New Comic Book Day Pull-List: ‘Catalyst Comix’, ‘Satellite Sam’, ‘Avengers A.I.’, And More Reviewed

Welcome to MTV Geek’s New Comic Book Day Pull-List! Each week, we’ll look at the best new releases hitting comic shops, and point you at the books you should be reading.

This week, we have picks from Dark Horse, Marvel, Image, and more!

Catalyst Comics #1 (written by Joe Casey, art by Dan McDaid, Maul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas, published by Dark Horse Comics)

I had no idea what I was in for when I grabbed this comic off the stands.  I knew it was a re-imagining of some characters and concepts from the “Comics’ Greatest World” line that Dark Horse launched in the 90s, but even back in my superhero-guzzling teenage years, I never got around to reading any of those series.  Really, the only thing I knew about this title was that it was written by Joe Casey, and given how much I’ve loved his work for Image over the last few years, that made it a must-buy.

This issue establishes an anthology format that I presume the rest of the series will continue to utilize: three stories following three different sets of characters, set in a shared universe.  Each of the segments tie together and each teams Casey with a different artist, providing different viewpoints on the same event, giving an immediate sense of scale and continuity to this bizarre fictional world.  The first story follows Frank Wells (AKA Titan) as he saves the world from an alien invasion, the second stars Amazing Grace as she takes a cosmically combative approach to the same threat, the third tells of the mysterious Agents Of Change attempting to recruit a new member as chaos reigns all around.  Casey clearly has great affection for costumed crusaders and revels in these unconventional twists on comic book tropes, from his portrayal of the hard-bitten (and not too clever) action hero in the lead tale to over-the-top exploitative espionage in the back-up feature.  This is a comic full of creative deconstruction and gleeful pandemonium, the perfect brand of insanity to kick off a long weekend of summertime revelry.

Avengers A.I. #1 (written by Sam Humphries, art by André Lima Araújo, published by Marvel Comics)

The first issue of A.I. follows hot on the heels of Marvel’s recently completed Age Of Ultron crossover, and assembles a diverse team of characters to serve as a line of defense against high-tech threats: Dr. Henry Pym, The Vision, Victor Mancha (originally introduced in The Runaways series), one of Doctor Doom’s Doombots (customized by Dr. Pym to fight on the side of the good guys), S.H.I.E.l.D. liaison Monica Chang, and Alexis, a robotic character created especially for this series.

Though this debut issue necessarily spends much of its time introducing the cast and laying down ground rules, Sam Humphries takes ample time to establish character traits and create a mood of impending peril.  André Lima Araújo’s art is clean and uncluttered; well-suited for this style of fast-paced adventure.  And the story takes classic techno-thriller elements, seamlessly incorporates them with the superheroic milieu of the greater Marvel Universe, and still keeps the story focused on the personalities at its core – as with Age Of Ultron, the threat here isn’t an outside force, it’s a self-made menace: a foe born out of Henry Pym’s ambition and fueled by his efforts to better the world, illustrating perfectly the delicate balance between altruistic invention and mad science.

Satellite Sam #1 (written by Matt Fraction, art by Howard Chaykin, published by Image Comics)

This new series brings together two generations of the comics field’s most visionary creators: the words are provided by Matt Fraction, fan-favorite author of Hawkeye, Casanova, Iron Fist, Iron Man, and The Fantastic Four; the art is by Howard Chaykin, legendary creator of American Flagg! and dozens of other series.  Together, they have assembled an exceptionally offbeat book – a tale of the 1950s, the dawning days of the television industry, and a tragedy that befalls the star of a popular children’s show.

Fraction’s narrative is quick-moving and dialogue-heavy, cutting back and forth between scenes and camera angles with kinetic intensity.  Chaykin’s art matches perfectly, thin lines and broad expressions delivered in crisp black and white, panels stretched across pages in neatly symmetrical grids.

The complete package reads as a salacious, sequential take on ’Quiz Show’ or ’Goodnight And Good Luck’, films that thrived on careful recreation of a time and place, and played off the suspense inherent in the world of live TV broadcasts.  The format also harkens back to the 1980s glory days of adult-oriented indie comics: echoes of Kyle Baker’s ’The Cowboy Wally Show’ and Chaykin’s own Black Kiss weave through these pages, adding another layer of impact to an already compelling story.  There aren’t any widescreen panoramas, colorful costumes, or explosive set pieces in this issue, but that just makes it all the more worthy of our attention – it’s two acclaimed creators doing something we haven’t all seen before, and doing it with impeccable craft and boundless energy.

Swamp Thing #22 (written by Charles Soule, art by Kano, published by DC Comics)

The cover got my attention right away: a central image rendered in deep earth tones, with only the lead character’s red-glowing eyes and the brightly-colored logo offsetting the muted palate.  And once that got me to look closer, I knew this book would be coming home with me; any teaming of Swamp Thing and John Constantine is cause for celebration, and when those notoriously adversarial allies are put together by a writer with Charles Soule’s grasp of nuance and dialogue, it’s a pretty safe bet I’m going to enjoy the read.

And yet, even knowing that, I was surprised by just how good this issue was.  Swamp Thing himself is becoming an increasingly well-developed part of the New 52.  And while I’ve not particularly cared for Constantine since he was re-incorporated into the greater DC Universe, here he once again feels like the cocky, self-serving bastard whose exploits I used to follow religiously.  His offhanded approach to magic, his ever-present cigarette, the manipulative and calculating way he controls his circumstances – these are the qualities I loved about him in Hellblazer and in Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s classic runs on Swamp Thing, and Soule has nailed that exact dynamic that makes him such an engaging protagonist.

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Honorable Mentions:

Swamp Thing isn’t Charles Soule’s only worthwhile book this week- his first issue of Marvel’s Thunderbolts (#12) is a terrifically tense story of The Punisher on a mission, beautifully illustrated by Steve Dillon.  Issue #3 of Dark Horse’s Mister X: Eviction concludes Dean Motter’s latest future-noir saga in fine, stylish fashion.  And Oni’s deluxe hardcover edition of The Secret History Of D.B. Cooper collects one my favorite stories from last year in one beautifully-designed volume (complete with bonus sketches and extra material from creator Brian Churilla).