Review: Three Number Ones

I’d planned to do a podcast talking about the number one issues of Butcher Baker, FF, and Xombi, but my schedule’s not working with me, plus, issue 2 of both FF and Xombi are already out (not to mention FF #3!), so here are my more quickly published thoughts about these three number ones.

Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1, by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston: I picked this Image comic up based on the buzz I was reading and that Matt at the Comic Book Shop recommended it. I thought it was pretty meh actually. Based on the hype, I thought it was going to be this cool, hip deconstruction of superheroes, but what I read was derivative and not very interesting–think the Comedian from Watchmen if he existed in more modern times. The main character is a mustachioed, boozing, swearing, fucking (as in lots of women) blowhard who was an operative who gets called back to duty by President Leno (I did like the opening page where President Leno and VP Cheney are discussing the situation and Leno talks about convincing America that he wasn’t the douchbag they thought he was, but that’s a very thin joke with little traction). What follows is a couple scenes: one of Baker on his way to blow up a prison filled with his former enemies where he has a run-in with the sheriff from Smokey and the Bandit. I never cared for those films, so that joke or homage or whatever you want to call it falls completely flat for me. When Baker gets to the prison, he blows it up. End of story. Well, he did sort of feel bad about it. What’s in this first issue just isn’t enough to convince me to read issue 2.

I did find Joe Casey’s five-page essay on why we should read his new comicbook (no, that’s not a typo–read Casey’s treatise as to why comicbook as one word is essential to understanding what he’s trying to accomplish) somewhat interesting. I appreciated some of the ideas and the history therein, but really it boils down to this: this is a no-holds barred, helluva ride we’ll have access to if we join him. Pass.

FF #1, by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, & Paul Mounts: I have heard for years how good Hickman is on Fantastic Four (hereafter referred to as F.F.), S.H.I.E.L.D., and pretty much anything else he does. I read the first volume of S.H.I.E.L.D. and can understand why he’s so talked about as a premiere writer, so I wanted to check out his F.F. work. So, if you don’t know–SPOILERS!–, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is presumed dead at the end of the F.F. series. So Marvel has now started F.F. over as FF (for Future Foundation) with the three remaining members of the team, plus Spider-Man (who was asked to join because Johnny specifically asked the other Fantastic Four members to recruit Spider-Man should anything happen to him–how convenient that Johnny made that holographic last testament). (And since we’re on the subject, Spider-Man is stretched pretty thin, I think. I don’t follow Marvel all that much, but he has his own thing going on, plus membership in one of the Avengers teams, and now this? Does Peter ever sleep?)

There’s a really great scene where Peter comes a-calling to officially join and runs into Ben. Ben responds to Peter’s greeting by slamming a door in Peter’s face. Sue is very gracious about it, telling Peter that “has nothing to do with you . . . he blames himself”, and the last panel on the page shows Ben sitting on a bed, hunched over in a dark room–nice work that. Sue proceeds to give Spidey a tour of the Baxter Building and the new FF suits: these white and black things with hexagons on them (at least for the Fantastic Three) that can also change its color and pattern at the wearer’s will. I like the idea of alterable suits, but the design is not good. White? Really? And giving Ben a tank top is another bad idea. Plus, Spider-Man does NOT look good in white, black, yes, but not white.

There’s some action involving AIM kidnapping the Wizard, but that’s not the strength of this issue. Hickman excels, much as Bendis does (but with a different tone), with the interplay between the characters. When Reeds’ father announces that Reed’s idea to terraform the moon is a terrible idea, Reed just looks at his father for a moment, and then says, “How refreshing.” Then there’s the final page surprise–SPOILER!–Dr. Doom shows up to join the Future Foundation. Talk about a can’t-wait-for-the-next-issue moment.

Xombi #1, by John Rozum & Fraser Irving: Now for the best of these three issues. I first encountered the Xombi character, David Kim, in Brave and the Bold #26 (from August, 2009!). I knew of him from the Milestone series, but had never read anything featuring the character until that B&tB issue and I was intrigued by David Kim. Then when I found out that Fraser Irving would be the artist, I knew I had to read this comic. I loved Irving’s work on Batman and Robin after Quitely left (in fact, better than Quitely–sacrilegious, I know :)), and Irving’s work here is no less spectacular. In fact, it often overshadows the fantastic story elements by Rozum. For example, there’s this great two-page spread showing us time passing, but instead of doing it in a panel layout as most comics do, Irving gives us essentially two splash pages with multiple images of the same characters as they “move” toward the “camera”. If that’s not enough, on page two, Irving cuts the camera to show the opposite side of the room but never cutting the flow of movement an time–brilliant! One thing I may get tired of in this series is Irving’s use of color. He seems to use a wash of a color to depict different scenes (though he’s not always consistent), and, for example, him using pink on the cover and then in 7(ish) pages was a little much.

I have to admit that Irving’s style is so distinctive that I sometimes forget that Rozum’s work is what I really like in this series. The comic opens with a bunch of weird stuff happening across the world, including chickens giving live births of their chicks and a tiger from one painting attacks a cow in an adjacent painting. Then there’s a guy holding coins that talk and whose presidential profiles actually move (well, their mouths anyway). We’re later introduced to Nun of the Above (who can see what anyone is doing within a 30-mile radius just by “looking”), Nun the Less (who can shrink–handy for this plot), and Catholic Girl (flight, energy discharges, force fields, etc.) who David helps with a prison break-in/out, but the prison is condensed down so that it fits on a large table. The Snow Angels then show up and proceed to eat a priest’s face off (we see it later being worn by one the angels), and then try to do the same to David’s arm. If that wasn’t enough, some demon-possessed, Halloween-costume wearing children show up for some trick and death-dealing at the end of the issue. It’s not quite the OMG moment that FF had, but there’s just so much to this wacky world that I cannot wait to see where Rozum and Irving take me.

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