THIS WEEK: With Far Sector #1, multiple Hugo-winning sci-fi prose writer N.K. Jemisin makes her DC Comics review, and this first issue — illustrated by Jamal Campbell — has all the grand world-building ambitions of her novels.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: N.K. Jemisin
Artist / Colorist: Jamal Campbell
Letterer: Deron Bennett
I’ve been looking forward to Far Sector #1 for quite a while, perhaps since it was first announced way back in April. The book is a take on Green Lantern, sort of a lone ranger on the far far frontier story, but that concept had little to do with my excitement. No, my excitement was all about the creative team. At the time of the announcement, artist Jamal Campbell was three issues into his breakout turn on Naomi, a mainline DC superhero comic penned by the team of Brian Bendis and David Walker (you remember Naomi!). Campbell’s linework is equal parts impeccable and imaginative, generating clean and singular art in a way that makes stories on his pages seem almost effortless.
It was nice to see Campbell moved to a property that would enable even more visual freedom. The bigger get for Far Sector, however, was writer N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin, for the unfamiliar, is probably the single most accomplished new writer of science fiction and fantasy to emerge in the past 15 years. Her Broken Earth Trilogy — a story of a far-future Earth wracked by apocalyptic seasons that tear the ground to pieces and necessitate a nigh-constant societal rebuild — has already been hailed by critics as “one of the greatest works of fantasy literature ever put to page.” It has also won the Hugo Award for best novel three consecutive years, a feat never before accomplished, akin to a director capturing best picture at three consecutive Academy Awards.
In short, Jemisin writing a comic is a big big deal, and now that the first issue of Far Sector is here, it’s easy to see why. Superhero comics, especially those set in space, have long been a rich canvas for vast experiments of imagination. A new species of alien here, a new societal set of norms there, and an infinite number of challenges and cosmic disasters and fearsome dictators or invaders enabled by oddball technologies. There is, however, what feels like a genre standard that runs through these stories, which makes sense. Comics have long been the domain of generations of creatives who grew up reading comics, read even more comics, and then as adults continued to read tons of comics as they started making them. Even writers like Brian K. Vaughan and Marjorie Liu — both of whom clearly draw inspiration from other mediums — had a feel to their superhero work that fit into the wider tapestry of these stories, which is both a blessing and a curse in terms of inventing new worlds wholesale.
Far Sector #1 does not feel beholden to any cosmic comic book story that has come before it. This is a book that builds a new world that feels unencumbered by the decades of sci-fi planets and societies that have been created within this medium. It’s also a world that feels expertly built. Jemisin’s scripting gives us a planet in which three species have long co-existed in peace, so much so that when a violent crime does occur (the inciting incident in this story, as it happens), they don’t even have a cursory idea of how to handle it, wondering murder response basics like what happens next, or where does the body go? Using this murder mystery of sorts as a narrative engine, Jemisin and Campbell deftly elude to the backstory of this planet and the defining characteristics throughout, giving readers just enough info without ever feeling cumbersome.
The murder mystery here, however, is not the only storytelling device used to push the action on the page forward. Jemisin and Campbell also sow the seeds of tension in organic ways throughout, drawing attention to the difference between the species, ranging from a derogatory term that is almost (but not quite) used to the subtleties in how the different species approach the world. The end result is a new comic in a fully-formed world that is driven by the nuances of character, rather than the surface-level elevator pitch concepts that drive most comic books, especially those by creators who are new to the medium. At NYCC, DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio said they had given Jemisin free license to choose any type of story she wanted to tell. Well, that creative leash can be felt on these pages, so different are they from everything else in the publisher’s current line. And that’s a very good thing.
My only real concern here is the Green Lantern branding. We’re only one chapter into this 12-issue prestige maxi (my favorite format for DC stories these days), but I worry there will be readers who pick it up expecting the usual Green Lantern trappings and mythos, only to be disappointed at finding something wholly new. Readers of superhero comics can be a conservative bunch, with a set of hyper-specific expectations often at odds with newness and innovation. That said, there’s plenty of time for Jemisin and Campbell to pull elements from other Green Lantern comics into this story, much like Tom King and Mitch Gerads did in their own prestige maxi, Mister Miracle, which I think is maybe the closest comparison for the way I felt reading this first issue. In the end, Far Sector is so well-done that I can’t see anyone who picks it up in good faith coming away disappointed. This is, simply put, a must-read comic.
Writer: M.R. Carey
Layouts: Peter Gross
Finishes: Vince Locke
Colorist: Cris Peter
Letterer: Todd Klein
I wrote long on my Far Sector review (sorry!), so I’ll be more concise here in discussing Dollhouse Family #1, the second book from DC’s new imprint of Hill House horror comics. My biggest takeaway with this one is it just seems so squarely aimed at fans of classic Vertigo. Or if not intentionally aimed, than definitely certain to soothe (at least a bit) anyone still feeling the sting from that imprint ending. Anyway, the point is that there’s a strong old school Vertigo presence throughout Dollhouse Family, from the layered concept that blends supernatural horror with real world domestic abuse to the presence of letterer Todd Klein, he who did every issue of Sandman (I’m fairly certain).
There’s a real comfort in that, one that suggests the sunsetting of the Vertigo imprint (still a major major bummer for all those who appreciate comics history) was not about fans having moved on from wanting cerebral and boundary-pushing original stories from one of comics biggest publishers. In other words, this book feels like a reassurance that there is still a place at DC Comics for the types of stories that once made that brand so beloved, even if the viability of that brand for whatever reason has waned in the market place.
About the book itself, Dollhouse Family #1 is an intriguing and audacious first issue, one that much like Far Sector gives reader something intellectually meaty to chew on while trusting them to make connections. It’s a story of a dollhouse with some sort of power that spans back through the ages, and it’s narrative bounces through time periods to draw the relevant connections. The real narrative engine here is a young girl whose father is violent and abusive, so much so that he’s clearly begun to put her mother’s life at risk. At the same time, she’s come into possession of this dollhouse, charged as it is with dark magic. The tension of the story is derived from the dollhouse seemingly having the power to destroy her father and save her mother, but it may want to make her a miniaturized and permanent resident as its price.
And I just realized all over again how much I liked this first issue as I was typing that. Also, two titles in I’m now full aboard the Hill House train. It has perhaps been a bit unheralded it, but if the rest of the books are as well-done as these first two, this imprint will be quite strong.
- So, confession time: I’ve never read actual Blackest Night. However! I really enjoyed Tales From the Multiverse: Blackest Night #1. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve liked all of these so far, but I found Kyle Hotz pencils (inked by Dexter Vines, Walden Wong, and Danny Miki; and colored by David Baron and Allen Passalaqua) to be an absolutely perfect fit for a story about all-consuming zombie space cops.
- This week’s The Batman’s Grave #2 endeared this comic to me a great deal. The creative team hooked me from the start, but this issue really elucidated their vision of what as Bryan Hitch put it “a proper, big Batman story” should be, and I like it quite a bit.
- I appreciated Event Leviathan, which wrapped up this week, as an extension of what Brian Bendis and co. have done so far and are preparing to do next in Action Comics. Yet, I question how well it stands as a satisfying story.
- Elsewhere in the Bendis Superman run, however, I thought Superman #17 was just excellent, touching as it did on so many of the ongoing threads (Jon with the Legion, no more Jor-El, Lois’ forthcoming book, etc.) that the title has been juggling from the start. And next month is the big reveal, plus the return of Ivan Reis’ career-defining run of pencils.
- I’m super into the aesthetic in Collapser. There are regular panels in this book that I want to blow up and put on a wall (in my office until my wife asks me how long I’m going to leave that up for).
- Finally, it feels like Year of the Villain is everywhere and has been going on so long it may as well be Decade of the Villain. And with that (awfulness), I’ll see myself out…
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