This week saw a number of big comic releases from Marvel and DC, but who cares when this was the week My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #1 came out? PONIES, you guys! Ponies all over the place.
This week I’ll be reviewing My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #1, Hellblazer #297, Gambit #6 and Masks #1
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the unexpected mass-market hit cartoon series which came out of nowhere to hit every demographic. The series grew such a strong fanbase, in fact, that pre-orders for this spin-off comic series went ballistic, and Katie Cook and Andy Price were left with a smash hit before anybody read a word or saw a single hoof. Issue #1 of IDW’s series doesn’t pay much lip service to new fans, instead asking them to immediately catch up on a fast-paced opening story which races around a large cast of diverse and well-characterised ponies at breakneck speed. Jokes and puns and visual gags fly out from all angles, with almost every one landing. And amazingly, the creative team manage to make the book accessible without pausing to explain anything about the world the characters live in.
Cook is primarily a great humorist, and her voice for the book is immediately charming and entertaining. Whilst it’s hard for this “no-ny” (I knew nothing of the series before reading this book) to know how well she matches or moves away from the voice of the cartoon, I was pretty struck by Cook’s ability to string along an endless succession of gags whilst retaining exposition and story. She’s matched by lovely art from Andy Price, who refuses to draw stock figures from the cartoon and instead invests his own sense of life into the various galloping protagonists. His use of layout is rather spectacular, with thought given to how the panels stand alongside each other and progress the story. This isn’t spectacle for the sake of spectacle, but rather an intelligent use of page space and structure.
A lot of people were very very upset when DC recently announced the cancellation of Hellblazer, but let’s celebrate what we have left – three more issues – rather than mourn a book we might not actually read. Hellblazer has been in the hands of creative team Peter Milligan, Giuseppi Camuncoli and Brian Buccellato for a while now, although this issue is finished by Stefano Landini. The most recent issue concludes the ‘Curse of the Constantines’ storyline, which seems to finish off a number of Milligan’s dangling plot threads regarding Constantine’s family, especially his sister. Being from Liverpool himself, Milligan has proven to be one of the best Constantine writers since also-Scouse Mike Carey, with both being able to effortlessly write lines for the character which are both authentic and very, very funny.
With this being the last of a five-issue storyline, Camuncoli’s art is flagging a little here. Although he takes care to distinctively shape the big moments and standout sequences, some of the pages feature scratchier art which Buccellato can’t do much with. The story here does feature a little bit of a Milligan anticlimax, something the writer sometimes falls prey to. Whilst Constantine’s plan to save the day is funny, it is very slight indeed, and requires a leap of characterisation for the Eva Brady character. Regardless, the grasp on dialogue is spot-on and more than enough to carry the day here, setting Constantine up for a final storyline which gives him a fresh break from the past, and leaves the future unpredictable and exciting for the character.
James Asmus‘ Gambit series has been growing in confidence after a strong opening issue turned into a slightly wobbly first storyline. Each issue of the book has featured some kind of heist, and it’s to Asmus’ credit that heist 6 feels just as unpredictable as heist 1. We’re now in the middle of a storyline where the thief finds himself forced to steal from Pete Wisdom and the British MI13 team (although only Faiza Hussain also appears in the storyline so far). Asmus does light-hearted thrills nicely, although the artwork here seems to be a classic case of a Marvel title getting rushed by scheduling. Diogenes Neves is capable of better work when he isn’t under the pressure he seems to be under here, and indeed he shares art duties here with Al Barrionuevo after only one issue by himself.
It’s a shame that Marvel have recently taken to battering their artists with tighter and tighter deadlines, as it’s led to a rise of fill-ins and rushed pages. There’s a splash page here where we see the insides of MI13’s armoury, a page which was clearly intended to be filled with detail and exciting. However, it looks bare, with a few guns and bits of scrap metal lying around. Give Neves time to draw this page, I bet he’d have made it something exciting to look at. Without that time, his page does a disservice to Asmus’ story.
However, Asmus does seem to be rapidly building his world for the book, with a rising cast and some nice character moments for the main character. He doesn’t write anyone as an idiot in order to make somebody else look good – Pete Wisdom, Faiza Hussain, Gambit and Cich are all juggled nicely between each other here. The Gambit character has also benefited hugely from the retooling Asmus has given him, with a better direction, personality and motivation than he’s had in a decade. The best sequences in the issue are the ones with Gambit in them, as the focus, and that’s because Asmus has done such a great job of making the character exciting to be with again.
It appears that the pre-sales for Dynamite’s team-up book Masks have been stonking, and a massive success for the company. Written by Chris Roberson and with this first issue painted by Alex Ross, the series teams up Zorro, The Spider, The Shadow and The Green Hornet for a pulp nostalgia trip. Being somewhat unfamiliar with all the characters, this first issue left me a little confused, but with a sense that Roberson is heading somewhere good. Green Hornet provides the perspective for readers, as we follow him interact with first The Shadow, and then the rest of the heroes. I’m not entirely certain what Zorro’s role in the book is at present – he might have appeared, but I really can’t tell if that was him or not. The introduction of The Spider is also blatantly tacked on, albeit in a hilariously camp manner that I couldn’t help but enjoy. Roberson seems to be having a lot of fun here, and Ross is clearly having a ball.
Roberson allows for the reader to view the story as a camp homage just as much as he writes a pulp narrative, here, balancing the two different styles neatly. The story is simultaneously involving and completely ridiculous nonsense, but in the most enjoyable manner possible. He also makes sure to write for Ross, whose painted pages are far less static than you might expect. The fight scene towards the end is a particularly well-done sequence from the pair, while the conversation sequences aren’t overshadowed by dead-eyed staring from everybody involved – as can be the case for painted work. Ross reminds that he’s an excellent storyteller as well as painter with this issue, and it’ll be interesting to see how the story progresses beyond here. It’s a qualified success, in that it’ll play far better to fans who already love and know the characters than it will bring in and keep new readers.
— As a final note! Let’s take a moment to praise letterer Cory Petit, who is currently working on X-Men Legacy. This is a book with a myriad things happening in the word balloons, and Petit’s ability to juggle it all is pretty incredible. It’s probably one of the most demanding comics I’ve seen, and he manages to take everything Si Spurrier throws at him — and make it work.