Monday, June 22, 2020

Longbox Junk - First Issue Fun (Part 5)

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the blog stuffed absolutely FULL of comic reviews that nobody ever asked for!

Here we are.  Month four of The Apocalypse.

Things are trying to get back to "normal", but we're not quite there yet.  There's new comics back on the shelves, but not many I subscribe to. . .which is good news for my local comic shop because I spend about three times as much money during deep dives into their back issue bins than I did on my subscription pulls.

Here at Longbox Junk, I've been taking a look at some first issues I've been buying lately. . .trying to find a new series or new character I can get into, with varying degrees of success.  But I noticed that my "First Issue Fun" has been pretty light on Marvel comics.  Only one out of nine reviews.

SO. . .

Let's remedy that shortage with a bit of Mighty Marvel style First Issue Fun, shall we?

We shall!

FIRST ISSUE FUN
(Part 5)

ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #1
MARVEL (2014)

ENGINES OF VENGEANCE (Part One)
SCRIPT: Felipe Smith
PENCILS: Tradd Moore
COVER: Tradd Moore

THE COVER:
It's a pretty unusual art style here. There's a great sense of movement and some very nice, brilliant colors. The muscle car instead of a motorcycle is interesting, but Ghost Rider (Ghost Driver?) himself looks a little strange.  Overall a real eye catcher.

THE STORY:
Our tale begins in East Los Angeles, where young auto mechanic Robbie Reyes is struggling with trying to make enough money to move somewhere safer, where he can better take care of his physically and mentally handicapped little brother.

One fateful night, Robbie decides it's time to make it or break it.  He steals a car from his employer's shop and enters an illegal street race, hoping to win the $50,000 cash prize.  Robbie is a skilled driver and quickly finds himself in the lead. . .until the police show up.

Terrified by the thought of being arrested and sent to prison, leaving his little brother in state custody, Robbie runs from the police, leading them on a long chase through the streets of L.A. until he is finally cornered.

Robbie surrenders to the police, but instead of arresting him, he is gunned down!  As he lies dying, Robbie sees the SWAT team retrieving duffel bags full of drugs from the trunk of the stolen car before dowsing it with gasoline and setting it on fire.

As Robbie dies, engulfed in flames, a mysterious transformation changes him into an inhuman, skeletal creature.  The stolen car is also transformed into an unearthly flaming version of itself. Robbie Reyes is now the Ghost Rider! We last see him leaving a fiery trail behind as he speeds into the city on a mission of vengeance.

To be continued. . .

THE REVIEW:
Okay.  Not bad. . .not bad at all.  A good start to this Mighty Marvel-focused bit of First Issue Fun! There's really not too much to this first issue.  The story is pretty light and mainly directed toward introducing the reader to Robbie Reyes and his situation.  Ghost Rider (or should it be Ghost Driver?  He's in a car, not riding anything) only shows up on the last couple of pages.  We literally learn NOTHING about Ghost Rider. . .but you know what? It's okay.  It just makes me want to read more of this story.

There's TWO things I look for in a first issue.  The first is if it introduces characters and their situations in a new reader-friendly way.  Since this issue is almost entirely concerned with introducing Robbie Reyes to the comic world, it easily hits that first mark.

The second thing I look for in a first issue is if it makes me want to read more.  Yes! I want to know more about this crazy new version of Ghost Rider!  I'm already a big Ghost Rider fan, but until now I've passed on reading any comics with the "New Ghost Rider" because if the old Ghost Rider ain't broke, why fix him?  NOW I want to dig in and see what's going on.  This is just a great introduction for a new (to me) character.

Let's talk about the art.  It's certainly unique and it's going to be one of those "make or break" sort of things for anyone reading this series.  Compared to my usual Longbox Junk, this is a VERY heavily reviewed issue and opinions are definitely mixed on the art style.  I'm sort of half and half on it myself.

The sharp, angular, exaggerated art gives even mundane scenes of Robbie and his brother eating dinner a twisted, nightmarish feeling that distracts from the character-building moments.  On the other hand, during action scenes the unique style really shines with unusual panel layouts and a fantastic sense of movement.  It's pretty clear to see what the artist enjoys drawing more.  His action scenes are truly great and are the best part of the comic.  It's unfortunate that he couldn't have toned it down a bit for the quieter moments.


Overall, All-New Ghost Rider #1 is a great introduction to the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider (Driver?).  It takes its time to introduce the main character through most of the issue and leaves Ghost Rider himself until the end, making me want to jump right into the next issue and find out more.  The art is a bit hit and miss for my taste. . .not really suited for character moments, but delivering in a big way on the action.  

This was a little pricey compared to my usual back issue bin finds (Paid ten bucks for my copy), but if you don't want to shell out the "collector" price for the individual first issue, it's also been collected in trade and you can get the first five issues for about fifteen bucks. Definitely give this one a chance if you like your comics with some supernatural flavor.

NEXT!

ALL-NEW INVADERS
MARVEL (2014)

GODS AND SOLDIERS (Part One)
SCRIPT: James Robinson
PENCILS: Steve Pugh
COVER: Mukesh Singh

THE COVER:
A pretty darn good team portrait!  There's a lot of interesting detail and I like the muted color scheme (maybe a bit TOO muted for the Torch). The smug look on Namor's face is just great.  Captain America, on the other hand. . . maybe he needs a bit of Metamucil? Just sayin'.  He IS 102 years old.  But even with Cap looking a little constipated, this one's a winner!

THE STORY:
Jim Hammond is the world's first synthetic human.  A person trapped between the world of humans and robots that fought in WWII as the original Human Torch alongside Captain America, Bucky Barnes, and Namor The Sub-Mariner in the team informally known as "The Invaders".

But that was a long time ago.  Hammond now seeks to move past his identity as a superhero and embrace humanity by living a normal life in a small, normal town as an auto mechanic.

But one day, Jim Hammond's peaceful life comes to an end.

When a Kree Warrior Assassin attacks and kills Hammond's employer and friend, Jim is forced to reveal his identity as the Human Torch in order to save the rest of the town.  During the battle, the assassin reveals that she's there for information locked and hidden in Hammond's android brain.  She shoots him with a strange weapon that seemingly throws him back in time to the war.

Hammond watches his own memory as an observer, seeing himself and the Invaders on a mission he doesn't remember involving Baron Strucker and a being named Hela that he seemingly had summoned.  To his surprise, Hammond senses that the other Invaders are also there observing the past with him.  After Hela kills an ally of the Invaders named Major Liberty, the vision fades and Hammond returns to the present day.

The Kree assassin reveals that she now has what she came for. . .the location of a part for a mysterious device that can summon and control Godlike beings that was hidden in three separate locations by The Invaders long before. . .information Hammond didn't even know he had.

Still not knowing the full story, but determined to stop the Kree from leaving with the information she had somehow gained from him, Hammond rejoins the battle, but is quickly overpowered.  As the assassin readies to strike the killing blow, Captain America and Winter Soldier show up just in time and ready to join the fight!

Epilogue:  We see Namor has somehow been taken captive and is being tortured on the Kree homeworld.

To be continued. . .


THE REVIEW:
Okay then. . .hmmm.  Not bad.  Not great, but not too bad.  Unlike Ghost Rider, this comic isn't presenting new characters, but established characters re-forming as a team.  I'm familiar with these characters (especially Captain America and Winter Soldier), so I sort of had to put myself in the shoes of a reader who might not be in determining if this hits the mark of introducing characters and their situations in a new reader-friendly way.

It sorta halfway succeeds.  As far as an introduction to Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, goes, this comic does an outstanding job!  99% of this issue is focused on Hammond, with the rest of the Invaders barely appearing outside of a couple of flashback pages and two pages at the end with their modern versions.  In other words. . .the cover lies!

This is not so much a Invaders comic as it is a Original Human Torch comic.  That being said, for what it is, it does an excellent job of introducing a classic character to new readers who might not be aware that there even IS an Original Human Torch.  As a big Captain America fan, I was a little disappointed in what amounts to a cameo role, but I did enjoy learning more about Jim Hammond.

On to the next thing I look for in a good first issue. Does the story make me want to read more?  Welllllll. . .no, not really.  Not that it's a BAD story, but it follows the rutted and extremely well-traveled path of "Former (insert profession here) forced to return to action against his/her will".  As soon as I saw the thought boxes of Jim Hammond on the first couple of pages musing about how much he liked being just an ordinary guy with an ordinary job in an ordinary town, I KNEW where the story was going.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  I don't mind a good old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" story framework holding up a first issue of my funny books, but then Marvel doubled down and made it crystal clear that upcoming issues would be headed down the well-worn road of "Gettin' The Team Back Together For A Location-Hopping MacGuffin Hunt".  One cliche story prop is okay. . .two in one issue is a deal-breaker.

On the art side of things, Steve Pugh delivers some solid superhero art.  Nothing spectacular, but very nicely done.  Since this issue deals mostly with the Human Torch, there's a LOT of fire involved, and Pugh does an outstanding job not making multiple pages of fiery scenes look alike.  He also does a great job with the initial quiet character-building dialogue heavy scenes which are basically people sitting/standing around talking in a garage and a diner.  Not the best comic art I've ever seen, but good and solid.


Overall, I have mixed feelings about All-New Invaders #1.  It introduces Jim Hammond, The Original Human Torch in an extremely new reader-friendly way.  Unfortunately, the rest of the Invaders play little more than cameo roles.  The story is well-written, especially in the earlier character-building scenes introducing Hammond, but on the other hand,  it's propped up by not one, but TWO overused story frameworks that really don't make me interested in reading more.

Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing really BAD about this comic.  I don't have any other issues, so there might be some great moments for the other heroes coming up.  As an introduction to a character I don't have a lot of knowledge about, this was a great issue. . .so if you're interested in the Original Human Torch, I can heartily recommend this comic.  But for me, the double cliche framework this story is leaning on doesn't make me interested in picking up more issues of the series.

AND FINALLY. . .

STORM #1
MARVEL (2014)

STORM
SCRIPT: Greg Pak
PENCILS: Victor Ibanez
COVER: Victor Ibanez

THE COVER:
I really don't like the X-Men in general, but I bought this one just for the cover.  It's an outstanding character portrait with an unusual pose, combined with great colors and lightning effects that really give this one a feeling of motion and power.  Very nicely done, and definitely worthy of a turn on the rotating office "Wall O' Covers" at work.

THE STORY:

Our story begins on the tropical island of Santo Marco, where Storm. . .a powerful mutant able to control the weather. . .uses her abilities to save a small coastal village from a tsunami.  As the villagers celebrate, military vehicles arrive and Storm is told that mutants are not welcome on Santo Marco.

Not wishing to instigate an international incident, Storm reluctantly departs, but finds herself needed for another emergency. . .this time at the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning, the school where Storm teaches. . .a place where young mutants learn to control and use their powers.

A student named Marisol Guerra (AKA Flourish) has taken over the school cafeteria.  She has used her powers of plant growth to fill the room with mold and mildew.  She informs Storm that she has changed her mutant name to Creep because that's what the kids who have been bullying her call her.

As Storm tries to talk to Marisol, she learns that the girl sees the school not as a safe place to learn, but as a place where children are taken from their families and indoctrinated into the X-Men's particular ideology.  Marisol feels that she was taken away from the place where her powers could do some actual good instead of simply doing what she's ordered to do by Storm and the other teachers.

Storm loses her temper when her purpose is challenged by Marisol, and she flies into the night.  Daybreak finds Storm over Santo Marco again. . .where she gets an enthusiastic greeting from the villagers she saved the day before.  Storm uses her powers to help the villagers clean up the aftermath of the tsunami, but once again the military shows up.

This time, they have brought construction vehicles and tell the villagers that they have to move because a company has bought their land to build a resort on.  Storm intervenes and a one-sided battle ensues.  Storm's powers are more than a match for the military and her example leads other villages to rebel against the corrupt government as well.

Back at the school.  Storm reluctantly apologizes to Marisol, and they fly to Mexico to reunite the young mutant with her family.  Storm has come to realize that a path can be shown to someone, but they have to want to follow that path instead of being forced down it.

The End.




THE REVIEW:
As I said above. . .I'm not a fan of the X-Men and I basically bought this comic for the awesome cover.  That said, I REALLY liked this story a lot!  It's the first issue of a (sort of short) series, but it stands alone very nicely as a one-shot story about an extremely powerful hero that has played many roles in the past, but is now forced to re-learn an important lesson now that she's a teacher. . .that a person must be guided down a path instead of forced.

It's a great little story with a lot of heart.  I may not like X-Men much, but I liked THIS X-Men story. It sort of stuck with me after I read it.  Especially the part where Storm apologized to the student.  I know from personal experience that sometimes a simple "I'm Sorry" are some of the hardest words to spit out.  Nobody wants to be wrong.  It's hard to admit when you're wrong, especially when you're in a position of authority over the person who was right.  Credit due to the writer for absolutely nailing the difficulty of something so simple.

So let's take a moment for the two things I look for in a good first issue.

Does it introduce characters in a new reader-friendly way?  I give this one a big yes!  I'm not overly-familiar with Storm beyond knowing she's an X-Man who controls the weather.  The story here DOES introduce that aspect of her, but digs deeper into the character than that.  Based on this story I don't know EVERYTHING about Storm, but I liked discovering what I know now about the character.

The second thing I look for in a first issue is if it tells a story I want to read more of.  Well, this is basically a one-shot, so it seems that there's not much more to the story at hand.  That said, with such a good dig into the main character, I DO want to read more. . .especially if the writer can keep delivering such though-provoking material built around the main character of the series.  So that's a yes. . .two for two!  It's a winner!

Before I wrap this up, let's talk about the art a bit.  The story here is great, but the artist really does his half of the work selling it!  Yeah, there's a few action scenes and they're nicely done, but where Victor Ibanez really shines here is in the facial expressions of the characters!  Sometimes you get a comic where the art is the star of the show, sometimes it's the writing.  This one combines the two equally to give the reader the best of both worlds.


Overall, for someone who tends to avoid almost everything X-Related from Marvel, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading what might be my favorite comic story in quite a long time!

From a story that is simple, but full of heart, to some incredibly expressive comic art, Storm #1 is a Longbox Junk gold nugget in almost every way.  I heartily recommend this comic to anyone looking for a thoughtful superhero story that isn't afraid to give an extremely powerful character some vulnerability that is relatable to even those of us who can't control the weather.  Very nicely done!

CONCLUSION

I forgot to mention it in the introduction, but as you can probably see from the covers of these comics, the were all part of one of Marvel's multiple soft reboot efforts in recent years called "All-New Marvel Now!", which was sold and advertised as a jumping-on point for new readers.  

So based on this small sample, did they succeed?

I'd say yes.  All-New Ghost Rider presented an intriguing twist on the familiar supernatural anti-hero, while giving the reader a great introduction to a completely new character.  Storm presented an established character with a long history in a way that made even a Non-X fan like myself take notice and want to read more.

 All-New Invaders was the only disappointment in that it was more of an Original Human Torch comic than a Defenders comic, with the other characters on the team playing cameo roles only. Plus the story was propped up by two overused story crutches.

That said, even though Invaders was a bit disappointing compared to Ghost Rider and Storm, it wasn't a BAD comic.  I was just expecting a little more than what I got.

Overall, I'd recommend any of these three comics. . .with the warning that you're not going to get much Invaders in your All-New Invaders #1.  My favorite of the bunch was Storm #1, which completely took me off guard with how much I liked a character I never paid much attention to before.

Up Next. . .

I think that after five posts of First Issue Fun, it might have run its course for now.  So next time out something different.  I'm not sure exactly what that will be right now, but I invite you to join me on whatever trip I decide to take into the back issue bins.  So until next time. . .

Be there or be square!