I’m not gonna lie to you, feelings are mixed…
♦ Peter Mann looks at the first three releases from ComiXology originals. All, with the exception of Savage Game (£2.99), are available from ComiXology and Amazon from free to £1.99
Super Freaks issues 1 to 5: Elsa Charretier and Pierrick Colinet, with artist Margaux Saltel.
Super Freaks is essentially an all ages, feelgood, “woke” the superhero story with its roots in comics such as Squirrel Girl and movies such as The Incredibles.
As such, you pretty much know where you are from the off. So, if you like good-humoured, multiracial, LBGTQI-friendly comics that you could give to your kid, you’ll like this. If you like grim and gritty, or if you’re a bigot, you won’t. There may be some minority not covered in this, but if so, I didn’t notice it. However, I have to say that the good intentions do not overwhelm the story, which is a pretty decent origin story for a team of pretty decent heroes o
f the type that most of the rather our kids were reading than people who (to take a random example) pull other people’s arms off and beat them to death with them. Although this is technically aimed at teens I suspect that it is more a comic for tweens, and none the worse for that. In the old days, we’d have called it family entertainment. These days we probably call it SJW’s oppressing our manhood or some such nonsense. I liked this, and it was cool to be to read all five issues at one go.
Elephantmen 2261 The Death of Shorty Issue 1, writer Richard Starkings, artists Axel Medellin and Boo Cook
I’ve dipped my toes into Elephantmen before, but my experience of it is so spotty (and to be honest mostly based on being tempted by covers by Ladronn) that I haven’t really read it at any great length. This means that the world in which anthropomorphic animals (who appear to be being as tediously violent and generally unpleasant as humans generally are) cohabiting with some humans who seem non-too happy with them is not really known to me. What I can say about the first issue is it’s well plotted, but in this new format it would have been helpful to be given more world background as I’m imagining a lot of people like me are jumping on for the first time. This seems like an odd opportunity to miss, especially given that Richard Starkings has been the comic industry for some considerable time. Oh well. We first meet Shorty as a young soldier (I’m kind of assuming he’s young, because later on we see him when he’s old – how do you judge the age of an anthropomorphic elephant?), and then on his deathbed, to be told he has been murdered. That’s it folks. Reading Elephantmen and Ask for Mercy made me wonder if they’d chosen the right series to issue in bulk. Both of these books need more background, or just more story, to make people want to come back, and this may be more of a problem in a marketplace not used to an abrupt cliff-hanger ending after five minutes of reading. I liked Elephantmen but it was like having a biscuit when you want a meal, and truthfully, it’s the kind of thing I might just wait till the end of and then read the lot. Good art – better on the anthropomorphic beasties than the humans IMHO – and good storytelling, but this is where the flaws in replicating the existing formats come to the front. Nobody seems to be questioning whether it’s even a good idea to adopt the 7 x 10 format of contemporary comics. On the appealing things about European graphic novels is their size, which basically means more story/detail on the page.
Ask for Mercy Issue 1, Richard Starkings and artist Abigail Jill Harding
As I intimated in the Elephantmen review this “dark fantasy” suffers from the same problems as Elephantmen: it’s a too-short introduction to the world. As writers today are infected with “decompressed storytelling” (or “show it to not tell it” as it used to be called) many writers simply can’t get enough story into 20+ pages to fully engage you without the crutch of a pre-existing character. Ask for Mercy suffers from this in spades. There is nothing wrong with the art or the storytelling, although, of course, those things are much a matter of personal taste. There is quite a lot wrong with the pacing. Essentially, Mercy (the titular character) on the basis of a chance meeting with someone who appears to be the devil (it’s subtly done – pointy beard, pointy eyebrows, pointy hair – you get the picture) decides to go through a mysterious doorway and ends up in a world that’s both very pretty and inhabited by various kinds of monsters. You now know about as much as I do. There are action sequences. There is some (not great) dialogue. This one could go either way – depending on the level of interest the world itself creates, and Mercy’s relationship to that world it could be good, bad, or indifferent. Both the art style and the need to establish the world quickly made me think this of all of the titles would have been better as a graphic novel. The cover, incidentally, does not sell the book at all. It is a picture of the doorway and has the appeal and engagement that pictures of doors usually bring to the table. None.
Savage Game OGN, Ryan Kalil, Shawn Kittelsen, and Chris B Murray £2.99/$$3.99
it’s a brave move to launch an original graphic novel. It’s a shame this isn’t one. Graphic novel to me means something in excess of a hundred pages. This has 60. I can’t judge the total quality of those 60 pages, because it’s not issued yet. But from the preview that I’ve seen, I would suggest that it’s more tied into Ryan Kalil’s celebrity than any great expression of inward artistic vision. The art, cover and interiors, is not good. The premise is this: What happens when a rogue titan of Silicon Valley creates his own island nation with no laws to hold him back? You get the Savage Game. Welcome to Liber Haven, where audiences watch genetically modified hybrid creatures fight to the death in a fantastic gladiator-style battle. But Conner Bowen isn’t having it. He’s on a quest to stop his mad father and the Savage Game. But is it too late?
Yes, it is too late. It’s too late to recycle The Most Dangerous Game, Jurassic Park, the Island of Doctor Moreau and a whole bunch of other now-hackneyed science-fiction nonsense that belongs on the Sci-Fi channel. Oh sorry, SyFy. If you’re going to launch your line’s 1st graphic novel can I suggest that you probably need a good concept, decent art and a writer
All in all, then, a mixed bag. I seriously think that this launch has been negatively affected by the inability of those concerned to think creatively about the possibilities of the digital medium, and what it allows them to do. It is not a coincidence that Super Freaks was by far the easiest of the books to enjoy. The nature of the concept fits well into the traditional comics trope of multiple cliff-hangers, the art is appropriate to the subject, and you can read the lot of them in one go. Basically, I would read another series of Super Freaks, I will look out for Elephantmen, I will give Ask for Mercy another issue to see if it picks up, and I’m not going near Savage Game with a 10-foot pole. Scarily, that’s still better than Marvel and DC managed to score most of the time. And at least none of them are Doomsday Clock!