Jackdaw

Jackdaw

Staff: Kelly Shane, Brian Barr

Overview:

Watchmen, but for Batman.. and way better than even that sounds.

Review:

So today’s review is of Jackdaw issue #1. As per normal, I go in knowing next to nothing but if the cover is any indication- I’m already interested in it because the second page has a Beatles quote for the title of this issue (“Into the Light of the Dark Black Night”) and who doesn’t love “Blackbird”?. For those who don’t know a “jackdaw” is a bird in the crow family so the fitting title makes me smile a bit. Anyway, lets jump into Jackdaw #1!

Right off the bat the art is something you’ll have to get use to. It’s done in very dark pencils with and has a very sketchy style. The anatomy of the characters and scene composition is well done, playing a lot with lights and darks, but there are some clear issues. I hesitate to call them such because of the “style” but it looks like this went from sketch to linework and then someone just kind of stopped before they inked it so there are lots of little like blemishes and imperfections. Whatever I say though- at the end of the day I LOVE the art for some reason. I normally HATE dark comics (having read a lot of them) but this just looks downright cool. I don’t know if it is the very “real world” style the characters are rendered in or the sketchy tone and use of white space but… I just love it. Now, if it wasn’t for that layout….

So I need to talk about the layout. It’s nowhere near as professional as it could be. They have white strips on either side of some pages, the lettering totally clashes with the style of the page, and it all looks very amateurish. The lettering stands out like a sore thumb, being rendered in crisp vector (or a solid raster program) with the rest of the comic contrastingly in that sketchy dark pencil style. They clash violently in a visual sense and it is really distracted. Add to that the way the words are crammed into the scene like the artist forgot to leave room for the dialogue boxes and the small amount of border-space on the text itself and you have a very messy comic. Sometimes the black boxes use for internal narration get lost on the dark pencils (see page 26) and it all could use a good formatting guy.  It really WANT this comic to have fantastic layout! It makes it seem like an idea half executed! If the art style had been crisp and clean the vector lettering would have worked! Conversely if we had some awesome, built in, hand-lettered, dialogue boxes we’d have a very dark and moody visual set up!

Alright, so back to the good stuff. Can I gush for a second about how much I love the character designs? Jackdaw is clearly cut for the batman line of dark pulpy heroes (and my frequent readers will recall my affection for pulp) and I can really dig the points of inspiration that inform the reader visually of who he is. He has the dark brooding cape, the impassive white eyes, the heavy belt with tools on it, and the plague doctor mask. We have his sidekick (though she dislikes the term) Thresher and she has a bit of the “robin” aspect to her- talking about how she is used as a distraction. Some of the dialogue reminds me of the “good soldier” line from Dark Knight Returns and it’s not so far off in tone (though without the Frank Miller brand of madness). I get a very nightwing vibe from her (particularly the Young Justice version).

If you see a pattern here it’s not by accident. It really feels like the author wished they could just write their own Elseworlds batman story but couldn’t afford to get in with DC. It’s a bit of an elephant in the room. Like we have campy stand-ins for the Adam West batman series and it all feels like a pastiche. The writing is good and it gives is a good way to easily identify/make assumptions about the setting but it really undercuts the entire comic when you get down to it. As much as I like the comic at time it feels really cheap- like there is nothing new coming my way and it’s just a love-letter to the batman franchise. We even have a Harley Quinn & (mentioned) Joker rip-off. The realization grew on me, like it took 2/3rds of the comic to really get bad and part of me still wants to like it. It feels very much like what Watchmen did for superheroes- put them in the real world and have them work out their problems in a very raw way… except with just the batman universe. Part of me REALLY likes that and part of me thinks it’s REALLY in bad taste.

Dialogue wise we have a few good ones. It’s very “raw” dialogue (“My ball sac contracted just watching. But less about my scrotum and more about this secret weapon.”) and I can dig the tone. It involves a lot of modern ways fans interact with the comic medium (various TV shows, movies, message boards, websites, YouTube, etc) and it’s all done really well. The pacing doesn’t follow a three act structure or anything (then again episodic media, comics in particular, rarely does) but has a lot of great vignettes strung together. I don’t know if the plot really resolves itself or gives us bait for issue #2 but… damn. It’s still well written and I’d love to get my hands on issue #2.


Alright so overall, despite the flaws and things I bitched and moaned about… I friggen love this comic. I really do. Maybe it’s because it is such a love letter to batman or because it does such a good job of putting superheroes in the real world. This comic has all the things I profess to hate in indie comics: generic superheroes, obvious pastiches, cliche dialogue, etc… but god does it work. It just goes to show that if you have a good writer anything is possible. Seriously, this is the indie version of Watchmen. If you are reading some dime-a-dozen New 52 or Marvel Next comic, put it down for a month and read a single issue of this. There is so much more heart in this one issue than in a decade’s worth of schlock of those sort of comics.

 

Metrics

Art: 7/10 (Drawn intentionally rough, but it makes a mood and works so well.)

Lettering: 3/10 (Sloppy)

Plot: 9/10 (A character focused tour de force and commentary on our age)

Novelty: 5/10 (Watchmen, but with Batman and social media)

Overall: 6/10

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Super

Super

Staff: Joshua Crowther, Bruno Chiroleu, Matteo Baldrighi, Chas Pangburn, Steven Forbes

Overview:

A complex comic with good art.

Review:

So armed only with a blurb (“What happens when a superhero tries to solve a real world crisis? With no super villains is the world already saved?”) I am going to jump into “Super”. I gotta say, I am concerned with a name like “Super” and that premise it is going to fall into that trap of doing the same kind “generic” superhero comic I end up reviewing a lot. However, I hope it will blow my mind and not fall into those traps.

So, out of the gate Super has beautiful artwork. Full color, beautiful use of perspective and gradient, and lettering that it top notch. A lot of comics can be done in color or in black and white with little difference to the overall quality. However, Super goes the extra mile and really utilizes color to it’s fullest. For example, there is a panel where a man is lit on fire and while he is drawn with lights and darks (and color) the fire itself has a different color stroke and the whole scene’s color pallet is select to illustrate the scene. Beautiful! Just beautiful. A super minor (very technical) gripe is that there are a few panels where the artwork crossed into the bleed a bit (example: Page 14).

While we are on the visuals, the lettering deserves a special kind of thumbs up. The dialogue boxes help inform the reader of the style of communication and visually communicate it well (the shape/style of radio communication is visually represented by a special kind of dialogue box for example). However, there are a few missteps. Sometimes the arrangement of the dialogue boxes are done in such a way that you don’t know which comes first and which comes next. You can normally figure it out, but it’s a pain on occasion that  requires a few re-reads. Let’s be clear however, the lettering is solid and that’s just a drop in the bucket.

Some of the dialogue is well written but other times it feels like it’s just forcing itself to sound contemporary and relevant- a rehash of the common sentiments of most Americans of the younger generation. While I applaud the topic of the discussions, I don’t know if it was particularly well written. There are some pastiches of relevant themes that might as well have just been called out by name. To be honest? I got really boring. Like if this was new information or a unique situation informing the reader of some setting-specific information it would have been interesting. However, if I had wanted a recap of the Iraq war I could have just read Wikipedia. The comic also bounces around chronologically a lot and it’s a little hard to follow, but I get why they do it.

Now on the story. It’s very concerned with being topical and relevant. I can’t really decide if I hate it or love it and as a reviewer- I don’t know if that’s a good thing. On one hand it’s got a LOT of potential and the main character has a lot of room he can grow into. I get the feeling that this is not one of those series that shows its colors in the first issue and I am going to have to hold judgement on it as a whole until it has done it’s full run. Make no mistake- if pulled off right this is going to be a hell of a good comic. However, as a self-contained first issue I am going to strongly recommend it. If not for the art, for the potentially great story that seems to be coming. My concerns over it being a “generic” superhero comic were allayed. It uses it more as a way to question the relationship between the relationship of moral responsibility and power (both on a geo-political and personal scale). The faults are that it’s depressing and preachy. If it keeps this up- I it’s going to get really old really fast. If we have some sort of apotheosis sometimes soon (or at least a glance at what that could entail) it could really save the series from it’s own potential downfall.

So yeah, overall- I recommend it. It’s a complex look into some geo-political stuff and if that is your bag give it a read. If not, it is probably not for you.

 

Metrics

Art: 9/10 (Better than the big boys)

Lettering: 7/10 (Solidly above average)

Plot: 5/10 (Has potential to be really good or really bad.)

Novelty: 6/10 (I don’t know if it’s new, but it’s at least not derivative)

Overall: 6.75/10

Link to Kickstarter for Issue #2