James' Single Minded for 11/12: Sci-Fi First Issues (Bigger Bang, Deep State, & Drifter)

This week I read several #1 issues released on 11/12/14.  The common theme here is fun science fiction stories with space travel and mysteries to unravel. Here are my thoughts:

The Bigger Bang #1

Written by D.J. Kirkbride
Illustrated by Vassilis Gogtzilas
Letters by Frank Cvetkovic
Edited by Justin Eisinger
IDW Publishing

The Bigger Bang is a fun and visually distinctive read, which asks the question "who would Superman be if he didn't have Earth?"  It's actually more interesting than that. The story concerns Cosmos, the Superman-like being who was created by the destruction of Earth and our entire solar system. He now seems to travel around space, helping beings and solving problems (you know, like Caine in Kung Fu).

In this first issue, Cosmos rescues a world about to meet an unnatural end, dislodges a space whale from being trapped, and gains the curiosity and respect of a military commander tasked with destroying him. Cosmos is an interesting character - he's sort of like Superman (heroic, super-powered, flies around wearing a cape) meets Galactus (immensely powerful, travels around space, last survivor of an old universe) but with saving planets instead of eating them. He's motivated to be heroic; does this come from his innate nature, or from some sense of responsibility? These questions are not yet addressed.

The illustrations in this book are highly distinctive, unlike most anything in superhero comics. Vassilis Gogtzilas uses something of an abstract style with rough, exaggerated lines and incredibly bright, vivid colors. This helps to illustrate the action and motion which mostly takes place in the darkness of space. Cosmos is seen as a larger than life presence, with huge exaggerated muscles and expressions as he goes about the business of saving lives. The aliens are depicted with a wide, creative variety of designs, particularly the amusingly (and aptly) named King Thulu, who comes across as a comical tyrannical Cthulhu beast wearing a huge crown. 

King Thulu is an example of another takeaway from the story which is, that it's quite funny. There's some very "silver age" style narration throughout the story which provides background, but also moments of humor and insight. The humor here is not what you expect in a story like this; it feels like a refreshing, non-obvious choice. You could imagine a more tortured, angst-filled version of this story being told by another author (In fact, working with Adam P. Knave, Kirkbride did do a Superman-like character with angst in Never Ending).  The combination of the moments of visual and descriptive humor here, contrasted with the rough, foreboding tone in the art, creates an interesting dissonance. This issue is mostly setup, but it does so very effectively. I want to know more about the current universe in which Cosmos finds himself, and what led him there.

Deep State #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina
Colors by Ben Wilsonham
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Boom! Studios

All those conspiracies you hear about from time to time? Aliens, Freemasons, JFK? Deep State is here to tell you that they're all true, and the government is working hard to cover them up. "Secret history" and conspiracy stories are a fertile ground for storytelling (as exemplified by current comics Manhattan Projects and Manifest Destiny) and some of the most fun parts of this issue (and hopefully going forward) are the looks into hidden history. As a debut issue, this is a nice introduction to what will hopefully be a rich, weird world and a fun first issue which sets a clear tone. In spirit this is a successor to X-Files (as evoked by two agents in the cover art) and Men In Black, as well as the (underrated) movie Conspiracy Theory.  

FBI agent Branch (we don't get a first name) is committed to getting to the truth of some closed investigations, and this gets the attention of John Harrow, who's part of a secret government organization committed to keeping secrets secret. He offers her the chance to join because he's impressed with her commitment to getting to the truth (shades of the way J (Will Smith's character) joins the Men In Black) and, she can't resist. Agent Branch is our "point of view" hook into the story-- we get to see her reaction as we learn all sorts of hidden truths. This issue concerns humanity's trips to the moon. It turns out that there's more than we've been aware of, and our prior trips haven't gone well. 

This was an effective first issue. It establishes the thesis of the story, and the art works well here. Kristiantina has an appealing style here; slightly rough lines but with clean portrayals of action and emotion. Kristiantina's design nicely complements Wilsonham's colors, particularly in scenes of darkness, of which there are many in this issue (as conspiracies are rarely hidden in broad daylight). Despite the fact that the story mostly takes places in the shadows, the art isn't obscured and the shading is very effective. Agent Branch's sense of skepticism and determination comes across well in the facial acting, as does the genuine sense of foreboding and danger when Branch and Harrow go out into the field to investigate mysterious goings on. The flashback/historical scenes depicting our race to the moon convey both a historical context and a sense of fear and horror as we see the real, hidden history. 

As this is an introductory issue, we don't learn much about the main characters, and it remains to be seen whether this is a story that will delve significantly into their lives or whether it will be more like something like the X-Files or CSI where the focus is much more on the case/conspiracy. Either way, it's off to a good start.

Drifter #1
Written by Ivan Brandon
Illustrated by Nic Klein
Letters by Clem Robins
Logo and Design by Tom Muller
Edited by Sebastian Girner
Image Comics

Drifter is an intriguing first issue in what's becoming a more popular setting, the scifi western (in comics, East of West and Copperhead are two examples, along with Firefly on TV). The western themes of frontier wilderness and a stranger in a strange land lend themselves well to mashups with aliens and starships. This goes back at least as far as Star Trek, which even used actors from Westerns to make up the cast.

The story begins with dramatic scenes of Captain Abram Pollux's starship crashing on this world. From the very beginning, Pollux is clearly a man full of regrets; he's done things he's not proud of. He survives only to be shot by a mysterious figure. Eventually he awakens in a desolate settlement called Ghost Town where he's received both medical care and restraints from the Marshal, Carter (who also doubles as the medic). He makes his way into a bar, ruffles a few feathers, and heads back into the wilderness followed by Marshal, where he finds a most unsettling discovery. 

The art from Nic Klein is gorgeous and detailed in an almost painterly style (certain scenes and characters bring to mind shades of Alex Ross, Steve Epting and Clayton Crain), and effectively tells the story of a man lost on a strange, desolate, alien world. From the very beginning of the story, the art shows the vastness of space and the violence and bulk of Pollux's ship crash landing on this world. Klein's character design is highly detailed, vivid and visceral. The reader can see the sweat, the strain and confusion on Captain Pollux and all of the weathered inhabitants of Ghost Town, and the aliens he encounters are similarly designed with a great deal of detail and care (while quite alien, their emotion comes clearly across). Ghost Town is shown as a sad, lonely place (though the name of the town is either cleverly ironic or a little on-the-nose, or both), as is its overall alien, frontier nature. 

As with the other first issues being reviewed this week, Drifter raises more questions than answers. These are intriguing mysteries though, regarding who Pollux is, where he's landed, and the nature of the other big mystery revealed on the last page. For fans of the burgeoning scifi/western mashup genre, this is a definite pickup.