First Issue Roundup 08.10

A look at a trio of recently launched new series: Kody Chamberlain’s noirish Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story #1, Harlan Ellison’s sci-fi redo Phoenix Without Ashes #1, and Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Paul Gulacy’s Nazi-filled action series Time Bomb #1.


Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story #1 (Image Comics)
32 pgs., color; $2.99
(W / A: Kody Chamberlain)
Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix without Ashes #1 (IDW)
32 pgs., color; $3.99
(W: Harlan Ellison; A: Alan Robinson)
Time Bomb #1 (Radical Comics)
56 pgs., color; $4.99
(W: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray; A: Paul Gulacy)
Lots of new comics in the stack this week so let’s just get on with it. Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story is a detective story set in, you guessed it, New Orleans, and just before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina at that. In issue #1 (of 5) we are treated to, in rapid succession, a praline recipe, the vicious murder of a priest in the sanctuary of a Catholic Church, and a casual interaction between a guy who looks like Pete Fountain (that would be our hero, detective Curt Delatte) and a homeless fellow named Maurice Culpepper. The rapid pace keeps up as views of New Orleans icons alternate with exposition and we learn the basic setup: Delatte is on leave following the death of his daughter, but his boss wants him back on the job to track down the priest’s killer. Said boss is not in a patient mood because the mayor is taking a personal interest in the case, as he was accustomed to attending weekly services at the very church where the murder took place. We also meet a shapely lab tech and observe an interaction between the city prosecutor and a madam in a strip joint in which it is clear that the madam is calling the shots.
The art in Sweets is simply amazing: it feels like authentic New Orleans but as viewed through the prism of film noir. This is not a tacky, touristy New Orleans, but a real, multi-cultural city where all kinds of people mix, where the line between reputable and disreputable is frequently not all that clear, and where all kinds of desires can be satisfied if you know where to look. Chamberlain favors an earth-tone palette (except for the murder which is shown in black and white with red blood) which conveys the impression of a city and some characters who have seen their share of hard knocks. However Chamberlain also clearly loves and respects the city and also values his characters for who they are: not superheroes, but people getting on with their lives as best they can. The story is a bit confusing in this first issue, in part because so many plot threads are rapidly introduced, but also because there’s a cartoon-like episode in a completely different style and color palette right in the middle of the first issue. I have no idea what that’s about but I’m not worried: Chamberlain has four more issues to tell his story and I’ll be eager to see what he does with it. You can read more about the author and see some of his art on his blog:, and click here and here for previews of Sweets #1-2 (respectively) hosted right here at PLAYBACK:stl.
Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes is a graphic novel based on his script for the ill-fated 1970s television The Starlost. Why do I say ill-fated? Well, Ellison won a Writers Guild Award for his script but was so upset with changes made for the television production that he removed his name from the credits and used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird instead. But never mind all that: is the comic worth your time and money?
The first issue (of 4) doesn’t make a strong case for itself unless you are a Harlan Ellison fanatic and want to collect everything he’s ever done. Both the story and the art are OK but nothing amazing, and I just feel that I’ve seen it all before. It’s the year 2785 AD and we’re in an isolated community where people wear Amish-like attire and adults say things to kids like “Hie thee to thy place of kneeling and rid thyself of impure, wicked thoughts, lest the elders mete out severity.” Our hero is a young adult named Devon who asks too many questions and refuses to bend before the authority of the religious elders. He also wants to marry a lovely young lady named Rachel even though she’s been promised to another man, while she prefers Devon but is afraid to question the established patriarchy. The ultimate authority of the land is a magic machine which only the elder are allowed to operate: they ask questions and it delivers answers, sort of the way computers were portrayed as working in Desk Set. Then Devon discovers how the magic machine really works (very 1970s answering-machine technology) and that really gets him in trouble. The story probably seemed more interesting 40+ years ago when everyone was into tearing back the veil of society and laying bare its hidden evils. 
Alan Robinson’s art is OK and colorist Kate Carvajal does some interesting things with the palette, particularly in night scenes. The problem is that the art seems a bit too first-choice: the characters and backgrounds are drawn pretty much as you would expect and Robinson hasn’t gone out of his way to make anything particularly interesting. He does use a variety of frames shapes and sizes but doesn’t include much detail: maybe that’s supposed to convey the emotional poverty of this world, but to me it just feels unfinished. Robinson doesn’t display much feel for portraying action, so even a frame full of action feels like a static pose.
Time Bomb #1 (of 3) mixes action hero, science fiction and war motifs, and feels like it should be headed for movie treatment as next summer’s big blockbuster. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, and this is an entertainingly loopy treatment as such things go. Anyway, it’s 2012 and we’re in Berlin, where excavations for the subway turn up an underground city apparently constructed by the Nazis as the ultimate hideout should their plans for world domination not succeed. Chalk that up as yet another thing that just didn’t work out for the boys with the swastikas. But if they didn’t get what they wanted, at least they did their best to screw things up for everyone else by creating a doomsday weapon: a missile containing a deadly virus that could wipe out the world’s population in a matter of days. Said missile has remained idle in the underground bunker all these years but, unfortunately, by opening the door to the chamber where the missile is stored, the investigating team sets it off. Before you know it, people in the outside world are dropping like flies, if flies had horrible red eruptions on their faces and frothed at the mouth.
Since there is no way to contain or counteract the virus the only solution is to go back in time 24 hours and this time not open that door. A crack team of stereotypes highly trained agents is assembled for this task and they’re certainly easy on the eyes (gratuitous shower scene alert!) and make the expected wisecracks. Something more in their favor: they smoke a joint before getting into the time machine. I bet you won’t see that in any PG-13 popcorn blockbusters any time soon. Unfortunately, time travel technology is not yet perfected and instead of going backwards by one day they find themselves smack in the middle of World War II. Will they try to assassinate Hitler with their Uzis? You’ll have to buy the next two issues to see.
Best known for his lengthy run on Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu in the 1970s, Paul Gulacy is a totally appropriate artist for the action genre—square-jawed men, a voluptuous action-babe, stern bureaucrats and lots of explosions. It’s all a bit too perfect in a good-natured, tongue-in-cheek James Bond fashion, although the depictions of the plague are truly horrifying and make good use of a splash page with several small frames superimposed. You can see a preview here: here, courtesy of Comic Book Resources. | Sarah Boslaugh

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