Top 5 Indie Comics Releases for Week of 1/23/13

Judge Dredd #3, Godzilla #9, Star Wars: Countdown to Darkness #1, Bedlam #3, It Girl and The Atomics #6

Well, it was just one of those weeks where we spent all of our quality time with IDW and Image. Sure, there were plenty of other great books from other companies, but these were the ones that had our attention. Plenty of familiar faces in the form of IDW’s Judge Dredd, Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness, and Godzilla, some genuine creepiness with Bedlam, and some proper quirkiness from It Girl and The Atomics. Buckle up!

Judge Dredd #3 (IDW)

Writer:  Duane Swierczynski

Artist: Nelson Daniel

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Judge Dredd isn’t a complicated character. You can learn all you need to know about him in a single sentence and you’re ready to dive into his world. He doesn’t have deep pathos and rarely, if ever, learns anything. Instead, the character’s strength and particularly, his longevity, lies in his stalwart consistency. The best Judge Dredd stories will present a complicated moral or philosophical question and then smash it against Dredd’s concrete chin to see what stays intact in the light of cold, logical reason.

Judge Dredd #3 does just that. Kidnappers are using cloning technology to recreate the loved ones of wealthy people and then threatening to torture and kill them if the ransoms are not met. The original person/pet is in no direct danger, but the clones (who have complete memories of their progenitor’s life) beg for their lives and invariably sway their families to pay up. It’s a great concept and even hours after reading it, I’m still pondering the moral implications of leaving a clone of someone I loved to die. Dredd is tasked with being the courier of the massive ransom that is set to be delivered to the kidnappers and comes under attack from dozens of Mega City One’s criminals, as they each try to kill Dredd and steal the payday of a lifetime.

Duane Swierczynski clearly understands what has kept Judge Dredd relevant for 35 years. There have been several attempts over the years to bring Judge Dredd to the American market, but this is the first time that it’s felt like proper Dredd. Nelson Daniel’s art has the right feel as well. Chins, boots, fists and guns all have that chunky, otherworldly mass that has become a signature of the series.

There is a back-up feature written by Swierczynski, with art by Langdon Foss that gives some back-story for one of the new characters introduced in the first two issues of this run. It’s quick, violent and adds a nice layer of depth to the main arc. If you are a dubious long-time fan of Judge Dredd, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this new series from IDW. 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine may represent the official continuity, but really, can you ever have ENOUGH Dredd in your life?

review by: Bob Chamberlain

Story: 8/10

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Art: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #1 (IDW)

Story: Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson

Artist: David Messina

Star Trek comics are always a mixed bag. Even when they’re good, there’s always that lingering knowledge that they aren’t really part of the acknowledged Star Trek canon. And, really, it’s not like there isn’t enough actual Trek content out there to keep us occupied that we necessarily NEED to turn to comics to get our next Trek fix. But IDW has, it seems, taken an interesting approach with the Trek license by essentially assuring fans that what they’re publishing does, in fact, “matter.”

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How have they done this? Well, for starters, in the lead-up to Star Trek (2009) they produced a well-received limited series called “Countdown” which functioned as a prelude to the events of the film, with input from the film’s writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Is it “canon?” That’s unclear, but it seems close enough for fans, and it certainly wasn’t contradicted by the film. IDW is taking a similar approach, again with input from Roberto Orci (who gets a “story” credit, while Mike Johnson wrote the script), with Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness, which, of course, will lead us into this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness film.

Think of this as the first fifteen minutes of a TV episode, up to about the first commercial break. The Enterprise is off to study a planet without breaking the Prime Directive, until something happens which forces them to go down to the surface and investigate. And the last page has a killer reveal for fans of obscure Trek history, and suddenly, my interest in, not just the rest of this mini-series, but the new film as well, has skyrocketed.

David Messina’s art is nice enough, but I almost wish he’d take more chances with the looks of the main characters. The Enterprise crew are such archetypes that it’s no longer necessary to make them resemble the actors who play them. I think these Star Trek comics would be equally as effective without feeling so beholden to a cast which could be jettisoned at any moment. My biggest complaint (and I almost feel bad mentioning it, because it seems like it has become the go-to complaint about J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film) is the lens flare. That’s right…there’s lens flare on the comic page. Was that really necessary, guys?

Countdown to Darkness #1 is a nice little read. The thing is, and this might be more the failing of the films than the writers, the voices I hear when reading these characters remains those of the original cast. Maybe after another movie or two, I’ll feel differently. But ultimately, Countdown to Darkness #1 feels like proper Trek, not necessarily “new” or “old,” just “good.” I expect this will hold my interest just fine until the new movie is released.

review by: Mike Cecchini

Story: 6/10

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Art: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

 

Godzilla #9 (IDW)

Writer: Duane Swierczynski

Artist: Simon Gane

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Color Artist: Ronda Pattinson

Normally, Godzilla is limited to destroying Tokyo. But Godzilla and his merry band of Toho monsters from outer space have other plans this time around. They’re taking on the whole damn planet. They’re going international. And it’s up to our rag-tag group of heroes to save the day. And trust us; they’re getting pretty rag-tag by Godzilla #9. Between dying and being incapacitated it’s looking pretty bad. We are left with Boxer, Hikari, and Harrison.

We start out in Vancouver, and it’s a mess. When Godzilla destroys something, he really kicks its ass. There are three people left to fight Godzilla off, and Harrison is pretty much down for the count. So that leaves two people, a leader and an expert on Godzilla pheromones. Out of desperation they carjack an elderly man who seems to be a little confused regarding the destruction of the world. Sure, he’s seen the footage on the news, but it can’t be that bad, right? This leads to a montage of world destruction and an explanation of the damage that Toho monsters have been doing all over the world. And they reveal how woefully underprepared they are to tackle these monsters. No bombs, no science, no car (hence the carjacking). Their plan is to bust Godzilla out of a prison so they can use him to fight against even worse monsters. But Godzilla is a force of nature and is incredibly good at foiling the plans of humans.

This whole first half of the book is really just to catch us up. It’ a recap of all the action that has happened before, which is ok if you just jumped into it. But the storyline isn’t carried very far in this issue. Other fans have reported their disappointment in this issue but I thought it was ok. The next issue better be full of story development, though. Godzilla manages to break out of the cage without the help of any puny humans. We find out that world leaders have been planning to use the monsters as weapons of mass destruction against other nations. We can only imagine how this is going to turn out (spoiler alert: bad). Godzilla isn’t having any of that. He has no interest in serving either side of this debate, and he slinks back into the ocean. In the next comic we’re likely to learn about these plans for world domination.

Simon Gane’s art is exciting. The Toho monsters are incredibly visual and many of the originals had to be popping in color and black and white. The depiction of Mothra is especially impressive. She appears for only a couple of panels, but is completely radiant. We also get a peek at Hedorah, the Smog Monster, who is looking icky, as usual. We also get to see our favorite beaked monster, Gigan. They’re all beautiful. There isn’t much else to say about it. Godzilla fans’ hearts will melt when they see the dedication to detail that Gane has put into our favorite monsters. And that isn’t a compliment to be taken lightly, especially considering that we geeks tend to be harsh critics. Kudos to Simon Gane! Bob Eggleton’s cover which depicts Godzilla and Space Godzilla in a typical (and awesome) Godzilla fight-stance certainly doesn’t disappoint. He, like Simon Gane, clearly has an eye for detail. And you know how detail makes the geeks feel (spoiler alert: good).

Some people may love the tried and true storytelling and some may groan. It’s difficult with a franchise that will be celebrating its 60th Anniversary next year. The plot definitely follows the typical “Oh no! Godzilla is going to destroy the Earth due to the meddling of greedy war-torn nations and mad scientists. Will anyone be able to stop this madness?” It doesn’t necessarily come off as fresh but that’s OK. It’s an enjoyable story and it’ll be fun to see how Duane Swierczynski continues it.

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review by: Ethan Lewis

Story: 4/10

Art: 9/10

Overall: 7/10

 

Bedlam #3 (Image)

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“Chapter 3: Let Him have His fun”

Story: Nick Spencer

Art: Riley Rossmo

Covers: Frazier Irving

 

Can people change? Is there redemption for everyone despite the sins they may have committed in the past? These are the questions that Nick Spendcer’s Bedlam endeavors to answer. The book is a fascinating study of the nature of good and evil and how both pertain to humanity. Essentially, the book focuses on what would happen if history’s worst spree killer suddenly decided to use the same genius he once used to cause chaos to help people. Think of it as what if the Joker one day decided he needed to make up for his past crimes. Bedlam is a book where the reader does not know whether it’s morally justified to support the protagonist, and this ambiguity makes for a fascinating read.

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Years ago, Fillmore Press went on a horrific crime spree as Madder Red until he was caught by the only super-hero in the city of Bedlam, The First. Since then Press was the subject of a number of experiments that cured him of his lust for violence. Maybe. Now, he wants to use his experience and intellect to help Detective Ramira Acevedo bring down a new serial killer that preys on the elderly.

Make no mistake, this comic is sick, and that is said with respect. Spencer never flinches, and if you are an animal lover, it is probably best to skip this book, or at least steer clear of the prologue, as it focuses on Press’ rehabilitation using cats for companionship. It doesn’t go well for the cats. Madder Red is the most disgusting villain you can think of. Any flashback sequences to Red’s crimes will make you wish Press would be instantly and painfully killed. Yet somehow, Spencer makes him a sympathetic protagonist in the present. The whole book is an emotional wringer of violence and narrative uncertainty.

The art is fevered and sketchy. It captures the ambiguous world Spencer is trying to create perfectly. Press is a funny, controlled, brilliant character who is seeking redemption, except, when you look at him; you are seeing the same person that committed unspeakable acts as Madder Red. Is he sincere, or is this just another plot by the master of mayhem?

The new serial killer that preys on the elderly is an equally depraved individual as Press. Spencer presents quite a conundrum: is it alright to work with pure evil to stop pure evil? This question is filtered through Acevedo to the reader to create a unique study in morality. Another pure triumph from Image with the only drawback being, if you keep reading you risk seeing something that may scar you for life.

review by: Marc Buxton

Story: 10/10

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Art: 8/10

Overall: 9/10

 

It Girl and The Atomics #6 (Image)

Writer: Jamie S. Rich

Artist: Chynna Clugston Flores

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Colors: Allen Passalaqua

The first five-issue arc of It Girl and The Atomics has wrapped up and this month we are given a one issue interlude starring the elastic-bodied superhero/intergalactic rock drummer, Mr Gum. The Atomics have joined their mentor Madman, along with the cosmic virtuoso Red Rocket 7 on a rock n’ roll tour of the universe. While spending his day off at a bar on the planet Blue Bambo, Mr. Gum is recruited by some hog aliens to come to their village and help their people bridge the gap between their arid, inhospitable homeland and the lush, verdant paradise that exists on the other side of a great chasm.

By now, you probably know whether or not this book is for you.

I’m betting that Jamie S. Rich is a fan of Plastic Man. The humor and attitude of this books similarly-powered protagonist is extremely Jack Cole-esque. Mr. Gum’s stretching abilities are used for plot elements, punch lines and visual aids to accentuate dialogue. The aloof-hero-saves-the-day-while-learning-an-important-moral-lesson formula is also very reminiscent of the adventures of Eel O’Brian. The result is an entertaining, if not entirely memorable read.

Chynna Clugston Flores’ art is loose and simple, but effective.  I wasn’t familiar with her work, but it reminded me of the manga-infused hybrid style popularized in the late 90’s/early 2000’s Oni Press books. I looked it up and sure enough, I discovered that she published the award-winning Blue Monday through Oni in 1999.

This series is meant to be a B.P.R.D. of sorts for the Madman universe and I’m happy to see the focus shift to another member of the Atomics, but I would prefer something with a little more bite than this issue provided. If you are a fan of Mike Allred’s insane comic world of pop wonder, you should definitely hop on board this title to tide you over until Madman returns to the spotlight. Stylistically, this book is a departure from earlier issues. The writing is frenetic and the art is more cartoonish, but they both serve this story well. The result may not set the world on fire, but it provides a decent distraction, while we wait for the main story of It Girl to reconvene. 

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review by: Bob Chamberlain

Story: 6/10

Art: 6/10

Overall: 6/10