47 RONIN #1 of 5 (Dark Horse, November 2012): Anyone interested in feudal Japan and tales of samurai honor will want to read this adaptation of the classic Japanese legend. Dark Horse founder and publisher Mike Richardson has been contemplating a comics version of the tale for over twenty-five years. Recent events occurred to prompt him to script it himself after finding the ideal artist partner in Stan Sakai. In eighteenth century Japan a powerful landholder, Asano Takumi-Naganori, is summoned by the Shogun to help prepare for some visiting envoys from the Emperor. The Shogun has appointed a court official to instruct Asano and others in proper court etiquette. However, the Shogun’s palace is rife with corruption. Bribes are commonplace.” Court official Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka confronts Lord Asano and demands an additional “gift” as proper compensation for the training. Offended by the suggestion, Asano stands his ground and refuses to pay the bribe. Things become more difficult for him from that point forward as Kira sets him up for failure. Things take a bad turn during a meeting with the other Lords and Asano, baited by Kira’s critical words in front of his peers, gets himself in further trouble. This sets the stage for the classic story of the 47 Ronin and a long mission to avenge their master. In the text background piece, Richardson refers to how he was looking for just the right artist “who was familiar with the customs, clothing, and politics of the period. I particularly wanted to find someone who could evoke, but not copy, the woodblock prints of Ogata Gekko.” Sakai pulls it off. His work has never looked better.
FF #1 (Marvel Now!, January 2013): I haven’t had this much fun checking out the art since the days when Mike Allred penciled X-Force. Why? Because Mike Allred is penciling this new FF series! I love what he does with super-hero books in his distinctive and irreverent style. There is also a fun and light-hearted approach to the scripting of this book that reminds of exactly how the former Wolverine & The X-Men title started out (until it had to get more serious due to A VS. X crossovers.) I like this lighter side of writer Matt Fraction as well. The real Fantastic Four has to take a time-travel trip in search of a cure for their ailments and ask some FF (Future Force) members to stand in for them. Who are these temporary Fantastic Four ? (The job is only supposed to take four minutes of real time, so what’s the risk?) Why, they are Scott Lang (Antman) , Medusa (Medusa), Darla Deering (Ms. Thing) and Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk). Seems like a real fun group.
GREAT PACIFIC #1 (Image, November 2012): This is the most impressive debut I’ve read these last few months and possibly the one book out there with the greatest potential. Co-creators Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo lay out the beginnings of what , in a text only format, would be an epic novel ; and cover a lot of ground, particularly with character introduction and development, within just this one issue so far. Young Chas Worthington has inherited his father’s seat as C.E.O. of Worthington Corp, an energy conglomerate into deep sea oil drilling and mountain top strip mining, among other things. Chas is at odds with the board of directors and has his own ideas about how to make money off the land. He’s an advocate of recycling and an eco-friendly thinker who sees great potential in masses of plastic, garbage and junk and devotes some company funds towards research in these areas. Realizing he has neither respect nor the attention of Worthington Corp officials, he puts several events into play with stunning consequences. How this all plays out should make some interesting reading. I am so impressed with the scripting abilities and pacing skills of writer Joe Harris. The art by Martin Morazzo is stunning as well as the bright vivid colors throughout. Morazzo’s style will remind of Frank Quitely.
IRON MAN #1 (Marvel Now!, January 2013): For those who are counting, this is Volume #5, meaning the fifth time that the Iron Man series has gone through a re-boot. For the NOW! Age, writer Kieron Gillen gets a chance to make an impact and put his personal stamp on the Iron Man/Tony Stark mythos. He chooses to revive a classic storyline - - Extremis - - a combination of nanotechnology, biology and electronics that produces an ultra-human through the infusion of a specialized serum into the body. Sound like just another “super solider serum” story? Yes, but the original Extremis storyline by Warren Ellis became a memorable success because of the other elements that Ellis introduced into the Iron Man canon - - a slightly spun version of his origin, a re-thinking of his values, and a commentary on the power of the military and science and what is morally right and what is ethical, and a bunch of thought-provoking concepts. So can Gillen pull all that off? It sure looks like he’s going for it - - and I’m betting he can. There’s quite a bit of soul-searching to start this off. That a faux corporation (fronted by AIM) would be merchandising Extremis science to the highest bidders sounds exactly like something from Ellis. This issue (“Demons And Genies”) is the beginning of “Believe”, a five-part story that may just define Tony Stark/Iron Man a bit further. Greg Land is on board on art, although it doesn’t look to be his better work (so far). Give it time. Land’s best assets (in my opinion) are most noted when he is involved in a fantasy project rather than a super-hero book. Still, everything here (story and art) is interesting and worth keeping an eye on.
MASKS #2 (Dynamite, December 2012): As more characters get brought into the story, it taxes your knowledge of classic pulp crime fighters (those heroes in “masks”). Writer Chris Roberson doesn’t always introduce them by name. This issue begins with the enforcement arm of the newly governing Justice Party shaking down a high society gathering as they collect “the new tax”. Slipping outside to quickly change into costume are The Green Lama and The Black Cat. (I’m very sure about who the first person is, and not so sure about the second). The scene quickly shifts to last issues’ battleground, where The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, and The Spider are surrounded by police in heavy armor complete with protective metal faceplates. I was a little disappointed to see that the magnificent art of Alex Ross is no longer between the covers and only visible on 25% of the multiple covers. However, artist Dennis Calero is no slouch, so I’m okay with the change. Who wouldn’t be, when the style (especially the diagonal panels) reminds you of the late great Gene Colan? This issue has a pulp feel all over it and Roberson work it all in and keeps things moving at a fast clip. There looks to be a real handful of characters involved before this one is all over. Now’s a good time for you to get in before things get too crowded.