It’s a relatively light week altogether with only five new issues and an oversized one-shot from Vertigo. I’ll just be looking at two issues in depth today and examining the rest on Friday.
Before we start in though, I’d like to request some feedback. Although I enjoy writing these reviews and making recommendations, it seems like they’re generally more positive than not. This is largely because I like reading comics that I enjoy (weird, huh?). So in the interest of getting outside any bubble I may have constructed around myself, I’d like your help. If there is a first issue coming out or something else you would like to hear my take on, good or bad, please recommend it. I’ll do my best to pick up new books recommended by this site’s readers, assuming the financial commitment is not too large.
Thanks for any feedback. Now let’s get on to this weeks books!
East of West #1
Jonathan Hickman is at his absolute best when he’s reinventing the world, whether it’s as a war-torn timescape in “The Red Wing” or one where the press is terrorized, instead of governments in “The Nightly News”. His independent work is always nuanced, filled with meaning, and infinitely re-readable. Perhaps the biggest flaw with the first issue of “East of West” is that, unlike its brethren, it is not yet completed and collected.
There are a lot of components moving around, even for a forty page issue. The United States is composed of seven different nations, the four horsemen have arisen, Death has some sort of mysterious beef, ancient three-sided prophecies are coming true… It’s a lot to take in. Hickman’s achievement is that he shows the world of his story, rather than telling what ought to be known. With this much history, there must be an awful temptation to dive into exposition, but this comic is better written than that. Like in previous Pronea offerings, there are phrases, colorings and symbols laced with unknown meaning introduced. The tri-force (likely related to four horsemen) and the phrase “The things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us” stand out as having particular importance. All previous Pronea books from Mr. Hickman have tied nicely into these resurfacing ideas and symbols, so there’s no reason to expect that to change. It’s very difficult to deconstruct a novel based on the first chapter though and it’s the same with this issue. I can say there is a lot of promise, but talk of themes and social commentary will have to wait. In the end this book is the first chapter, not the first book, of a story.
Nick Dragotta makes for an excellent pairing on the title. Although he may not be everyone’s favorite artist from superhero comics like “FF”, he fits right into Hickman’s alternate reality, symbolism-filled, high concept settings. The character designs for the Four Horsemen (Death and Famine especially) are well done and inform readers as much as their actions and dialogue. The mix of sci-fi and Western motifs are elegantly illustrated, allowing for easier access to a world vastly different from our own.
Reviewing this raises an interesting question as to whether individual issues (or episodes of television or even chapters to a novel) should be judged by their own merits or the merits of the greater work which they compose. “East of West” #1 alone is an interesting little book with lots to ponder upon. As part of a greater series, it will likely turn out to be so much more.
Red Team #2
Comics are defined by the tandem use of images and words to relay information, although sometimes only pictures are needed. Unfortunately, this seems to have been something forgotten by Garth Ennis in the first two issues of “Red Team”.
The book is based upon the well-worn premise of police leaving the rules behind to seek justice outside of the law. By itself, not something worth seeking out, but in the capable hands of Garth Ennis (Preacher, The Boys, Punisher), it should be something that sings. He knows characterization and ultra-violence as well as anyone in the business. This book is much more down-to-earth than his previous series, but it was never the fantastical elements of “Preacher” or “The Boys” that made those titles such outstanding reads. So it’s difficult to admit that this book has not been a very well composed comic thus far.
The primary problem is that it is overwritten. Comics are all about the fusion of words and images. There’s a careful balancing act which occurs between the two throughout every comic. The scene, tone, and many other factors will dictate what is needed on the page to best tell the story. That balance is generally ignored in “Red Team”, as Ennis opts to spell out as much as possible through dialogue and narration from an interview. In fact, there is not a single scene in this issue where the actions are not overwritten or the subtext spelled out on the same page.
You could say it’s an issue of “telling, not showing”, but that wouldn’t be 100% correct. There are at least two scenes in the book that are shown to the audience, then told to the audience at the same time. Other parts, like the rooftop meetings, do fall into the trap of simply telling. The sad part is that both the good and bad scenes of the book blur together, because they are all treated the same way.
Cermak’s art is great and he clearly has the ability to guide a reader through a visual story, making the previous criticism all the more pertinent. In particular, the sniper scene could have been told in complete silence and been so much more effective for it.
There’s a lot of room for improvement on this book and no reason to doubt that Ennis is capable of making it an excellent read. Thinking back less than a year on the final story arc of “The Boys”, I can remember moments that were as well written as anything being published today, scenes that caused me to tear up with only a single word spoken. Ennis has created truly awe-inspiring books before. This issue, though, is not a good example of the comics craft or this writer’s ability.
On Friday, I’ll take a look at these titles:
Age of Ultron #3
Time Warp #1
Uncanny Avengers #5 (maybe)
Young Avengers #3