazarus (which, as it turns out, would also be a great name for this book). The camaraderie of this group comes across nicely, even as they're threatening and messing with one another. They've clearly been working together for a very long time.

What's also evident from the first few pages of the comic (from both the words and Fernandez and Miwa's gorgeous, thoughtful illustration) is that our lead character (a woman named Andy) is someone who's lived and loved and fought and slept her way through multiple lifetimes and just wants to be done with the endless cycle of it all. Rucka’s spare narration tells us this, but the strength of the art in The Old Guard is that Even without Rucka’s words, we see this though the repetition of sex and war and combat, all things Andy had experienced again and again. Fernandez's art in this sequence reminds me (in spirit, more than with regards to the specific art style) of an ancient Greek or Egyptian wall painting. In very few panels we see the passage of centuries and a long life lived. It's very effective work. In particular, Miwa does striking work with shadow and color contrasts that illustrates sadness, loneliness and fatigue.

The Old Guard #1
Fernandez's art style reminds me a little bit of the work of Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon and Michael Oeming (in his playful, stylized exaggeration of the human body) but while characters' features are exaggerated, this is controlled, realistic, grounded work. Fernandez’s art is emotionally honest, dynamic, and just generally inviting to look at. He's got a great sense of pacing, and the panel layouts are always interesting and guide the eye in a way that it it's always telling a story. As mentioned above, Miwa does great, varied work throughout the issue, from the sun-dappled streets of Barcelona, to the warm light of Paris at Midnight, to arid warzones; the colors are stylized rather than strictly realistic, but they convey the emotion and really set the mood for each scene.

The Old Guard doesn't seem like a story that's interested in why these people are immortal; that they are is taken as a given. What it is interested in establishing is that their status quo (in which they operate discreetly in the shadows) is about to be upset, both by forces acting against them and by the realization that they aren't the only immortals out there. The Old Guard is looking like another great series, and I highly recommend it.

The Few #1

The Few #1-2
Written by Sean Lewis
Art by Hayden Sherman
Published by Image Comics

I wasn’t sure that right now I wanted to be reading a comic about a dystopian, post-America landscape, but after 2 issues of The Few I’m hooked. It’s a story about the conflict between what’s left after the fall of the American government, and rebels on the other side, and a woman who’s caught in between. Through the first 2 issues, we have a basic picture of the collapse of America and the conflict between what's left of the government (known as The Castle) and various rebels and fiefdoms who've staked out control of different areas (this story takes place in what was Montana). Writer Sean Lewis is building a world from the ground up, where for the most part we're learning based on what the characters themselves know, rather than from some sort of high-level omniscient party (more Brian K. Vaughan, less Jonathan Hickman). The protagonist is named Hale, and she's a soldier on a mission, one that becomes much more complicated in the course of the first issue. Through two issues I think The Few does a nice job in establishing her as a complex character with secrets and motivations that aren't yet clear; we definitely want to see where this is going.

The Few #1

The world that Lewis is writing is one that feels cold and harsh and spare. It's portrayed very effectively, and that wouldn't be possible without Lewis' storytelling partner, artist Hayden Sherman (who’s working on this and a comic at Dynamite while still in college - much more ambitious than I was at that age). Sherman’s art is a real revelation. Sherman has a style that reminds me of Ronin-era Frank Miller (spare, angular) that I find incredibly appealing in this book. As seen in the above panels, there's something elemental about Sherman's art; his forest scenes almost call to mind Japanese wood-cuttings. The books is minimalist and striking (there are only occasional splashes of color, all used very effectively to show blood or something else elemental), and in addition to setting a great, lonely, cold mood, Sherman is equally effective at character design (it's a weird, ramshackle world) and at portraying intense movement and action. The tension during chase sequences really comes across, as Sherman has a nice sense of pacing.

I'm impressed with the first two issues of The Few; it helped me overcome my skepticism at a post-collapse story and I think it's got something original and interesting to say.