Image Comics First Looks, Part 2

As promised, here is part two of my look at new ongoing Image comics. It is, of course, limited to only the ones that I chose to read, but with the sheer number of new series coming out from them, it would have to be limited in some way no matter what.


cover to The Manhattan Projects #1

The Manhattan Projects

The Manhattan Projects

(Based on issues #1-5)

This isn’t Jonathan Hickman’s first story about historical scientists acting like science fiction action characters (that would be S.H.I.E.L.D., one of the densest stories ever published by Marvel), but this takes a very different, more cynical, approach. Instead of acting like superheroes, these ones are driven by their own selfish secrets, and given free reign by a maniacal military man who doesn’t think through consequences very clearly. Yes, it’s an indictment of the real-world Manhattan Project’s evils, brought to its logical conclusion in a world where “Death Buddhists” can teleport kamikaze robots across the ocean. If the superhero comics of the ’40s and ’50s reacted to scientific advancement with optimism, The Manhattan Projects  displays today’s more worried reaction to the same thing.

Rejoined by Nick Pitarra, Hickman’s artist for The Red Wing, this has the same clean, almost mainstream, look to it. It would make a great gateway comic for someone normally only comfortable with superheroes. That doesn’t make it simple, though. The issues so far have thrown out ideas at a fast pace, and set up a complex web of characters. It’s still far from Hickman’s most confusing work, but it rewards attention.

So far, the series has been focused mostly on introducing the characters and showing off ideas. I’m not a fan of twisting around historical figures just for shock value, but these are well executed. Hickman plays on our familiarity with these people, and the payoff is worth it. Also, there is enough forward momentum that I don’t have to dwell on any quibbles I may have. The most recent issue is the first one to focus more on plot progression than on establishing characters, and it hints that the story might become more confusing. What we’ve seen so far is promising, though. If you like your science fiction to mix science and absurdity, and can handle a gory, depressing allegory that is unlikely to have a happy ending, then this is the series for you.

Grade: B


cover to Mind The Gap #1

Mind The Gap

Mind The Gap

(Based on issues #1-3)

Mind the Gap aims to be a twist-heavy mystery in the vein of Morning Glories, even going so far as to feature Rodin Esquejo, Morning Glories’ cover artist, on the team. Author Jim McCann is no Nick Spencer, though: He appears desperate to make sure you appreciate his cleverness, from including the tagline (“Everyone is a suspect. No one is innocent!”) twice per issue to the “Filling in the Gap” text page where he spells out the clever twists and hints in case you missed any of them.

The story: After rich young Ellis Peterssen is assaulted and left in a coma, she wakes up in some sort of spiritual limbo with no idea what happened to her. She is free to watch the reactions that it causes in the real world, though. Her image-obsessed family seems to be hiding something, some of her friends appear to be living a double life, and even the doctor who takes her case is eager to keep anyone else from examining her. The author has promised that the culprit has already been introduced in the cast.

McCann seems adept at juggling the threads of the plot, and Esquejo’s crisp artwork has kept up with the demands of the script, including a wide variety of characters and occasional surprises in Ellis’ dreamworld. I can’t bring myself to care, though. The characters’ reverent references to music and movies come off as too precious, and mystery genre clichés abound. (Why yes, a shadowy guy with his face hidden does keep receiving instructions from an unnamed person over his phone. And when they ran into each other in the most recent issue, that unknown person speaks from around a corner, insisting that “we can’t be seen together”.) For me to stay interested in the twisting plot, I have to believe the characters are more than clichés. But when Ellis does manage to communicate with one friend (correcting her on the name of a classic movie actress, of course), that friend reacts by immediately running to the hospital and trying to perform New Age rituals. And she’s surprised that the doctors don’t believe that Ellis talked to her.

A convoluted whodunnit needs a stronger foundation than that.

Grade: C


cover to Secret #1

Secret

Secret

(Based on issues #1-2)

Another new Jonathan Hickman series, this one feels considerably darker to me than The Manhattan Projects. While that series may have mass death and destruction, it’s presented with a colorful science fiction veneer. Secret is a realistic tale of corporate espionage with a dose of torture porn. For most of these first two issues, the people we’re following, and given cues to sympathize with, are the apparent bad guys. (Maybe that will not turn out to be the case, Two issues in, we don’t know much at all. But it seems obvious that we’re being asked to identify with the clever people who are manipulating others, and since it’s been three months since the last issue, I’m not waiting any longer to discuss this.)

Though Hickman is not the artist, his striking visual design is apparent. Each cover is a gritty, minimalist view of a body part that someone will lose inside the pages. The pencilwork from Ryan Bodenheim is a little stiff and simple, but it works because it needs to be comprehensible more or less as grayscale pictures: Color is reserved entirely for dramatic effect, highlighting important objects or switching up from panel to panel. The effect is striking, and the “Hickman style” continues to grow more interesting as he gets experience working with new artists.

I just don’t care about the story, though. Cruel people are manipulating others for unexplained ends, and we don’t have enough of an explanation to care about anyone except possibly the victims. Now, it’s unfair to assume that Hickman wants us to root for anyone, or that this isn’t all an elaborate set-up into something completely different, but he does still need to give the reader a reason to read the next issue.

So far, Secret is all style over substance. It could easily go in many directions from here, some of them good. From what I’ve seen so far, though, I can’t recommend it.

Grade: C

 
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