Sunday, June 4, 2017

New Comics: Catalyst Prime & Noble

This week is a bit longer than my usual posts; more of an essay than a simple blog post. But it’s about a new line of comics I find myself feeling pretty passionate about, and that I wanted to share with you.

I’ve been a comics reader and fan for as long as I can remember, but I seem to have reached the point where I don't get excited about comics news as much as I used to. If a creator I like is working on a new project or returning to an earlier creation of theirs, my interest is generally piqued. If something I've loved is being reprinted, that generally gets my attention. Otherwise, I now take a "wait and see if it's any good" attitude towards comics news. So I found myself surprised that I was getting pretty excited about Catalyst Prime, a new line of superhero comics in a shared universe from Lion Forge Comics.

So far, two issues have been released in this new imprint: the first issue of Noble, by Brandon Thomas and Roger Robinson, and the Free Comic Book Day Catalyst Prime issue by Priest, line editor Joseph Illidge, Marco Turini and Will Rosado. Both issues came out the first week of May, although I wasn’t able to read the FCBD issue until the fourth week of May. 

I had to look up online to see if I had read anything by Brandon Thomas before; turns out he wrote a science fiction adventure comic I had enjoyed called Miranda Mercury. Roger Robinson’s name was more familiar. I had enjoyed his art on Azrael and Batman: Gotham Knights from DC. On further investigation, I was reminded that he worked on Hardcase for Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse. Between the two of them, they had solid action-adventure comics creator credentials.

Noble opens in media res, with a clearly anxious Astrid Allen-Powell waiting in a waiting room. We learn that her husband was apparently part of a team of astronauts that saved the earth from a killer asteroid, but that he apparently did not survive. This sequence clearly illustrates the storytelling skills of Thomas and Robinson; much more information is shown than told. 

The story then skips ahead a year, and across continents to Argentina, where a team of paramilitary strong men are in pursuit of David Powell, who is working as an auto mechanic under the name of Julian Brass. The comic lists Powell as “presumed dead;” with the last name of Powell, he is also presumably Astrid’s not-quite-so-late husband. The team has instructions to bring Powell in alive, but not necessarily unharmed, as they are beating the crap out of him. However, Powell is able to resist using what appear to be some sort of mental/telekinetic powers.

The bulk of the issue tells the story of Powell’s attempts to get away from the team. On first reading—while I was eating my lunch at work—I was surprised that we didn’t get a more detailed, twisty, infodumpy story this first issue, However, on reflection, I realized just how much information the creators subtly imparted. 

Certainly we get a good view of Powell using his powers, using some visual tricks that nicely communicate their telekinetic nature. We also see that Powell, as Brass, has apparently established himself as someone the residents of the village admire. Thomas and Robinson show this through the differing reactions on the faces of the villagers and the assault team members. They also show one of the villagers, a young boy, encouraging “Brass” to run. 

We see that Powell isn’t completely comfortable using his powers; he claims he doesn’t know his own strength. He also isn’t the only person with powers, as one of the assault team has enough strength to lift a jeep. And we learn that they are working for a woman, and the plan is to get Powell into a lab to study him.

By the end of the issue, the story circles back around to Powell’s wife and her determination to find her husband and bring him home. Between bookending the first issue with that story, and Astrid’s prominent place on the cover, I believe their relationship will be a key story in this series. Presumably the conflict between Powell and whoever is trying to capture him will also be an ongoing plot point.

Beyond that, the book sets up a number of mysteries to play out in the coming months. How did Powell survive the destruction of the asteroid? Did the doctors from the opening scenes know that he wasn’t dead? Who is trying to capture him? (We know it’s a woman, and that his wife is trying to find him, but the Catalyst Prime FCBD issue sets up another possibility.) Does he really have amnesia? What’s up with the mask he’s wearing? The more I thought about this first issue after reading it, the more intrigued I became, wondering about these questions. 

The first issue of Noble was released the Wednesday before Free Comic Book Day. While I get most of my comics digitally or via mail order, I went and stood in line at my local comic book store on FCBD, primarily to get a copy of the Catalyst Prime issue. Of course, the store didn’t have any, which is pretty sad. However, Lion Forge released the FCBD issue digitally, so I was finally able to read it.

The story, by Priest and Illidge, opens with some brief vignettes featuring some of the characters from upcoming Catalyst Prime titles. I recognize some of them, from books like Accell, Noble, and Superb. Some of the others are still a mystery to me. (Which is fine; I’m looking forward to seeing the stories unfold.) The book then flashes back a year to one week before “the event,” which is the destruction of the asteroid, as seen in the opening of Noble. 

That event, and the woman behind it, form the focus of this issue. While Noble is a very action-packed tale, this issue is much more character-based, introducing us to Lorena Payan, CEO of the Foresight Corporation, a bleeding-edge aeronautics and science company based in Mexico. We learn that Foresight discovered the existence of a giant asteroid—“the size of Houston, Texas”—heading towards Earth about a year ago, and has spent that time devising a plan to stop it.

That plan involves sending a group of astronauts, including David Powell, in ships to destroy the asteroid before it reaches Earth. Since it’s on the second page of Noble, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that they succeed, but at a cost. This details that mission, along with snippets of the astronauts’ pasts. I know from what I’ve read about upcoming Catalyst Prime titles at at least some of the other characters from this issue will play a role in stories to come. It certainly appears that Lorena Payan will be involved in those stories as well; my guess is that she is behind the assault on David Powell in Noble #1. 

The script, by Priest and Illidge, feels like the best comic book science fiction, in that the science may all be a bunch of hooey, but it certainly feels real. I liked the layers of characterization they gave Lorena, based on who was seeing her; we are introduced to her helping kids with their schoolwork, but her employees see her entirely differently. And the story hints at—and eventually outright shows—even more depths to her character begging for further exploration.

The writers also flesh out the characters of the astronauts with a certain amount of depth, considering how little space they have for a fairly large cast. As with Noble, we learn more through showing than telling, and the glimpses we get are enough to make me want to dig deeper. I am particularly curious why it felt like one character’s spouse was being kept very deliberately off-camera.

The premise behind Catalyst Prime seems pretty straightforward: the world of the comics is pretty much like the one outside our window, until the asteroid explosion happens to change things and start giving people superpowers. One of the hallmarks of the line is its diversity and inclusiveness, both on the page and behind the scenes. A number of the creators and characters are people of color, and the title Superb even features a hero with Down’s Syndrome. That alone is something to be applauded, but it doesn't explain the excitement and anticipation I have been feeling.

In many ways, the way I'm feeling now reminds me very much of how I felt in 1986 when Marvel launched their New Universe series of comics. Given that the New Universe comics aren't very well regarded or considered very successful, that may not seem like much of a compliment. But it's not that I particularly loved those comics, or am comparing Catalyst Prime to them. Instead, I am remembering the excitement I felt before the New Universe comics actually started coming out.

In the summer of 1986, I was traveling around with my parents, checking out potential colleges to attend. At the same time, Marvel was promoting the New Universe, a line of brand new series featuring brand new characters, set in a world separate from the regular Marvel Universe: a world just like ours, until an inciting event (the "White Event") occurred, resulting in people suddenly getting powers. I think that appealed to me at that time for a couple of reasons: while I really loved the superhero universes of Marvel and DC, this was a chance for me to enjoy that sort of extended storytelling between interconnected titles, but I could get in on the ground floor. Perhaps more importantly, I was preparing to make a major transition in my own life, leaving my home and family to enter a “new universe” of college and independence. So the chance to learn about a new universe in comics at the same time was an idea that I really connected with.

I have high hopes for the success of Catalyst Prime. They have a great lineup of creators, people like Joe Casey, David A. Walker, Damion Scott, Larry Stroman, Alex de Campi, Jan Duursema, Roger Robinson, and others. Their plan to gradually introduce their line one new title a month rather than launch all seven titles at once seems like a sensible way to build things. 

I like the emphasis on diversity and inclusion. At first, I wasn’t going to talk about that much because it’s not something that should matter, in an ideal world. And then these last couple of weeks, I read news stories about people stabbed to death trying to defend people from bigots, or people leaving nooses in the Smithsonian’s African American museum, and I’m reminded how far our world is from that ideal. 

I’m completely tired of seeing diversity in comics being treated by a segment of fandom as “artificial,” or “filling quotas” or just being used as a sales gimmick, as if having a comics world that represents the makeup of the real world  isn’t something to strive for. Diversity and inclusion is important, and right now, it’s something that I will support, period.

I’m also excited about a line of superheroes that I can learn about from the ground up. As much as I love the Marvel and DC characters, their history has been pretty thoroughly explored at this point, and there feels like there’s more scope to develop characters who haven’t been around for 50+ years, and who aren’t appearing in all sorts of other media and merchandising. Plus, right now, as much as I’m enjoying those stories, there’s a lot of negative press about some of those older companies and their superhero lines. I love the stories, but I don’t feel like expressing my enthusiasm about them because I feel defensive about it. I get to come to the Catalyst Prime series with a relatively clean slate.

Finally, based on these first two issues, it looks like Lion Forge will be producing some solid, fun comics. And, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

If you have stuck with me so far, here is my Funko (non) Pop! of the Week!
Nebula is irritated that Morticia will not leave her alone

This time around, rather than a Pop!, I am showcasing Nebula, from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Pint Size Heroes collection. I have recently become a big fan of the Pint Size Heroes line, and have most of the Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy lines. I really like the detail on the figures, which you can really see on this one. And this particular figure is one of my favorites, not only because of the development the character of Nebula went through in the second Guardians movie, but because the design of her face here is so simple and yet so expressive. 

See you next week!

No comments:

Post a Comment