Sunday, July 9, 2017

Catalyst Prime for June: Noble #2 and Accell #1

Last month, I enthusiastically discussed at length how much I enjoyed the first comics from Lion Forge Publishing’s Catalyst Prime superhero universe. I’m pleased to say that in their second month, I’m still a big fan. I want to share my excitement, because it’s hard for any company to launch a superhero line, especially a smaller company. These books deserve to find success, and if I can help spread the word to my loyal readers (well, my wife), then that’s what I will try to do.

Noble continues this month with its second issue. I was pleased to see that some of the things I had predicted after reading the deceptively action-packed first issue did indeed come to pass. This issue is by the same creative team of Brandon Thomas and Roger Robinson. It probably shouldn’t be of note that the creators of the second issue are the same as the first, but I’ve been turned off by other superhero comics that change artists every issue. So I’m pointing that consistency out here.

While I had written that the first issue managed to sneak a lot of information into what was primarily a chase/fight sequence, this issue slows things down a little. We get to take the time to start to know the characters a bit, specifically David Powell and his wife, Astrid. We also get some deepening of the mystery surrounding the story.

Once again, the story opens with a flashback to David’s (apparent) death. I assumed that this was set at the same time as the previous issue’s flashback; there, we saw Astrid being told about her husband’s death. Here, we see the doctors working on him until he apparently passes away. However, the first issue’s flashback was set a year before the rest of the issue, whereas we are told this is only six months earlier than the present day. I asked Lion Forge on Facebook if this was correct, and they said that there are a lot of jumps back and forth in time, and that everything would ultimately make sense. They also said things will be clearer if I read the issues back to back, which is fine; comics cost a lot, and I’m okay with buying something that holds up to rereading.

Speaking of the present day, after the flashback, the action shifts to Bolivia, where David has apparently settled following the events in Argentina last month. He’s got a new fake name and a job as a building super. He’s also having trouble controlling his telekinetic powers while he sleeps, and seems to be making some kind of device to help with that. Once again, a lot of this is told through the art, rather than the script explaining everything to us. I like that this is a comic that rewards me for a close reading.

We also see—initially, through the art alone—that his neighborhood is suffering from gang problems. Despite clearly trying to keep a low profile—the mask, the false names, apparently being constantly on the move—Powell still steps in to keep the gang from forcibly recruiting local kids. Once again, we get a cool sequence illustrating his powers, only unlike last issue, he’s using them in defense of others, rather than himself.

Finally, we get caught up on what one of the doctors from the flashback is up to in the present day, and it’s not very nice. Over these first two issues, it seems that we will be getting a couple of threads running through this series: we’ll see Astrid’s hunt for her husband, we’ll see whoever else—if anyone—is hunting for him, we’ll probably see more of the doctor’s experimentation, possibly springing from his earlier encounter with Powell, and we’ll see Powell interacting with people as he travels from place to place.

In a lot of ways, it’s a classic setup for a series, the super-heroic version of a Western from TV’s golden age, with a hero wandering from place to place, helping the people he finds. The more modern-day twist—besides, of course, super powers—is the ongoing stories laid on top of that formula. I could be completely wrong, of course; the series may head in a completely different direction. What I do know for sure, however, is that Thomas, Robinson, and their collaborators have laid the groundwork for some interesting mysteries and are telling some excellent stories, and I want to stick around to see where they go.

June also brought the first issue of Accell, the second new Catalyst Prime comic, written by Joe Casey and drawn by Damion Scott and Robert Campanella.  I’ve read a lot of comics by Joe Casey, most of which I’ve really enjoyed. He’s also a part of Man of Action, the team of writers and artists responsible for creating, among other things, Ben 10, Generator Rex, and Big Hero 6, all TV shows and movies that I’ve loved. 

Damion Scott and Robert Campanella were the artists on DC’s Batgirl comic which spun out of Batman: No Man’s Land. No Man’s Land came out during an emotionally rough time for me, and looking forward to new installments every week helped me get through that time. The art by Scott and Campanella in that series and in the Batgirl spin-off really caught my eye, and I’ve been a fan ever since. So I would have been interested in Accell for the creative team alone, even if it wasn’t part of Catalyst Prime.

Like the first issue of Noble, the first issue of Accell opens in the middle of the hero’s story. Daniel Dos Santos, a twenty year old man living in Los Angeles, already has super speed powers and is establishing himself as the hero Accell. Within the first few pages, we see him removing hostages and a terrorist from a plane bound on a 9/11-style attack. (Although we don’t see what actually happens to the plane once Accell gets everyone off; that’s one of my few quibbles with this issue.) It’s not entirely clear if it’s publicly known that Daniel is Accell, but I imagine we’ll learn more as the comic goes on.

Early on, we see the twists Casey has given the super-speedster formula: while Accell is immune to physical damage while running at super-speed, it all catches up to him when he slows down. So as a superhero, he can punch through the metal skin of a plane and race off with its passengers, but he has to make sure he is at the ER when he slows down and feels the effects. I don’t think I’ve seen this angle on these sorts of powers before, and I thought it was interesting, seeing the price Daniel has to pay for being a hero. (Of course, it’s still a superhero comic, so he is able to use his powers to heal faster than normal. But it’s also clear that he doesn’t escape feeling the pain of his injuries.)

The last major characters the story introduces us to are Danny’s girlfriend, Monica Hayes, and her wealthy father. We learn Danny’s origin, as he relates it to Monica. Though directly tied to the events in the Catalyst Prime Free Comic Book Day issue, we get all the information we need here. Danny’s relationship with Monica also connects to the central conflict of the issue, as Monica’s father does not approve of their relationship. He disapproves so strongly, in fact, that he hires a superhuman assassin, Barrage, who is literally a human assault cannon, to kill Accell when his daughter won’t stop seeing him.

In almost every way, Accell is a traditional superhero comic where Noble is less obviously so. It features a hero performing acts of selfless heroism. It tells his origin story and introduces a supporting cast. And there’s a big battle with a super-villain. Reading this very much activated the same receptors in my brain that loved reading DC and Marvel superhero comics of the 1980s, when I could read the first issue of a comic and not only get a fun adventure right off the bat, but also get a strong sense of what the series was going to feel like. 

I’ve read other reviews of this first issue praising the art of Damian Scott and Robert Campanella (deservedly so; they bring a genuine kinetic energy to the storytelling that a speedster book requires) but complaining that the story doesn’t break new ground in the superhero genre. While I’ve said myself that on the surface this is very much a superhero first issue in the classic mold, I don’t think it’s as simple as this just being a rehash of comics that have come before it.

First, while it’s easy and flip to criticize a superhero series for not “breaking new ground,” looking at the larger picture of what the Internet seems to want from their superhero comics, I’m not sure that “new ground” is actually what fans want to see. When I see online fandom complaining about superhero comics, it’s often concerns about how today’s comics aren’t as good as they used to be, with storylines drawn out too long and not enough focus on just pure superheroics. I also don’t know how much new ground there is to be mined before a superhero comic becomes a comic about  superheroes, if you get the distinction.

(The subtext of a lot of that criticism is that the fans—often older white males—don’t want to see characters who are anything but white males or stories that suggest that social injustices against anyone who isn’t a white heterosexual male exist. Certainly in that area, Accell breaks all kinds of new ground.)

Second, there’s the physical toll that Danny’s powers take on him. Admittedly, he is able to heal fairly quickly, but broken bones hurt. A lot. Most comic book heroes do what they do without any real cost to themselves. The notion that he endures a great deal of pain and injury in order to do what he does, but still doesn’t hesitate, adds a layer of nobility and heroism to his character that we don’t often see in superhero comics.

Finally, unlike most ethnic heroes, Danny isn’t a “street-level” hero or defender of his neighborhood. He is a Hispanic hero who is taking on terrorists determined to crash a plane into downtown LA. He also isn’t portrayed as an ethnic stereotype, eating tacos and calling everyone, “Ese.” He’s just a guy who happens to be Hispanic, but that doesn’t limit his actions as a hero.

However, his ethnicity does play into the central conflict of the issue. Although the story doesn’t state it outright, one of the reasons Monica’s father is against her dating Danny seems to be that he isn’t white. Hiring Barrage to kill Danny may seem like an extreme reaction, but looking at the news, we are living in a world of extreme reactions against people of color. The notion of a human Gatling gun like Barrage might be over the top, but sadly, I don’t think the idea of hiring someone like him to kill a man like Danny is too unbelievable.

I’m pleased to see that while they very much feel as if they exist in the same world, Lion Forge’s first two Catalyst Prime series have very distinct, individual voices. For me, the fun of reading Noble is coming from watching the mystery of David and Astrid Powell unfold over the course of the series, seeing which new pieces get revealed month to month. The fun of Accell will come from the joy of superheroic adventures with a more contemporary twist, while still featuring characters I can admire and stories that feel like a modern take on the type that made me fall in love with the genre.

This month’s Funko Pop of the Month is the first in their new line of Monsters of Wetmore Forest: Tumblebee. 

This is a line of toys created by the designers at Funko, rather than based on an existing property. I am always a fan of artists getting to create their own visions, rather than hew to someone else’s design or guidelines. It must feel so liberating for the sculptors at Funko to be able to do their own thing without having to deal with notes like, “That’s a great figure, but Boba Fett’s jet pack needs to be a little smaller.”

The Funko blog gave a cute backstory to Tumblebee, which I wish had been included in the packaging somehow. Regardless, I love the way the figure looks. The proportion of the eyes on the face make him look particularly friendly and loving. The little tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth is adorable, and the detail of outlining the mouth with a slightly darker paint helps it stand out and make it clear that he is smiling. 

He’s so adorable that my wife ordered one for herself as well, to keep in her locker at work. He is exclusive to Funko’s online shop, and is now sold out. However, he is only the first of six Funko Monsters, and hopefully that’s just the first wave. 

That’s all for this week. See you next week!

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