Spider-Men, KISS, Before Watchmen, The Massive - Comic Reviews

It was another big week for major comics releases from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Image last week, and frankly not a bad one at that. With some big, hotly-anticipated #1 issues coming from every corner of comics, it seemed as good a time as any to do a review roundup focusing exclusively on first issues--and some good ones, at that! Check it out below.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 (DC Comics) - ***1/2

Amanda Conner's art is, as always, unassailably beautiful in this, the second issue of DC's controversial Before Watchmen event.

The issue probably owes more to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original even than Darwyn Cooke's first issue of Minutemen did last week; it not only retains the nine-panel grid but also repeats specific images and lines of dialogue from Watchmen.

The story also dives headlong into the complex blend of  sexuality and violence that informed so much of Silk Spectre's character in the first book, with a fight sequence that takes place literally while the scantily-glad vigilante is in her pajamas. Whatever sense of misogynistic glee might be implied by the cheesecake nature of the title is somewhat offset first by a female creator and secondly by the fact that every impressive, intimidating character in the book is female, with the sole male character in the story--Laurie's boyfriend--essentially serving as good-natured background noise for the main story. It's hard to say the degree to which it's successful, though, particularly when he comes into the story carrying a Silk Spectre Tijuana Bible (also seen in Watchmen).

It's a promising start but hardly remarkable, particularly when you consider that there was some buzz ahead of time about how this book would be "the one to watch." Were it not for Conner's stunning visuals I'm not sure the script could sell itself.

KISS: Dressed to Kill #1 (IDW Publishing) - **1/2

I've never much understood the appeal of KISS comics, or really fictionalized fantasy stories featuring famous faces at all. This comic, while well-done, really does little to distance me from that opinion. While the lucrative KISS license is obviously a big "get" for IDW, the band themselves are too distractingly identifiable to place them into a fictionalized context and not have the overall story suffer.

In other words, while IDW has done great things with franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and Godzilla, KISS: Dressed to Kill #1 is a story that feels like it would be better if only it weren't for KISS.  A supernatural mystery ably written by Chris Ryall with beautiful pencils from the always-great Jamal Igle only suffers from having the band's over-merchandised mugs in the works.

The Massive #1 (Dark Horse Comics) - *****

You can read our interview with writer Brian Wood about The Massive here.

Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson's new story about a group of survivors of an environmental catastrophe is one of the most hotly-anticipated books in recent memory not published by the big two, and it doesn't disappoint. Moody colors by Dave Stewart set the mood for a great first issue, which introduces a group of sympathetic characters whose common goals clearly aren't going to keep them from coming into conflict along the way.

The first chapter in a 30-part story from Wood and Donaldson, it's hard not to notice that the scope and ambition of the project is huge but the actual execution is more modest, not entirely unlike Terry Moore's Echo, which similarly ran for thirty issues before he wrapped it up.

It's a book that's wrapped in doom but focuses on hope, with the group of environmentalists at its core looking to find their missing friends and never seriously stopping to question whether they may not even have made it. Whether that's well-founded optimism remains to be seen, but this first issue was good enough to bring me onboard.

Planetoid #1 (Image Comics) - ****

Another post-apocalyptic and creator-owned comic, Planetoid is more science fiction-tinged than is The Massive, but works nearly as well. It's a beautifully-rendered book that feels a bit like Image's recent success with relaunching Prophet in that it's once again primarily focused on a lone man wandering through a massive, unfamiliar landscape.

The "man versus machine", action-oriented aspect of the story is introduced about halfway through and, while frankly the survival aspect of it is more interesting than the war part of the story, it works well, particularly because of some awesomely creative design work.

That's the strongest part of Planetoid, overall - from scaling a mountain made of oversized tank tire treads to doing battle with a mechanized sea monster, it's a fascinating look at repurposing the apocalypse that's absolutely worth a look.

Spider-Men #1 (Marvel Comics) - ****1/2

You can read the first half of our interview with Brian Michael Bendis about Spider-Men and more here. The rest will go live later today.

Brian Michael Bendis' Spider-Men is the kind of project that cynical older readers like I can easily poo-poo. Not entirely unlike Avengers vs. X-Men, the story is only the face of it fanboy wish fulfillment, made to appeal to teenage readers who just want to see "what would happen if...?" and to sell a boatload of copies by appealing to casual fans and cranking out variant covers.

All of these things are true, but Spider-Men #1 is still a near-perfect Spider-Man story. As one of those readers who hasn't picked up the series with any consistency since One More Day, it's great to see the character back in form. Sara Pichelli's art is wonderful, and Bendis' narratorial voice is perfect for Peter Parker--probably nothing that should be surprising given that the younger, less world-weary version of Peter that Bendis has been writing for years in the Ultimate Comics universe has essentially been imported into the Marvel Universe proper following the big Spider-reboot of One More Day/Brand New Day.

The story itself starts off slow, and if you were to count on your fingers the number of events that actually occur in the story you probably woudln't run out of digits. The aforementioned narration, though, makes up for that niceliy by making every moment worth it. The whole thing builds to the meeting of the titular Spider-Men, of course, setting the stage for a more plot-intensive second issue.