Previews of upcoming books - that's what we need!

*So how about a review from the future? Just imagine my surprise the other day to open my mailbox and see the gleaming insignia (near-extinct old-school style!) of DC grinning out at me. A strange moment to be sure, but inside that envelope there were things to consider:

Firestorm #14

Issue #13 of this DCU superhero book was just released last week, and marked the end of writer Dan Jolley’s tenure; on June 1st, Stuart Moore takes over the position, although art team Jamal Igle and Rob Stull remain on pencils and inks respectively. I’ve not read the prior issues of this iteration of “Firestorm”; actually, I don’t recall ever reading an issue of any version of this comic at any point ever, which perhaps puts me in a unique position in evaluating this new arc debut. I think the book stands up as pretty self-explanatory, and I don’t expect new readers will have much trouble picking up the plot.

Jason Rusch is a freshly-minted legal adult with a new high school diploma and a charmingly nerdish moustache. He wants to move into his own apartment, away from the conflicted feelings he harbors toward his father, an occasionally physically abusive man who likes his lager, though Jason believes he’s still decent at the core. As one can probably guess from the title, Jason is also the amazingly powerful superhero Firestorm, who has apparently ‘merged’ with ex-Firestorm Ronnie Raymond, affording him a greater control over his atomic abilities and a more classically-oriented costume to boot. I’m pretty sure that this stuff was covered in the prior arc, but Moore keeps things more than comprehensible for the neophyte reader.

Since this is a DCU superhero book, Firestorm also needs to leap into danger, rescuing a college laboratory from a simulated Big Bang experiment gone wrong; little does he know that a mysterious and confused new being has been birthed from this churning bath of power, and an equally shady character is very interested in using this hapless entity to nefarious ends, or so reads the shadows across his face.

But really the focus of this set-up issue is on Jason moving out of his home and briefly encountering potential supporting cast members (a strange lady reading a quantum physics text, for example) and otherwise trying to set up his adult life. He’s nervous and sweet-hearted in the classic superhero teen style, saddled with an exciting but difficult job (S.T.A.R. Labs Detroit, hilariously located in a strip mall next to the local Pizza Tent, and about to be outsourced in its entirety to India). Being a superhero is his freedom; he soars through the sky with a big smile on his face, his atomic power obviously reflecting his late-teenage potential.

It’s a very positive book, if extremely familiar. It hews quite closely to established archetypes, and offers little in the way of innovation. It does offer some sympathetic characters, an internal protagonist narration that only begins to set off the cheese alarm on the last two pages (“This is it. My new life. It’s nowhere near perfect… but it’s mine. And no matter what… I’m gonna do it right.”), and a general air of calmness, quiet joy, and natural trepidation. It’s a standard superhero execution, but a wholly inoffensive one. I was provided with only b&w inked art to go by, but Igle and Stull’s visuals are solid and the storytelling is perfectly clear, though everything is kept very much in expected superhero art parameters (I do love Jason’s character design, though, as I‘ve said before).

It’s set-up, but it also offers an tonal agenda for future stories. If you like classicist teen superhero material, largely divorced from the chaotic Event action of the DCU at the moment, you’ll respond well to this book upon its official release.

*Speaking of responding to familiar stimuli…

Desolation Jones #1

Ha ha, oh Ellis knows how to play his tune well. This book is a lot of fun; the first issue of the guy's first extended project after finishing the shimmering “Promethea”, and Warren’s getting J.H. Williams III to draw video footage of bukkake money shots onto television screens in a porno store. Ah, you’re in Ellis’ Ideaspace now, J.H.

That’s not the only difference. The famously flashy Williams page design is quite subdued for most of this book, even dusting off the old six-panel grid at one point. There’s some eccentric layouts, yes, such as a procession of odd symmetrical pieces that intentionally leave panel spaces blank (and indeed some asymmetrical layouts that utilize the same technique to disconcerting effect); at one point this is used to cover a time jump, but at other times there doesn’t appear to be any apparent use for the technique save for visual kick. And then an action scene arrives late in the game, and the book snaps into a two-page sextet of overlapping rectangular panels, the characters not as much moving as posing; granted, all comic art is essentially ‘posing’ with the reader left to supply the illusion of movement, but the stillness of the scene is emphasized by Jose Villarrubia’s sudden washes of red and “Sin City” high-contrast b&w - and of those six panels, three are devoted to the adoration of a particularly gruesome injury to the eye. It’s detached combat, all the better for a good leer at the bloody goings on.

And leer we do with Ellis’ script, revolving around the hunt for Adolph Hitler’s secret homemade porno, which has been stolen from a diseased (though filthy rich) pervert by former US Army Intelligence agents. Said pervert hires the title character to get on the case; Jones is entirely bastardly but very intelligent and ultra-capable, very much in the classic Ellis mold, though his murky past as a disgraced secret agent and his sci-fi invincibility to pain sends him all the way back up the "Lazarus Churchyard" branch of the Ellis Protagonist Tree. But still he drives around, expresses a desire to smoke (marijuana here, not tobacco), and regales his filthy assistant with theories about the purpose of The City, now Los Angeles, and Jones even envisions the angels of that debased name circling around him as he puffs away, the old devil.

All of this adds up to essentially what I said the other day: it’s an almost astoundingly typical Warren Ellis extended storyline, except fot the fact that no other Warren Ellis storyline has promised issue after issue of J.H. Williams III art. And truth be told, even if Ellis keeps playing that old tune (compare him to the likes of Howard Chaykin, who also maintains a limited stock of character types and themes, yet manages to make many of his stories feel like unique glimpses at a new facet of the same stone - Ellis‘ rock is decidedly round and smooth in comparison), at least it’s an entertaining one. And his backing is quite sublime.