THE PITCH: In 1880's Gotham, crime stalks the streets and Jonah Hex is the twisted face of justice.
HOW WAS IT? You can usually gauge home much I enjoyed one of these by how stupid the PITCH second reads--it's kind of 1:1 deal with the better books getting the more hyped up, goofy-sounding blurbs. And I did enjoy All-Star Western a lot, primarily because Palmiotti and Gray (and the stellar artist Moritat) gave me something I didn't even know I wanted: a buddy cop thriller set in 1880's Gotham starring Jonah Hex and stuffy physician/student of the human mind Amadeus Arkham. In this deluxe issue, Hex is hired to find a serial killer preying on prostitutes on the streets of Gotham and Arkham--a budding practitioner of the still-not-quite-a-thing-yet science of psychology--tags along. The conceit is that he's doing it because he believes he might have some insight into the inner workings of the mind of the killer but really he functions to provide a viewpoint character as Hex tears it up around Gotham.
I'm going to leave off the parallels between the script and From Hell because frankly, it's weird and interesting to see a character like Hex in a story like this. There's a little blurb at the beginning of the issue that explains that men from the West must have trouble dealing with cities, lacking the open spaces and freedom and all that. But to the contrary, Hex almost seems to be in his element, always a word away from a fight, just really quick to find violence to levels almost up to murder.
I'm a sucker for a violent, grimy Western and the best part about this issue is that it feels genuinely like Gray and Palmiotti crammed a character like Hex--all of the worst parts of the lawlessness of the Old West--into a city and just let him do what he'll do.
BEST BIT: Moritat's incredibly detailed and expressive art. And I don't just mean the characters--the urban areas of this era of Gotham feel cramped and violent and shabby while the homes of the rich and powerful feel cold, sterile, and dangerous in an entirely different way. And the violence, oh man the violence is it well done. I kind of want to say his work's a cross between Cliff Chiang with the thick, strong lines, and Chris Bachalo (when he's taking it easy) with the articulate but exaggerated faces.
WORST BIT: It's a shame that coming off a week where two books with less-than-well received portrayals of women, we get this story where the victims are brutalized prostitutes. Taken on its own, it's just part of the genre and it feels correct for the nasty, pulpy story Palmiotti and Gray are telling. But it's terrible timing though.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES HEX WRECK? All of them. Hard. Interestingly, he doesn't kill a single person this issue, though.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Easily--with Arkham as the POV character, we get some observation (some of it wrong) about Hex and Gotham itself while casual and longtime readers will recognize some of the familiar names that pop up.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? I love a good Western, so yes.
THE PITCH: Priscilla Kitaen is a stripper who is also an alien.
HOW WAS IT? There's almost nothing else to be said about this book that wasn't contained in that blurb up there. Zilch. The title character--that's her stripper name, the way--doesn't get much in the way of characterization. The only other two nominal characters in the book are a couple of Feds, one of whom does something incredibly stupid and I still can't figure out why and it's all sexy cheesecake that says nothing more than "strippers strip."
And see, I could get into a fun book about an alien stripper getting into adventures or something, or a paranoid thriller about an alien who's also a hot lady (see: Species) but there's nothing here to get interested in. Voodoo strips for a bit, another character tells us her powers, she kills him, the end. I seriously know nothing about her before the book is done and that's a damn shame.
This is also another Wildstorm character in the DCU proper and I was almost kind of hoping for some reference to other members of the Wild C.A.T.s, but no such luck. In fact, this book actually exists on its own little island, and outside of an appearance by the purple stranger, you'd be hard-pressed to guess this was a book in the New 52. I'm trying to remember anything about Voodoo from the Wildstorm days and if I recall, her powers were mostly what she has here (some shape-shifting, some telepathy, stripping) and we were introduced to her back in the 90's pretty much the same way we are here: dancing in the club, gettin' cash with her body and her mind powers. With the little fur leggings, we even get a callback to her old costume. I don't remember how well the character worked then, but she's not working right now.
BEST BIT: I won't lie: artist Sami Basri draws a few busty, fine-looking funnybook ladies. It's just a shame they're in this joyless, charmless mess.
WORST BIT: See: everything else.
DO REPTILIAN ALIENS HAVE BREASTS? Apparently. And that's kind of messed up.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS?
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Weirdly enough--yeah? I kind of want this book to maybe get past Voodoo the stripper and see what else the character can do or be about. And I've read a lot of work by Ron Marz in the past that I liked, so I'm hoping this was just opening day jutters on the new title. So weirdly, in spite of the low score below I want to check it out again.
THE PITCH: Tired of humanity's "oppression" of her kind, a vampire begins to wage a holy war against Earth's dominant species.
HOW WAS IT? I re-typed the score for this one about three or four times. I don't normally like to go in for scores on reviews because sometimes it's hard to quantify how much you liked something when it's so much more effective to qualify what was good or bad about it. And I was stacking this book against two books I got a lot out of this week--the pulpy goodness of All-Star Western up there and the surprising charm of Aquaman #1, which actually has me reconsidering Geoff Johns a little bit.
And then there's Joshua Hale Fialkov's script for I, Vampire which can get away with a crazy person claiming they're Malcolm X and Benjamin Franklin precisely because they're a crazy person. The big idea here is that the crazy person in question is Mary, a 400-year old vampire who's sick of living in the shadows and after talking it up for years decides to go to war with humans as one long brutal terror campaign. And the only person who knows she's out there, doing what she's doing, is Andrew, the vampire who sired her, and her former lover. He'd prefer to just take odd jobs, drink cow's blood, and stay under the radar. Now he has to spend his time cleaning up after Mary who's moved on to mass murder/transformation.
The completely unrepresentative cover aside, this book--featuring art by Andrea Sorrentino--is gorgeous and it fits the horror and--yeah--romance of the concept. Again, here I am comparing artists, but Jae Lee seems like an influence on Sorrentino, and if you've seen that artist's work, you know how moody it can be alongside the right material.
And Fialkov has got the right material here: his vampires are dangerous, scary shapeshifting things that move with speed and ferocity one minute, passion and grace another. This is one of the few books in the New 52 that I don't mind opening with a pile of bodies because it seems appropriate to the stakes of the book and to the sort of out-there ethos Mary is carrying around.
BEST BIT: All the scenes of transformation throughout the book. Sorrentino renders his characters transforming as though one minute they're flesh, the next minute mist, then another they're something else entirely unexpected.
WORST BIT: No idea who the cover artist is for this--it can't be Sorrentino, right--but it really doesn't sell the tone and feel of this book.
KILLER LOVE NOTE: "And it all happens outside your window. You can't stop it, but you'll try. And I'll love you even more for that."
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Yeah. There's no preexisting story links to deal with and the characters are introduced to us on the page. There's a slight tie to the DCU (Superman gets name checked) but for right now it's more interested in telling a really, really good horror story.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Yes.
THE PITCH: Firestorm: the combined superhero who requires two minds to occupy one body.
HOW WAS IT? What is it with Gail Simone opening bad books with crappy killer types being all glib about torturing families? There's a lot--a whole lot--of that here and it pretty much turned me off the book even before I encountered its two utterly obnoxious, whiny leads. The big twist here is that both classic Firestorm Ronnie Raymond and recent Firestorm Jason Rausch as high school students who--thanks to a situation still too dumb to understand--both become Firestorms that combine into one bulky, even more obnoxious Firestorm.
"Obnoxious" isn't really specific enough and probably doesn't serve as adequate criticism, but that's precisely what Simone and co-plotter Ethan Van Sciver have created here. Raymond is football star who, by his own admission, isn't very bright while Rausch is kind of a nerd with a chip on his shoulder who is also apparently some kind of super genius. We never see that character trait displayed, mind, he just tells us in the most awful way possible: "All right, you know I'm smart, right? Well double how smart you think I am. Then double that." And that right there is some words strung together into a couple of terrible sentences.
Oh, and I don't even have the energy to get into the stupid Crash moment where the white kid learns everyone might be a little racist and the black kid learns that, well white kids have it easier or something, I'm not sure. And between this and Mr. Terrific, race gets put front and center by people I'm sure mean well to tell really awful stories.
BEST BIT: The conceit that Firestorm is now two superpowered entities that can combine into one even more superpowered entity is gold. I like that. It's just too bad the kids are so completely and terribly awful to read.
WORST BIT: Guh, rereading this thing, I still have no idea why the two stupid new Firestorms (one of them, ostensibly a genius) start fighting.
CRAPPIEST THING ABOUT THE HIRED KILLERS: Lead dude's soul patch.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Pretty much. It's all new and it's all introduced here. I think the dueling Firestorms is more a thing to shock familiar readers but they probably bounced at the point where the book devolved into an argument about whether it's tougher to be a black nerd or a white jock.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? If I have to read one gory comic about a teen superhero--look, I'm just not into reading a gory comic about a teen superhero.