Farscape #1 ~ This finally showed up, after Diamond managed to not send it to the wrong country this time. I'm normally a bit sceptical of TV-show adaptations - I think writers often fail to account for the dramatic difference in a story presented in 40 minutes of film to one done 22 pages a month, and there's also sometimes a tendency to get carried away with the possibilities of comic art - not limited by effects budgets - and wind up losing the flavour of the original show with too much arbitrary spectacle (the Xena comic of a couple of years ago was guilty of that, as well as generally poor writing and art). Happily, none of that's the case here. Following on from the end of Peacekeeper Wars, this issue finds Moya en route to Hynerian space, where Rygel intends to reclaim his throne from his cousin, while John and Aeryn cope with being new parents, and Chiana grieves for D'Argo in her own unique way (which is to say, lots of sex). It's a good choice of story all around - Rygel's desire to return home and retake his empire is something the show always kept in play, and Peacekeeper Wars set up its coming to a head, while John and Aeryn and 'Deke' (as they nickname their son, D'Argo Sun Crichton, since his namesake's death is still a bit recent), especially Aeryn's quiet sadness at not seeming to be as natural a mother as she'd hoped to be, feels exactly like the kind of insightful character drama Farscape loved to provide in between all the mayhem and action. The dialogue rings true, both in terms of the characters' voices and in faithfulness to the Farscape world, with its unique vocal styles and slang, and the art is very polished, not trying to ape photo-realism of the actors, but capturing their key features very well, and showing that a lot of homework has been done on the look of Moya and the show in general; ironically the only bad bit of art I saw was Chiana's face on the pure-art cover, which is why I went with the photo-based one.
Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #1 ~ This was an impulse pick from Previews a couple of months back, and the first issue certainly rewards taking that chance. For one thing, it's good value: US$1.99 for 48 story pages, you don't see that very often. The big page count gives this issue plenty of space to set up its story, which is a sci-fi war tale - in the mid-future (well, between the 'near future' and 'far future') humanity has largely embraced genetic engineering, creating an upper class of 'Genotypes' who, for the most part, regard themselves as superior to the un-engineered 'Helots'. The Alliance - controlling most of the Solar System - is right behind the Genotype superiority view, while Venus, an independent colony, maintains that Genotypes and Helots should be treated equally by the law. The Alliance has invaded other independent states in the solar system, throughout which Venus has maintained neutrality in the hope of being spared - now that hope's gone, with the Alliance issuing an ultimatum to the Venus government: submit to Alliance law, or be conquered by their battle-hardened Marines. Meanwhile we're introduced to a trio of asteroid miners - Stap, Jammer, and Sam - are going about their business, the former two getting drunk and into bar fights, while Sam sourly pulls them out of trouble; an incident during a mining operation also reveals that Sam's more than she appears, betraying knowledge of high-risk procedures that should be well beyond a simple miner. We get an insight into her in scenes where she consults a holographic psychologist, revealing that she's on the run from a tragic past, and blames herself for the death of her sister in an earlier conflict. When Venus puts out the call for volunteers to enlist to try to defend their home from the oncoming Marine assault, Stap and Jammer sign up, while Sam tries and fails to convince them that they'll be massacred by a far superior force.
It's a compelling setup, and even though the battle barely begins this issue, we get a lot of action. With the high page count the issue can afford to spend time on combat sequences, including a couple of sweeping splash pages, to convey the fury and scope of sci-fi warfare, without shortchanging the story. The writing is confident and convincing, but it's the art that is really striking - murky, grim, realistic, heavily into lighting and selective colour palettes to convey the mood of each scene. It can be a little difficult to get to grips with, if you're used to clean, bright mainstream comics, but the more you read the more it draws you into the story's world. It has the feel of a highly-polished movie (actually, this would make a great movie), something like the live-action Casshern, with a rich, layered painting kind of feel to it. If you like sci-fi warfare, this is definitely a title to watch.
Secret Six #5 ~ This is the first 'Faces of Evil' issue I've got, that being DC editorial's latest effort to get in the way of whatever stories their writers are trying to tell by insisting "No, this month, focus on a villain - who cares if it makes sense for your story?" Luckily Secret Six is about villains anyway, so Gail Simone is able to effectively ignore them and just keep doing what she does, which is write good comics. Following last issue's ambush five of our cast are holed up in a Vegas casino, rather poisoned, while Bane is the prisoner of the malevolent Junior. The story is told from Bane's narration in the latter case, and via cover boy Deadshot in the former - Simone gives them both unique, interesting voices, with Bane's harsh dignity and Deadshot's wry humour a nice contrast. Still, they're guys, and they're not that good that I'd keep buying the comic for them; Scandal has a nice scene, but overall doesn't do much this issue. We also get the big reveal of Junior's identity, which I found a bit of a disappointment - his setup was very effective in creating a scary, creepy villain that I could've done with that being him for quite a while, before going into detail of who and what he is. I'm in until issue #7 - the conclusion of this story - but quality though this is, I still don't see myself continuing to buy it after that.
Full Cirkle II #2 ~ This is a weird one. The setting is some fantasy world of animalistic tribes and steampunk machine armour, with a small band of characters (including the scantily-clad heroine on the cover) rallying a bunch of the tribes against some villain or other. The art is lavish and dynamic, a strange mix of murky realism and vivid colours that feels appropriate for the high-fantasy setting. And yet the writing is appalling - it sounds like the kind of stuff you get in a teenager's first fanfic, and it hasn't been proofread either, with barely a panel going by without some kind of typo or grammatical goof or missing/misplaced punctuation. There's even one panel where the dialogue is written along the side of the page, as if it just got copy-and-pasted out of the script, rather than put into speech bubbles - I can't decide if that was accidental (showing ridiculously poor editorial standards), or on purpose (showing that whoever thought it was a good idea has no idea what they're doing). Whatever the merits of the story may have been, they're ruined by the technical quality of the writing - a shame, but there are plenty of other warrior-woman-in-bikini comics around, so I won't be missing anything by avoiding this one in future.
Bomb Queen V #5 ~ Finally another issue shows up, and... actually, I found it a bit lacklustre, which is an odd thing to say when half of it's devoted to Bomb Queen rampaging around in a giant robot. But the fact is, she doesn't really do anything this issue - oh, she murders a whole bunch of people in various brutal and comedic ways (the giant robot can shoot atomic warheads from its breasts, and urinate acid, you'll be pleased to know), but she's kind of on autopilot the whole time, just repeating variations on "I'm the villain!" and killing bystanders while White Knight tries to stop her. Meanwhile Neil, Scott and Dee are stuck in the secret underground laboratory, and uncover the horrible truth, which... actually it's more of an X-Files kind of truth, big complex conspiracy stuff, but it doesn't really feel like it's got weight. There's a hint at a neat concept when the issue touches on the idea of the cities (New Port and Littleville) becoming 'alive' - that feels more like the sociological satire Bomb Queen's usually about - but it's just a passing mention, and the majority of their time is devoted to explaining the big (arbitrary) conspiracy, and engaging in a pantomime routine where they run around being scared of each other's shadows. Hopefully the final issue of this miniseries will pull a good trick out of the bag (aside from what looks like the finale of Resident Evil Extinction), because this one's just going through the motions.
Justice League of America #27 ~ As I said in last week's Previews round-up, I'm toying with the idea of getting back on with JLA - the addition of Zatanna to the cast was tempting, and DC editorial's meddling with McDuffie's work couldn't last forever surely. I had a flip through this issue in the store and decided it was worth a read, since it's the start of a storyline, and shows promise in other areas too. The former Doctor Light - Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi - is involved, and there's also a neat scene where Black Canary waltzes into Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman's secret meeting room and lays down the law to them about who's the boss of the League - that being, not them, so quit with the back-seat driving. One of my points of dissatisfaction earlier was that Dinah didn't really seem to be the leader in any real sense, so that's good. I'm still not 100% sold on JLA - I'd like to see more thought put into their role in the world, rather than just "See supervillain, attack supervillain" (Gail Simone's The Hypothetical Woman story being a great example), I'm willing to get a few more issues to see where this goes.
Mercy Sparx #2 ~ In short, Mercy battles a rogue angel, and the mysterious figures behind employing her to do so have a chuckle about how well their scheme is working - it's exactly the same as issue one, in other words. Really, there is nothing in this issue that's even remotely new - it's attractive art, well-choreographed fighting, snarky moment in between, and overall good creative and production values, but it might as well be a reprint for all the storyline value it provides. With this being only a three-issue miniseries (I think), it's a bizarre choice - a waste of an issue, essentially. Maybe the third issue will reveal that there's something in this one that's of pivotal importance, but honestly, I doubt it - if there is anything here, it's nothing that couldn't have been put in issue #1 to begin with.
Starfall Preview ~ This is a mix of two feelings. On the one hand, it's not how I'd choose to see a preview issue done - it's the full US$2.99, and for that you get no story pages, just a bunch of character profiles, a few paragraphs on the story concept, and lots of art, either cover/pin-up or inks. And only nineteen pages of it at that, including the inside cover - the rest is a preview of a Darkness/Pitt crossover, and the whole issue only racks up 20 interior pages. So in PR terms, this is a poor effort - for what's here it ought to be a lot cheaper, and they could've at least given it the same number of pages as any other comic. But - and this is a big but - I really want to read the comic. The art looks cool, the story concept is intriguing and seems tailor-made for all sorts of high-action sci-fi/adventure/horror fun, and the characters are an interesting mix, especially heroine Sierra Starfall, who's beautiful badass, and Sundancer, the 'sexiest personal computer in the galaxy'. So, poor marks to Top Cow's PR department, but good grades for the comic itself. The summary page (a single column) says that the series will only be published once the entire thing's written and drawn and in the can - well, that's one way to avoid delays - so it might be a bit of wait, but this one's going on my standing order right away.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #2 ~ More made-for-kids fun, with Supergirl, aka school student Linda Lee, accidentally tripping over an overhead projector and a lump of kryptonite and creating an evil twin of herself - well, there are plenty of old silver age Superman comics with dumber plotlines. This being an identify-with-young-girls story, the resulting arch-nemesis (who names herself Belinda - "Linda version B") doesn't go beating up the Justice League, as happened in the regular Supergirl comic, but instead is fixated on externalising Supergirl's own feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred, by becoming the clique leader of the school's cool kids and making Linda's life a misery through teasing and pranks. It's a fairly standard young-readers story idea, but as with last issue it's presented well, with a fast-moving story and engaging visual comedy - think Buffy without the sex and violence. If that were all the issue did it'd be a bit fire-and-forget, but happily it also introduces a genuine friend for Linda, a quirky science-type named Lena Thorul - yeah, play with the name a bit. According to the cover this is a six-issue series - I think I'm entertained enough to stick with it for that.
Anna Mercury #5 ~ I'm trying to think of an analogy for this series as a whole. Okay, imagine The Matrix, where they set up this fantastic world based in cool sci-fi concepts, presented dramatically and stylishly. But then, instead of having Neo uncertain and struggling and having to overcome his own doubts, imagine if he just got into the training simulation, realised he was The One, and then went and beat up Agent Smith without raising a sweat. That's what Anna Mercury is like - the concept is radically cool, but the actual storyline, who the characters are and why they do what they do, is so simplistic to the point of stupidity. The childish story, such as it is, is told very well, with evocative writing - lots of plot-neutral comments and asides that serve to make Anna seem more convincing as a real person - and pretty art, but ultimately there's nothing the comic can do to overcome the fact that Warren Ellis didn't bother doing anything interesting with his neat concept. If you're interested in sci-fi, pick up issue #2, which contains the cool concept - the rest is stylish but, in terms of real content, inferior.
War of Kings Saga ~ As I said last week in the Guardians of the Galaxy review, I'm not sure about War of Kings - I haven't heard anything yet that's made me sit up and take notice. This issue here is another of Marvel's free 'Saga' issues, like the Secret Invasion one, basically a bunch of captioned images to bring you up to date with the major players in the upcoming story - in this case it's mainly the Shi'ar and the Inhumans. And that's where it loses me, because honestly, I don't much care for either of them - I wish them well, of course, but in practical terms if War of Kings winds up with the Shi'ar dumping the Inhumans into a black hole, or Black Bolt hauling off and screaming "Screw you!" and blowing apart the Shi'ar empire, or both of them just mutually annihilating one another... eh, whatever. Still, kudos to Marvel for doing PR the right way - the material is presented in an engaging and easy-to-follow way, and above all it's free. No-one's going to like every comic a publisher does, and so far as I'm concerned Marvel's doing nothing wrong here - it's just not my cup of tea.