By Dustin Cabeal
As anyone that reads comics knows, Panel Syndicate is a “Pay What You Want” platform from Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. They’ve done two series themselves, a one-shot and added another creator to their lineup. The platform has worked for them, though I have no idea how well it worked for the series that wasn’t by them.
Blackhand Ironhead marked their first new series in a while and so when I saw the artwork I was instantly intrigued. The artwork is in fact what drew me to this series, but I should point out that I think it might have been the coloring more than anything. Just looking at the cover, the colors pop. Of course, without writer and artist David López’s fantastic illustrations, the coloring wouldn’t be there.
We start off by meeting Alexia and through a series of events we learn that she wants to be a hero, has powers and is nearly indestructible. She misses her train and gets picked up by her fake uncle, who’s probably more like her father than her father. After that we learn a bit about the world, there are people with powers, but instead of superheroes and villains fighting, they’ve become cage fighters. Alexia’s father runs the foundation that made this societal shift possible. She’s late for her meeting which is to establish her as the new head of the foundation and reminded that she’s not allowed to fight, which makes her want to fight even more. Since you can read the issue for free technically, I won’t spoil the rest for you. Part of the story becomes obvious when the character Blackhand is introduced.
What López’s does quite well is establish a lot of secrets in this first issue. There’s a lot teased that’s left hanging in the air. Not just the complex relationship that’s established in this issue, but several key things about how this societal shift was possible. Which begs the question, will Alexia be the undoing of it all?
The writing is very sharp. The characters all have distinct voices and come across as being real and well-rounded from the get go. The story is well-paced, the opening is a great introduction to Alexia’s character, and this first issue continues to develop her as it continues.
The artwork is gorgeous. It has a clean and modern look, but then the world itself has a bit of a throwback style to it as well. The character designs are realistic with everyone having real body shapes and not everyone being supermodels. There’s even a bit of a reference to character design theory within the story. The coloring by Nayoung Kim is simply wonderful. It has a very animated look to it, but also it’s very clean and modern. Kim and López are a wonderful pair, with Kim’s coloring making López’s pencil’s sing from the page.
I’ve been slow to adopt the new Panel Syndicate titles, but I think I’m all in on Blackhand Ironhead. That alone blows my mind since I’m completely against indie superhero titles. It’s one of my least favorite subgenres so to find one that I enjoy and want to keep reading is beyond rare. While you can technically pay nothing for this book, consider giving it something. It’s worth it, and if it means it supports López as he finishes this series, then that’s a great thing. All comic titles need support, don’t forget that, but in the meantime see what you can muster for Blackhand Ironhead, Panel Syndicates newest hit.
Blackhand Ironhead #1 – “Family”
Creator: David López
Colorist: Nayoung Kim
Publisher: Panel Syndicate