Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Back Matter #8 - Talent #1 and Jeremiah Harm #3

With the “Back Matter” series of posts, I am reprinting my initial writings on comics from roughly 2006.  A more detailed explanation can be found here


With the first issue of TALENT from Boom! Studios readers are dropped into the deep end, literally.  As the story opens, flight six-five-four has finally been cleared to land at New York/Kennedy International Airport.  Passengers settle in for the descent, flight attendants check to see that everyone is ready – one attendant wishing luck to Marcus Small, who is scheduled to fight for the heavyweight boxing championship at Madison Square Garden that night – and all seems to be proceeding normally.  Until Nicholas Dane is told by an attendant that “everything is going to be fine.”  Mr. Dane is taken aback, confused, and unable to react before . . . 

. . . the plane explodes, plunging into the Atlantic.

Sixteen hours later rescue teams are finally able to brave the rough seas in order to salvage the airliner and hopefully discover what caused the fatal crash.  Divers search what remains, scattered all about the ocean floor, and discover something they could not have anticipated.  Somebody has survived.  Sixteen hours.  Underwater.  In freezing temperatures. 

Nicholas Dane.

Brought to one of the many hospitals dotting New York, Mr. Dane instantly becomes a celebrity and everybody wants a piece of him.  News reporters camp out at the hospital trying to land the story of the century.  The state’s Senators and Congresspersons call a meeting to discuss these very strange events – the threat of terrorism looming over everything today, most especially the mystery of a downed airliner – intrigued by how this miraculous survivor fits into the puzzle.  A secret and as yet unknown cabal, which makes a very brief appearance in this issue, also takes notice and sends an operative to investigate, an operative who also happens to be a member of the previously introduced Senator’s staff.  Nicholas Dane, a college professor, is now the most popular person in New York.

David Krause, the Senator’s aide who is also a double agent, visits Nicholas in the hospital.  He is very bothered by the recent turn of events.  Mr. Dane should not be alive.  And yet, here he lies as if he had been through nothing but a rough night of drinking.  During the conversation, which is heavily weighted in the Senatorial aide’s favor, Mr. Krause becomes agitated and accuses Nicholas of being a terrorist.  It’s the only reasonable explanation.  Getting in Dane’s face, yelling wildly at him, and threatening to get the truth out of him one way or another, he forces the bedridden survivor to call on the nurse and have Krause escorted from the room.  Unhappy, but unable to do much else, Krause leaves promising to have Dane transferred to a government facility in order to find out what he wants. 

Meanwhile, Dane is exhibiting traits – talents – of some of the other passengers from the opening of the book.  He has a facility for origami, something at which an Asian woman sitting in front of the boxer, Marcus Small, was adept.  He also uses the boxing skills that had gotten Small his chance at the title to take down an attacker dressed as a hospital orderly.  All the while, Dane continues to see the apparition of the stewardess who warned him right before the crash – as a television news anchor, in the laundry room of the hospital – as she continues to warn him of the impending dangers to his life.  He flees the hospital, having no idea where to go, and ends up at the home of a former girlfriend, possibly even ex-wife.  But the audience doesn’t know for sure and nothing in this first issue should be taken at face value.  All that can be said is that the man now living with this woman, who is staring at a picture of Dane and herself just before Dane himself arrives, is quite shocked to find Nicholas at their door so early in the morning.  One final question hopefully to be answered in the next issue.

This was a great first issue.  The writers, Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski, took their audience on a wild, tense ride and have set things up nicely with an interesting concept.  They could easily have drummed their audience over the head with the oddities and questions found within this tale, but happily chose restraint for the betterment of the story.  They tease out just enough of the mystery – inching out a bit here, a piece there – so that readers are kept turning the pages in a blind search for answers where only more questions lie. 

And the art from Paul Azaceta is top-notch, very reminiscent of Mike Mignola in places.  His storytelling is clear and panels are fully fleshed out without being cluttered.  Azaceta’s figures are easily recognizable from page to page and there is a diversity in the facial types that allows all the characters introduced in this first issue to be readily distinguishable.  I am not familiar with Azaceta’s work prior to this, but I will definitely keep an eye out for more from him in the future.

With Talent #1, the audience is rewarded with a fun, enjoyable story that will leave them wanting more.  This comic did not disappoint, and the only worry I have is that, in setting up this “mythology” tale (in the sense that The X-Files and  Lost are mythology shows) will the team be able to fulfill the promise laid out in this first offering.  Only time will tell.

One of the biggest hurdles with periodical comics is the fact that any issue of a series will likely be the first issue of that series for somebody, bringing with that all the baggage that comes with the previously established continuity for that book.  This continuity is one of the appeals of comics, but the problem is how does one bring that new reader up to speed with the story without hurting the flow of the narrative.  In the early 1980s it seemed as if all Marvel Comics utilized exposition in the first pages of each issue to do just that.  And although I don’t remember noticing this horrendous exposition as a child, when I have found myself going back to read many of those books now in adulthood I cringe at the terrible dialogue used to tell readers – and in the process tell characters that had “experienced” all of this already – what the heck was going on.  A better choice – one utilized by First comics, by Colleen Doran in her magnificent series  A DISTANT SOIL, and more recently found in Brian Bendis’s run on DAREDEVIL – is a recap box on the inside front cover or on the first page of the comic.  A succinct recap, giving the audience pertinent information that will allow them to understand the story better, is welcome and even necessary today with the complex backgrounds that crop up in these lengthy tales.  With JEREMIAH HARM #3 being the first issue I have read this absence of “what has gone before” was a problem for me.  I had no connection or understanding of the characters or their plight and was forced to try and figure things out instead of just being allowed to read.

The issue opens with a lanky female whose physical proportions seem to be slightly more than human, her skin color a dull shade of green, ripping through a mob that is armed with guns and large blades.  Who they are, I don’t know.  Who she is, I don’t know.  But there’s lots of blood, lots of bullets, and only the alien female left standing to bask in the glory of the kill as two bystanders off to the side bear witness to this.  One of these bystanders appears to be a member of the gang just ripped apart by this bloodthirsty woman – her hair, tentacles; her fingers three times longer than a human’s.  The other man is the hero of our book – though whether he is a hero certainly is up for debate, so let’s call him the protagonist – Jeremiah Harm.  He knows this alien, Ayoma Skyver, and is obviously an alien himself as shown not only by his familiarity with Ayoma, but also his willingness, and physical ability, to stand up to her as well – a task dozens of fit human men were unable even to consider.  Two other Earthers, both women, arrive abruptly and shoot Ayoma, knocking her off Harm whom she had pinned to the ground.  And then Jeremiah tosses her a live grenade, blowing her up as he walks off, the three Earthers in tow. 

Jeremiah is looking for somebody, Dak Moira, while the three Earthers, with whom Harm has already developed some kind of acquaintance, are looking for a way to shut down a “dome” that arrived on Earth the same time as Harm.  This motley crew that Harm has drifting in his wake make their way through a devastated city, eventually coming across Ayoma again who has difficulty dying even after Harm punches his hand through her stomach and leaves her for dead again. 

Meanwhile, Dak Moira and his companion, Brune, are introduced to the audience while they walk calmly through the streets of the same city, remarking at how pathetic Earthers are when “faced [with] extinction.”  These two are in search of a “shard,” which seems to be the key to this entire expedition.  Previously when Brune – a gaseous being – dispersed, he felt a strange energy signature housed within a donut shop.  The two alien conquerors head into the shop and Dak has Brune destroy the shop and the area surrounding it.  What is left beneath the shattered surface is a staircase leading into the heart of the planet with strange etchings carved into each step.  Dak is expectant, knowing the shard must lie at the bottom of the stair, but Brune has an aversion, possibly religious, to the markings and doesn’t wish to go down the stairs.  But Dak is persuasive and uses Ayoma’s return – again – to help encourage Brune to follow him.  And almost immediately after, Jeremiah Harm shows up and begins his own descent of this mysterious staircase.  Walking down into issue 4 where the story will be continued.

Bannered as a book from the creators of DC’s 52 and Marvel’s ANNIHILATION, JEREMIAH HARM #3 was written by Keith Giffen and Alan Grant and penciled by Rael Lyra.  This was an interesting book, though not one I would normally buy.  I understand tagging it with current major works from the Big Two (Marvel and DC), but I believe it would behoove Boom! Studios also to tag it as being from the creator of JUDGE DREDD, as I see this book being more for the fan of Dredd rather than of the high-profile superhero books mentioned on the cover.  That said, if you are a fan of bloody battles and tough aliens, this might be a book for you.  It had some good parts, and some wry dialogue with black humor abundant, particularly from Harm.  But for me, the story didn’t really seem to move.  What took place within these 22 pages could easily have been done in half that page count, if not less.  But that would have meant less blood and less violence, and if that is the demographic the creators are going for then it works.  I just felt like so much more could have been said within the book.

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