Wait what? Yeah we’re trying something new this week as two books that kind of vibe the same were released from different publishers. The way this is going to work is that each participating writer (don’t worry it’s only a few of us) will give you our thoughts on each title so that we can compare and contrast all at once. Each book will get a score of course so let’s just jump the synopsis of each series: Descender #1: One young robot's struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet.
HaloGen #1: There’s a rumor on Cityship Q that the gigantic body of a dead god was found floating in space. Rell, an agent working for the HaloGen organization, is tasked with finding the location of the god and retrieving it by any means necessary.
Descender is a book that gives you a feeling of enormous space inhabited by a multitude of characters who all have their own interesting stories, and it does it all in the first three pages--before one of the main characters even makes an appearance.
This is the kind of thing that comics do so well, and Lemire and Nguyen know it: you can do whatever you want in these pages. If you want giant robot space gods to show up and fucking up what amounts to basically the United Federation of Planets--do it. If you want a tiny robot child with an ADORABLE MISPROGRAMMED BACKWARDS ROBOT DOG--it’s the easiest thing in the world. This book, like Lemire’s Trillium last year, revels in its ability to go wherever it likes and show off any part of the universe it likes. Lemire and Nguyen’s story seems to be a healthy mix of some of the inspirations for Sweet Tooth (A Boy and His Dog, in particular), along with some Blade Runner, a dash of Star Trek, a little Akira and Astro Boy, and of course, some Kirby-esque Celestial-type robot gods. If that list alone doesn’t want to make you read this book, I cannot help you. You may even be beyond help.
Nguyen’s work shines, as always. His choice to do the whole book in watercolor gives a homemade, documentary feel to a genre that’s usually a high-polish, lens-flare, saturated-color, chromed-out world. He uses color and mood so effectively, especially contrasting Niyrata at the beginning and at the end. It’s the little things that make him a consummate pro. This isn’t to say that I don’t love his colors in his other work, I just can’t get enough of that watercolor. I could eat that shit up all the time.
This is the space gods and robots book of the week. Get on board.
HaloGen #1: 2/5
HaloGen is a title that tries to shoehorn a lot into one issue, and ends up detracting from a lot of really interesting stuff.
With a book that starts by introducing a dead god floating in outer space, progresses to a bar where an alien chipmunk tries to avoid future Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Rec, and closes with a quote from the “Dead Space Scrolls,” this book doesn’t manage to spark a whole lot of interest. It crams a lot of plot in, and in doing so, tries to constantly address things in the world that come off as characters pulling the, “Well, as you know, this is what’s happening” move. “As you know” is poison to a story.
What this means for HaloGen is that we don’t get enough time with the characters or enough time with the world. The book has this feeling that it’s rushing, and it won’t get time to get its whole story out at the right speed, so they’re just pouring it on. The readers get a lot of non-essential information instead of learning who Rell is, or why we should care.
Having said that, Afu Chan and Shelly Chen do excellent work creating the world. The characters, designed by Chan and Giannis Milonogiannis are intriguing, especially Det’Houva, the dead, floating god. They make some odd choices with their lettering, especially constantly putting connecting tails directly behind other balloons, but that’s a strong choice, and it at least adds to the book’s aesthetic but ultimately, it ends up as a sparkly world that’s visually interesting without much meat to it.
Take a little bit of old (ancient gods, prophecies, etc.). Add a little bit of new (Cities in Space, lots of artificial intelligence, aliens, super tech suits, etc.). And finish with a little bit of corporate espionage and with some social commentary, and you will kind of get an idea of what HaloGen #1 is all about. This busy little issue packs a whole lot of detail in just a few short pages making for an if anything, a fairly interesting start to a mini that has some potential to be pretty decent before all is said and done. I just do not know if I am 100% sold on it as of yet.
Writer Josh Tierney paces the story pretty briskly as he hits point upon point upon point with lots of little introductions to several characters, maybe a little too many at times. It makes it a little bit hard to digest it all as Tierney stacks each panel with a ton of words and gestures. As the story works its way out though, we are given to some insight into Ms. Rell and how she ticks. We see an immensely competent heroine, but one who is not without flaws either. It is a complex look that is well done through Tierney’s language.
With the art, I am kind of digging on Afu Chan’s work as he hits the old and new with equal relish and strong depictions. Rell is drawn with a healthy mixture of strength and weakness that looks to be a prevailing theme that will occur a lot in this series and blends in with what Tierney is doing with the character as well. But as for now, we are left with tons of questions and very few answers regarding the dead god, Rell, the warring companies at battle, and how it all plays out into the city at large. We just have a whole bunch of narration, a whole bunch of characters, and an equally healthy amount of confusion. We shall see if it all works its way out. I certainly do like the concept.
Descender #1: 5/5
When reading that this comic has already had its movie rights secured, I could not help but to be a little bit intrigued. Seeing that Jeff Lemire was writing it with smooth artistic styling of Dustin Nguyen providing the visual punch… Well then, I just knew that I had to read this one. Lemire is one of my favorite writers as I have found the way that he can portray innocence on the backdrop of epic struggle to be a strong trait that makes all of his body of work entertaining. I loved Sweet Tooth… I loved Trillium… And I loved, loved, loved Animal Man. The guy just has “it” for me. And he appears not to be letting off the gas quite yet either. But you know, with all of his successes, he kind of is due for a fall... Maybe even a super colossal one as well. Could this be the one?
NOT A CHANCE!
Descender #1 brings out all of those things that I love about Lemire’s writing into full focus. We start with intriguing situations. We have the rug pulled out from under us pretty quickly. Then, we return back to a time of mildness that is perfectly paced. This one entertains and gives us a character that we can all like in Tim. Even if within him, he may just hold the key to a great cataclysm that occurred ten years prior. Add a little bit of dystopia, robot holocausts, and tortured scientists and you have one rip-roaring opener.
And if Lemire’s writing is not enough for you, we have the added bonus of seeing the high concept “watercolor(y)” look of Nguyen’s art. Nguyen brings a feel for the innocence as well as the morbid as we go through periods of action and quiet that is as smoothly displayed as Lemire’s script. It all plays like a really artsy children’s book with an almost fairy tale feel to it with super tech sci-fi stuff going on too. It is well done and hooked me on page one and right on through the end. I blazed through this one like a man on fire.
After reading Descender #1 not once, but twice, I can see why movie rights were picked up. This is the AI that Steven Spielberg probably wanted to do when he made his movie so many years ago. This one grabs you right away and does not look like it will let you up. It addresses some deep questions of life, death and maybe even what a soul might be all about before it is all finished. Unless there is some colossal meltdown that occurs, Descender is looking to be one of the year’s best here already in the early part of 2015. It certainly has my attention.
You can hear more opinions on Descender #1 and HaloGen #1 on this week's CBMFP!
Reviews are written for a multitude of reasons, but one of the primary ones is that you fine readers have a limited amount of money you can devote to this fine thing we call comic books and want an opinion on whether a certain book is worth giving a shot. In the case of Descender though, that reason feels like a moot point, and it’s a comic that will undoubtedly do very well regardless of any number of negative reviews it gets. Thankfully, I get to write that I love Descender, and can add to the mountain of praise that’s been hurled in its direction over the past month in advanced reviews I have refused to read. Descender though is a comic book that wowed me from start to finish, Jeff Lemire having a frightening amount of precision and thoughtfulness about this star system he’s created, and its very (non)human characters.
With this comic, Lemire addresses some of the issues I had with his recent creator-owned work Trillium, especially improving the pacing. Even for an extended premiere issue, this comic feels as if I got a lot of story, somehow managing to get in several major characters and advancing numerous plot threads with the sort of ease that makes you think Lemire was polishing his nails as he worked through this comic. One of my common complaints with these type of world-building sprawling comics is that there’s not enough of an emotional hook to them, but I felt an almost immediate investment in not only Tim-21, the boy android, but also Dr. Quon the disgraced roboticist who starts the comic out waking up in a swanky cool future apartment only to turn pages later to see how intensely the robot attack have impacted his life.
HaloGen #1: 3/5
Today in class my professor told me that I tend to use sci-fi tinged metaphors whenever I try to explain some concept discussed in class. Even though I disagree with her since some of my metaphors are more Romantic and natural, I can see why she thinks so as I interact with sci-fi narratives really regularly, most often in comic book form. The sci-fi metaphors work often to help me understand situations because the genre is so great at making tangible philosophical or societal concepts that might be too esoteric to consider. Reading HaloGen #1, it wasn’t difficult to determine that Josh Tierney, Afu Chan & Giannis Milonogiannis are hoping to explore ideas of the meaning of a creator being in a technologically advanced world. I think as an opening to exploring this concept this first issue succeeds in several ways. For instance, I liked the way that the issue opens with the image of a dead being thought to be the creator of the universe, and the narration Tierney pairs with it, grounding its discovery in mysticism rather than technological advancement. It points to some potential future tension between technology and religion that seems like it might play out in interesting ways.
Lead character Rell also plays into this tension, something apparent just within her design. Rell’s halo, while a hologram that she generates, still provokes from others divine associations that she feels resistant to, going so far as trying to find a means to get rid of it despite its snazzy look. This is complemented by Rell’s look, fed-up with her job but hoping to continue doing it well. Although I was a bit thrown by how little we know about Rell at this point, Tierney and Chan do a commendable job of giving her a rounded personality in this issue.
Of the two sci-fi comics I read this week, Halogen is easily the more traditionally-looking sci fi book. It features an assortment of alien beings that resemble anthropomorphic animals and has a guy that looks like the dude from Cowboy Bebop. Visually, I was most impressed by the costume designs, Rell’s street clothes and holosuit having a clean design composed of red and white that’s skin tight, but somehow doesn’t appear to overly sexualize her perhaps due to its pattern. Lemire is somehow imbued with an extraordinary amount of talent, writing this comic in a manner that never feels like an imitation of another style. Meanwhile, Dustin Ngyuen knocks it out on art duties. Regardless of whatever occurred on a given page, I lingered on each one, taking in the incredible attention to facial expressions and colors. There’s no wasted potential with this comic, and it does the rare thing of making me desire the passing of the next month just to get my hands on the next issue
Like all the other reviewers I too read Descender first. I know I’m in the HaloGen section, but if you gave anyone these two books most people are going to be drawn to the creators they already know rather than the ones they don’t. But here’s the thing, I’m very familiar with both sets of creators work. I don’t think that qualifies my opinion more than the other reviewers by any means, but unlike the other reviewers I was drawn to HaloGen more. I want to read the rest of this series whereas if I missed the next issue of Descender I would be okay.
If you’re unfamiliar with writer Josh Tierney, he has a long running series called Spera that is absolutely fantastic. I suppose being more familiar with his writing style is part of what made it so easy for me to like this series. The extensive world created and I mean the one beyond the obvious one of the “haves and have-nots” that’s introduced. No two people introduced look the same and the results are a living breathing city. I’m curious about the story because again I know Tierney’s work and while he may present surface level plot or ideas for everyone to understand it’s the journey that always makes it worthwhile.
The art is also fantastic. Afu Chan has a wonderful style that is perfect for the story. The characters have great designs that add a layer of personality to them, but thanks to Tierney the personality doesn’t stop at their suits. What little action there is, is quick and fluid and I look forward to seeing more. Overall I liked this issue a lot because it captured my imagination and curiosity more than Descender did. In fact I can boil it down to one scene in which a little boy tells him mom to ask Rell what happened to their deceased Uncle. Imagine living everyday being asked that type of question?
Descender #1: 3/5
Yeah I’m going to be that guy. The first thing about Descender is that it feels like a rejected Galactus/Celestials storyline. I can’t help that I feel that way because it was so heavily laced with influence from that and basically a lot of sci-fi movies that you can pick from on your own.
My biggest problem is that the mystery wasn’t really mysterious. I’ve seen it before and so have you. In fact Rocket Savage has a similar plot. I’m not kidding it really does and it’s on its third issue. Without a deep mystery it just feels generic and the plot becomes transparent.
The art is good, but the way Dustin Nguyen colors his work makes it look incomplete at times. I know that I’m in the minority on that, but it’s honestly something that has always bothered me about his art. I can tell that it’s all created on a computer and that’s why there are no thick lines, either that or he's in a master class of water color but if you look at Christian Ward's work you'll see a clear difference between the two. Also haven’t we seen enough of the sterile medical white walls and clothing used in sci-fi already? I know I have.
Overall Descender felt more commercial to me. That’s not a bad thing per say and since it’s being picked up for a movie it’s hard to say that it isn’t commercial, but it didn’t feel like a Jeff Lemire book and it definitely didn’t feel like an Image title either and you might say that that doesn't mater, but ask yourself how many times has that mattered when one of the big two put out a book that doesn't blend well with their structure? At the end of the day it's going to sell like hot-cakes no matter how watered-down I think it is. I just ask that you forgot the creators for a second while reading this and view it as just another sci-fi book because that's exactly how it'll feel like... just another sci-fi book.
|Descender #1||HaloGen #1|
|Writer: Jeff Lemire||Writer: Josh Tierney|
|Artist: Dustin Nguyen||Artist: Afu Chan|
|Publisher: Image Comics||Publisher: Archaia/BOOM!|
|Price: $2.99||Price: $3.99|
|Release Date: 3/4/15||Release Date: 3/4/15|
|Format: Print/Digital||Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital|