Single Minded for 1/22/14: de Campi Shows Her Range in MLP: Friends Forever

Welcome to another edition of Single Minded, a look at ongoing issues that came out each week. Happy to be getting to this sooner, but there are still several books I'm behind on that I need to catch up before the go into the round up. This one's also a bit shorter because I covered Edison Rex 13 and Peanuts 15 for Newsarama, so go check those out, then come back here.

Now let's talk about some of the things that came out this week that caught my interest, starting with Panel Patter favorite Alex de Campi:

My Little Pony: Friends Forever 1
Written by Alex de Campi
Illustrated by Carla Seed McNeil, Jenn Manley Lee, and Bill Mudron
Published by IDW

A cooking competition gets an unlikely entrant, showing taste is in the eye of the beholder in a cute one and done story that targets the jokes at a wide audience.

Let's pause for a minute and realize that this one is written (and lettered) by Alex de Campi, who isn't exactly known for her all-ages material. It's about the most unlikely pairing of writer and subject I've found recently, but Alex shows quickly she's just as much at home making Mark Evanier-style pop culture jokes that use kid-friendly characters and tell a story that works for both adults and children.

Pinkie Pie is a natural for the cooking contest, but it's the addition of Applejack to the proceedings in case of mistaken identity that makes the story work, as the pony's laid back attitude serves as a counterbalance to the high-stakes nature of the other competitors. When Applejack "replaces" Marine Sandwich, a radical who takes it personally, the jokes fly fast and furious, ending in a slapstick routine (and showing de Campi's strong reliance on timeless humor standards to drive the jokes).

Carla Speed McNeil, another unlikely contributor to the proceedings, does a great job with the difficult task of making characters who barely have any distinguishing elements or poses look good and have a bit of variety. She concentrates on the eyes and changing up the mouths as much as possible, while keeping the ponies moving if at all possible. Lee and Mudron finish the job with bright coloring and ever-changing backgrounds.

Even when I was a kid and played with "girl" toys, I never had much of a thing for these characters so I'm not the target audience here, but I liked this one well enough to want to read more, if the team returns for another issue. As a one-and-done, this is a great way for folks who like the creators to jump in and out as needed. If you like solid, all-ages comedy, this is a solid pick up, even if you don't fall into the world of MLP as a general rule. de Campi and company prove they can tell a good story without a need to be into the characters themselves.

Hacktivist 1
Created by Alyssa Milano
Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly
Illustrated by Marcus To and Ian Herring
Published by Archaia (Boom!)

What if the creators of Facebook wanted to change the world by using their coding skills to help activists and revolutionaries? And what if the US Government wanted to back their efforts? That's the premise on this title that was big on promotional backing due to a high-profile creator but didn't do much to impress me.

I'm always a bit dubious about comics that brag about being created by someone but you can't find their name anywhere in the actual details. This one was actually better than most of its ilk, but as my buddy Aaron Duran said over at Newsarama, it feels like it was written by a person who watches a lot of spy movies instead of someone who understands how it all works.

We begin with a desperate group of people agitating against the Tunisian Government, but the finer details of why are left alone, because that would be too complex for the light tone of the book. Props for hitting on a region with political issues instead of creating a fictional one, but given that the revolutionaries would more likely be Islamist  and therefore unlikely to be led by a t-shirt clad woman, it feels like the writers were tone-deaf to the actual parties and picked it to be topical.

From there, the focus shifts to the two Facebook creator analogues, one of who likes to play fast and loose and gets caught, but it's okay because the well-dressed CIA agent wants the good looking computer geek into the Family. It's just far too pat and easy, and yes, I'm sure things will go wrong, but I only know this because, like Nate in the book, I do in fact read a lot of Ludlam-like books and stories.

The art by To and Herring doesn't help matters, being far too slick for the gritty revolution sections and stilted during the long, boring exposition about Nate and his partner. Panels are drawn at an angle just to do it, with no purpose to the design of the visuals. The character designs are generic, and the whole thing feels like it could be cut and pasted out of this comic and into another one without changing the story.

Hacktivist is a nice idea, but the execution is sorely lacking, to the point that I'm not sure I'll continue into a second issue. There's just not enough here to keep me going, when things like Think Tank are doing the whole "Government does things you don't know about" premise so much better.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Utrom Empire 1
Written by Paul Allor
Illustrated by Andy Kuhn and Bill Crabtree
Published by IDW

The story behind Krang is revealed at last, mixed in with what's been going on for the would-be conqueror as Paul Allor tackles a spin-off series going on roughly at the same time as the main books that's well done but probably only for the hard-core fan.

IDW is absolutely fearless about putting out extra titles alongside their main books, which is pretty impressive for a smaller publisher. They certainly take a Big Two approach when it comes to a comic like this, which enhances the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but doesn't expect to be a big seller.

If you are a fan of the re-imagining, then this one is a treat. The Fugitoid and Stockman are back, working at similar yet cross purposes as they wish to stop Krang. Meanwhile, Allor gives the Utrom Empire a backstory that just wouldn't fit into an arc of the main series. By linking the two concepts together, showing Krang's insane doubling down on trying to retain control, we get a nice echo because in its own way, Fugitoid is about to do the same thing.

Andy Kuhn returns to a Turtles book again, though this time paired with Crabtree instead of Pattison. He does some great work making the Utroms look animated despite being brains outside of their protective jars, giving them strong emotional looks. His character work for everyone else is a bit weaker, with some nice panel constructions but lacking some of the tension you'd like to see from an action comic. Crabtree uses a lot of tone shading for this one, which works, but neither can the frequent lack of depth or backgrounds on the page.

Utrom Empire isn't going to be for everyone, but if you really dig the IDW Turtles (and I do), then it's worth grabbing. Otherwise, the main book is plenty.

Pretty Deadly 4
Written by Kelly Sue Deconnick
Illustrated by Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire
Published by Image Comics

Things begin to fall into place as the players in Deconnick's intricate drama meet up for a confrontation with consequences for all involved in another absolutely gorgeous issue of Pretty Deadly.

I love Deconnick's rich language, because it really adds to the mood. These characters are obscure on purpose and speak accordingly.Every once in awhile though, this book teeters on being just a bit too obtuse. When the girl who wasn't killed asks why no one ever gives a straight answer, the reply back is "What fun would that be?" Well, I get that, but you have to be careful you don't overdo it. There are some moments where this one could use a bit more clarity, especially when dealing with just why Death needs the girl in the first place. I'm sure all will be explained in time, but it has to be soon.

The art on this issue is spectacular as always, and as long as Rios and Bellaire keep knocking it out of the park, Deconnick gets a lot of rope to tell her story. The scenes in Death's realm steal the show, as usual. Countless butterflies (colored bright orange) form into the woman that has failed Death. Grey roses litter the ground, their number turning them from something of life into a bone-like structure that saps life. Rios' linework in these sections looks a bit like something Walt Simonson might have crafted for his underworld, and it's stunning.

Scenes in the mortal world are just as strong, as Rios shows the desperation in the faces and bodies of the Mason and Ginny, the daughter of his wronged love. In some panels, nothing but the raw emotion of battle is shown, while others provide a look at their savage brutality. Meanwhile, Bellaire, who really should be winning this year's Eisner for Best Colorist, enhances the look and feel of the book with backgrounds that give clear indicators of place changes and small details like the different shades of a person's bruised face. Green eyes pop out at the reader from Coyote while Ginny wears black rings around hers that change slightly based on her emotional state.

Every mystery must have its solution, and we're definitely working towards some resolutions here. Deconnick is giving readers plenty of clues, mixed in with metaphors and veiled references that are almost as pretty as the artwork. I'm just hopeful that this one will stick the landing. When the story is so complex, doing so is crucial. As it stands, I'm definitely up for the ride.

Good Samaritan: Unto Dust #1
Written by Mike Luoma
Illustrated by Federico Guillen and Ken Lateer
Published by Glow in the Dark Comics

A priest with powers exorcises crime in Vatican 2-era Boston but his biggest foes might be within the ranks of the cloth in a horror story that shows the difficulty in trying to reform a faith.

Father Sullivan is the typical good priest working with a corrupt structure who has the power to make significant changes. In this, he's the same kind of character as the "good cop in a bad department" theme and Luoma sticks close to the parallels, as Sullivan becomes ensnared in parish politics, all while the reader knows its the Cardinal that's the problem. The dialogue suffers a bit in its earnestness, but overall the plot is solid, if familiar. How you feel about that will depend on your personal taste.

Guillen's art appears to be pencils without ink, as the shading of the buildings have a graphite look to them, but in this era of digital pencils, it's hard to tell. The overall feel is very loose and unstructured, with the supernatural elements looking sketchier and appropriately ephemeral. Scenes of normal life are played pretty straight, though with some good changes in perspective. The coloring is vivid, despite using a lot of darker shades and hues. For something on this level, it's pretty strong work.

This one was sent to me, and appears on Comixology Submit. If you like religious-themed horror, it's worth taking a look at, but be aware there's some rough spots.

X-Files/Ghostbusters: Conspiracy
Written by Erik Burnham
Illustrated by Salvador Navarro and Esther Sanz
Published by IDW

The Lone Gunmen travel to New York to call on you-know-who in a story that's a lot of fun but continues to cause issues in terms of how these characters can all share the same world.

I know I'm a broken record on this, but how private would the X-Files really be in a world where New York City has had several very public ghost outbreaks and there's even a branch in Chicago? Why would the FBI try to cover up things that Mayor Bloomberg (or his analogue) is paying for with tax dollars?

I'm sorry, I just can't get that out of my head, and it does ruin the enjoyment of seeing the Gunmen refuse to keep their hands to themselves and nearly causing a serious ghost outbreak, while Ray and company bicker and banter over them like they were little kids meddling in a science lab. Burnham does an excellent job mixing the two groups of quirky characters together, getting lots of little things right, but overall, all we get is a confirmation of the future-helper theory, which could have been done without involving the Ghostbusters.

Navarro's art for the Gunmen is great, but his likenesses for the Ghostbusters are really off-model, as though it was okay to photo-reference the character actors but he was afraid Bill Murray's lawyers might have words if Venkman was too on-model. His ghosts are suitably creepy and realistic, and he handles the comedic tone well, but this one's just not doing anything for me, and I might be done with this one. Not ever crossover is a good idea, as this one is showing--which is shame because the main idea is so darn good.

That was the notable stuff from my perspective that didn't get a longer write-up. How about you? Anything I should double back for? Let me know in the comments.