Sunday, August 13, 2017

Catalyst Prime for July: Superb #1, Accell #2 and Noble #3

I would like to begin this month’s review of the Catalyst Prime comics from Lion Forge with the first issue of their latest series, Superb. The writers are David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard. I had enjoyed Walker’s work on both Power Man & Iron Fist and Luke Cage from Marvel. I particularly appreciated how, while both series featured Netflix breakout star Luke Cage, they represented very different tones and styles from the same writer. I am not familiar with Sheena C. Howard’s work; I understand that she is an academic who studies comic books and popular culture (which is what my own educational background is in), and that this is her first comic book.

Whenever I read a comic credited to two writers, I don’t worry about trying to figure out who did what. That’s not important; if the comic is credited to two writers equally, then those two both deserve all the credit for what’s on the page. And what’s on these pages is pretty cool. It’s also as different from Noble and Accell as those two books are from each other.

I think a hallmark of a teen superhero comic is that there is as much of a focus on the heroes’ personal lives as there is on their lives as heroes. Otherwise, why not just make them typical adult heroes? This book certainly adheres to that theory: while it opens with news footage of a new masked hero on the streets of Youngstown, Ohio, the action proper starts with Kayla, Jonah, and their fellow high school students on their way to school. 

Kayla is a young African American woman who has only recently moved back to Youngstown after years away. Jonah is her former neighbor and best friend, who can’t seem to understand that things have changed for Kayla, and for their relationship while she was away. Jonah apparently also has Down’s Syndrome; I say “apparently,” because while this has featured prominently in the publicity for the story, I don’t believe it’s actually mentioned in the pages of this issue.

Kayla and Jonah are presented as fully-developed characters in this first issue, with clear voices, personalities, and even glimpses into their home lives. Jonah lives alone with his dad, who, while present, seems to be absent in every way that matters. Kayla’s parents, on the other hand, work for the Foresight Corporation, as seen in the pages of the Catalyst Prime FCBD issue and Noble. This is a source of friction between them and Kayla.

We also get a closer look at how life has changed for the people of the world since “the Event,” or the asteroid explosion. The high school students are scanned daily for “enhancements,” or developing powers. If a student tests as “enhanced,” they are immediately removed to a Foresight research facility. It seems society is okay with this, because enhanced individuals have been responsible (or at least seen as responsible) for death and destruction, and so they need to be contained.

The parallels to real-world profiling should be pretty obvious. I found it a bit upsetting how, reading this story, I readily agreed that, if something like the Event happened and it resulted in people with powers, this is probably what would result. (And, having read this, I think back to how, last month I wondered whether Accell’s identity was publicly known or not. I have to assume “not,” based on what we’ve seen here.)

I said that we see video footage of a masked, enhanced hero at the top of the issue; we see more footage through Kayla’s eyes as she tries to learn more about the hero, Cosmosis—a real-world version of a comic-book character in the Catalyst Prime universe—through his YouTube channel. We also see Cosmosis go into action to find out what happened to the high school girl who tested as enhanced earlier in the issue. On top of that, we see the scientists at Foresight studying the enhanced kids, and questioning whether their tests are completely effective, particularly if “Cosmosis” somehow escaped detection.

The art, by Ray-Anthony Height, Le Beau L. Underwood, and Veronica Gandini, proves to be an excellent team for a comic focused on teen characters. The teens look like teens, dress like teens, and move like teens, not like an old man’s view of what teens are like. The storytelling is clear and distinct and dynamic. 

In short, this is another successful debut for Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime, and I am definitely on board to learn more about these characters, and for the insight into the Catalyst Prime world the story is providing.

Last month, I talked about how the first issue of Accell felt like a straightforward, classic super-speedster adventure comic, of the sort I used to love as a kid. I should have known better. This month’s second issue takes a sharp left turn into the weird, and I’m excited to see where things go.

After the big fight last issue, Daniel Dos Santos decides he needs time away from LA (and his girlfriend) to learn more about his powers. So he heads off into the desert, where he’ll do less damage. The faster he runs, the greater sense he gets that he’s doing more than just running fast. Something is happening to the world around him as he runs.

A vision of some sort of creature brings him to an abrupt halt, and when he wakes, he is in the company of a Native American named Jesse. Jesse tells Danny about a Native American creature named Dagwanoenyent, a demon whirlwind, and how it can be defeated, and then the two go off to sleep. Sure enough, Danny wakes to see something that very much resembles a demon whirlwind. But when he starts running to try to stop it, things really get weird. Reality itself seems to be shifting around Danny, in ways that really need to be read to be understood. 

I had said last month that I was a fan of writer Joe Casey’s work, but I was always a bigger fan of his weirder stuff, like Automatic Kafka, G0dland, and WildCATS, more so than his runs on traditional heroes such as Superman and X-Men. So while I would have been happy with Accell remaining the traditional superhero comic it appeared to be from its first issue, I’m much happier to see it developing into something weirder with this issue.

Finally, this month’s issue of Noble was a lot of fun. As with the previous two issues, it opens with a flashback, this time four months ago, which says to me that the “six months ago” bit in issue two was not a typo, and that maybe David Powell has not been on the run as long as I had thought after the first issue. We also learn through the flashback that David Powell and the story being told in this series has a very direct connection to Lorena Payan, who we met in the FCBD issue. 

I recently read this series described as “Superheroes meets the Bourne Identity,” and that’s a pretty apt description. On the one hand, we get some solid superhero action, and see Powell acting pretty selflessly, helping other people. On the other, we get the unfolding mystery of David and Astrid’s past, and their connection to Lorena and the Foresight Corporation. 

As the series progresses, we are seeing more and more pieces of the mystery revealed, and while we aren’t anywhere near finding all the answers yet, it’s clear that things aren’t going to be dragged out for too long. It feels like things are getting fleshed out every month, and that the various storylines are coming to a head. 

I don't want to talk too much about the story too much, because I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice it to say that this remains an extremely intriguing series to me, partly because I’m not sure where it’s going. It isn’t just the adventures of David Powell traveling around helping people, but it isn’t just the story of him vs Foresight, either. 

I will talk about the art, still by Roger Robinson and Juan Fernandez & Sotocolor. Robinson has  a very distinctive look, which I’m really enjoying. It’s some very classic storytelling, but his inking style has a gritty edge to it. As I write this, I’ve read the fourth issue, which has a number of pages illustrated by Jamal Igle, who is also drawing the fifth issue, according to the new Previews catalog. He is described as a fill-in artist, so I’m hoping that Robinson just needed a bit of a break. His art is a large part of why I love this series, and while I’m a big fan of Jamal Igle, I’d rather see him working on his own stuff, and see Robinson continuing here.

This month’s Pop! of the Month is from the Batman TV series line: King Tut.

I can’t say that King Tut is very high on my list of favorite Batman villains. Maybe it’s because he’s not from the comics, so he’s not as prominently on my radar. However, Victor Buono always turns in an entertaining performance as the faux-Egyptian Pharaoh. What makes this a favorite Pop! (in fact, what convinced me to buy it in the first place) is the detail on the costume of the figure. It’s a beautiful, delicate paint job, and really makes the Pop… pop.

That’s it for this week! See you next week!

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