13th Oct2017

Panel Discussion #44 – Back to [Number] One

by Phil Wheat

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Welcome back to another installment of Panel Discussion – which is back from the dead, again, this time as a round-up of the comic books that have been peaking our interest recently. First up is a number of new first issues: Marvel Legacy #1, Spirits of Vengeance #1, and movie tie-in Zombie With a Shotgun #1…

The next big “event” for Marvel Comics, Marvel Legacy, is here. Yes… Yes… I know not ANOTHER Marvel Comics crossover event. It seems we get them every six months or less these days. But Marvel have promised that this time things will be different. Though I don’t think appealing to old-school comic readers, with a book that plays more on the long-standing history of Marvel – hence the renumbering of Marvel’s current catalogue – than introducing new, original, stories is going to make the “Legacy” reboot that different to what has come before. Beginning, literally, at the dawn of the human race, Marvel Legacy introduces its “big bad” (seemingly a giant celestial being, not your usual super-villain) before the main part of the story, the gathering of heroes begind. And that’s the rub, being a first issue, that’s pretty much all this book does – introduce the heroes. Despite being a bigger than usual book, it seems writer Jason Aaron wasn’t tasked with creating a truly gripping first issue. Instead we get brief, but intriguing, flashback featuring ancestors of current heroes battling a giant robot in the caveman era. But what follow after that does little more than set up the new players in this story!

And for a comic that’s supossed to be a reboot for the Marvel universe – usually a good time for new, or lapsed readers, to jump back into Marvel’s books – I couldn’t help feel that readers would REALLY need to have read everything that has come before. Well, everything at least since the last All-New/Marvel NOW! reboot. There are references to past events, characters, etc. that would go over the head of new readers. Hell, even as some who is up to date on SOME, not all events, during the last year or so (and as someone whose still catching up with that era of Hydra Cap, Secret Empire etc. in graphic novel form) I was struggling to, not keep up per say, but to really get all that was going on. Hopefully this book will help fill in the gaps – at least give us a small insight into what we need to know – as it continues. But I have my doubts.

Having already featured in Marvel Legacy, Ghost Rider – the Johnny Blaze version of the character in this case – returns in another reboot of sorts with Spirits of Vengeance #1. A “superhero” team-up book featuring some of Marvel’s supernatural characters: Ghost Rider, Blade, Hellstorm and Satana; this book recalls the Ghost Rider era of the Midnight Sons (last seen, with a different line-up, in the Marvel Zombies series), capturing the same creepy excitement which made that team-up book so popular with fans.

Now this is how you do a first issue of a new book! Kicking off with an intrigiuing “meeting” between Ghost Rider and an undercover angel in a dive bar in the middle of nowhere and then following Johhny Blaze as he meets, and teams up with with Damien Hellstorm, Spirits of Vengeance #1 wastes no time in getting to the meat of its story – even though the true details of what is actually going on are, obviously, being kept quiet to maintain a sense of mystery and suspense. And godammit, if I’m not eager to see where this story takes us; which is the complete antithesis of how I felt about Marvel Legacy.

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I’ll be honest, I’m not too familiar with artist David Baldeon – a lot of the work he has done in mainstream comics has been on books I haven’t read, besides the odd guest spot on the likes of Hack/Slash and Blue Beetle that is. However here his artwork, alongside Andres Mossa colours, flourishes – there’s a real sense of urgency to the line work; and a real kinetic energy which reminded me very much of manga rather than traditional US comic art, that feeds in the persona of Ghost Rider perfectly. The artwork also successfully balances the grotesqueries of some of the characters in this book with the dark humour of Victor Gischler’s script.

We all know Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, will find the killers and punish them, but this time he won’t do it alone… And part of the interest in this book is just how well Ghost Rider and Hellstorm, who we already know get along in the pages of this first issue, will work with Blade (whose appearance is a FANTASTIC cliffhanging tease) and, more importantly, Satana – the evil sister of Hellstorm and – right now – the unknown element in this team-up. I know I’ll be checking out the next issue to see how it alls pans out!

Of course Marvel are not the only players in the comic game, and where would Nerdly be without highlighting and indie book. An indie book which ties into an already-existing web series AND a forthcoming independent horror film no less, Zombie With a Shotgun. A spin on the cliched zombie trope, Hilton Ariel Ruiz’s story (at least in this comic adaptation) shares more in common with zom-com Dead Heat than more traditional walking dead tales – in the midst of a zombie outbreak one man, Aaron, finds himself trapped in a half-man, half-zombie state; wanted by a shadowy organisation and just trying to keep himself, and his girlfriend Rachel, alive.

┬áZombie With a Shotgun #1 is an odd book. It plays out like a selection of opening scenes from a movie (which should, honestly, not be a surprise), introducing characters and telling the flimsiest of stories… By the time the book ends we know little about the characters involved, not enough to be totally invested in this tale – so uninvested that when a character is killed off there’s no empathy, no sympathy, the death is merely a means to an end: to motivate the two lead characters into action.

The artwork style is very ink-heavy, with an abundant use of shadow, which helps give the book at strong visual style – even if the art is a little too clean for a horror book. Where is the gore, where is the grue. Even the zombie design is too clean, with the line work doing nothing to make these monsters stand-out. Some even look more like burn victims than zombies!

I suspect that those more immersed in the world of Zombie With a Shotgun, in particular those familiar with the web series, will get more out of this first book than newcomers. The rest of us will just have to keep reading to find out how the story pans out.

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