Sunday, April 13, 2008

Week of April 9th Short Reviews

Number of the Beast #1
Usually i'm not one for comics by WildStorm, or comics with Biblical allusions in their titles (especially allusions from Revelations), but all the previews of Chris Sprouse's character designs on newsarama hooked me. Sprouse is awesome.

The story begins at some sort of high-tech gov'mint facility, where a couple of schlubs are wheeling in a vat filled with red stuff. On their sleeves is modified American flag, with a "666" design where the stars ought to be. So right off the bat we know this series will feature Irony and at least oblique Political Commentary. (Personally, i think the altered flag should be an image of a donkey and an elephant, surrounded by bags of money and making out while pissing on the Constitution.)

It turns out this red stuff is actually the remains of a superhero, and the poor bastard is still alive. He's somehow connected to a sort of alternate reality, wherein sits a city, wherein dwell several superheroes.

Presumably all the characters in this artificial world are in virtual representations of people held in the high-tech gov'mint facility from page one. Everyone seems to believe that they are living in the real world, although some cracks are starting to show. The bad guys recur a bit too often, the normal citizens don't elicit real empathy, etc. Still, the only guy who seems truly to suspect that something is fundamentally wrong is a feller called Eidolon (that's Greek for ghost or phantom, with more specific meaning in Theosophy).

This world is called "The City" (if there's another name for it, i missed it). Yup, just like the Tick's hangout. And like the Tick's City, it also has a diner where superheroes hang out. It's a mythical 1950s/early 1960s type of setting. You know, the 1950s that's the subject of parodies and paeans in art, but never existed in reality. It's actually treated kind of neutrally here, it's just a sort of generically idyllic Americana place to keep these heroes virtually busy.

We don't know why these people are being put through this exercise. But since the guys who run the place use "666" as part of their logo, we know it's nefarious.

Our heroes here are the Paladins, a large team of (mostly) veteran superfolk. They all have a retro look and feel (which of course will be contrasted with the modern world before series end). We've got Engine Joe, who's either a cyborg or a guy in armor (he sleeps in his armor); the Trush and Falconette, classic winged adventurers; rocket guy Aeronaut, metal-skinned Black Anvil, etc. They fight such threats as the Saucerlings From Saturn's Moons (who are awesome, btw).

In one sense this is similar to Project Superpowers, where we have a lot of characters who fit various superhero types, and the thrust of the series is what's happening in and to their world more than the heroes themselves. It's the kind of thing you do if you want to write another Kingdom Come or Marvels, but you can't get access to the big marquee characters.

I'm not marked out for this, but it was fun, and i dig these characters. The designs of course are great, as is the art in general. The story is well structured (no mean feat in the 22-page format) and proceeds quickly while still giving us constructive character moments. According to the blurb on the last page, the next issue is only two weeks away, which is a big plus. I'm definitely intrigued enough to pick up the next issue. I wonder if there is a future for any of these characters beyond this series?