Pulled from www.spunkybean.com
Back in November, our friends at Kickstart Comics put out their first wave of graphic novels, and we were big fans. They’ve got a lot of books coming out in the next month, and three new releases hit stores today. And since they were kind enough to send us copies, we’re taking a look at the new Deadline, Headache, and Heavy Water.
Kickstart publishes original, standalone graphic novels in a wide variety of genres. Some of their creators are well-established in comics, some are talented newcomers, and some come from movies and TV. And everything they’ve published has been really good – their lineup is clever and inventive, and there’s a really nice diversity in the material. None of the seven books that I’ve read feels like another book in the lineup. They’re not repeating themselves – it’s something new every time. And I suppose I’ve already spoiled the fact that I really like the books in this review, so if you were going to start some kind of office pool, I apologize for ruining your fun.
Let’s get to the books!
Deadline – Certain types of stories don’t work as well in comics as in other media. To me, any sort of “race against the clock” usually falls flat, because the reader controls the pacing. Jack Bauer is going to take an hour to get from one end of a 24 episode to the other, but in a comic, I play a role in the passage of time. I can race through it to get to the resolution, or even just skip over any scene with Kim, since it’s not going to go anywhere (to stick with the 24 comparison). It takes real skill to build a comic around a time element effectively, and the team behind Deadline does exactly that.
Deadline is a thriller about a special forces agent forced against his will to assassinate a foreign leader. The “Sons of Turkmenistan” abduct Owen Reed’s wife and daughter to compel him to carry out their will, and just to keep things interesting, they also plant a bomb in his head. The bomb isn’t just a bit of added insurance, either – the bomb is the method of assassination. So either way, Owen’s dead. It’s just a matter of whether or not he can trust the Sons to release his family as promised.
The premise is appealing in and of itself, but writers B. Clay Moore and Seth Peck pile on the twists and make it ever more complex. Owen’s not exactly an innocent, for example. In 1998, he was part of a team of federal agents who killed the previous President of Turkmenistan. I love that twist – it’s a bold move to make the guy with a bomb in his head less sympathetic. I also like the way that Owen isn’t a superman – he’s a badass, but he’s got some years under his belt and he’s not as fast or strong as he used to be.
I hate to keep invoking 24, but Deadline plays out like a really good episode. Actually, more like the platonic ideal of 24. A perfect episode without any boring sideplots or weird lapses in logic. Also, there’s a satisfying resolution that doesn’t take six months to arrive. But it does have the sort of impossible odds and moments of surprising brutality that Jack Bauer so often delivered.
As I said, the creators manage to expertly control the pacing of the story. There are both physical and intellectual complications as the scheduled assassination approaches. The action scenes are gripping and there isn’t any wasted dialogue – if there’s a conversation, you’d better pay attention because it’s going to be important. I was completely sucked in – they managed to make Owen matter to me in the space of only a few pages and then kept me invested. The resolution is incredibly satisfying, too.
I don’t think I’ve seen the work of artist Kevin Mellon before, but he’s perfect for this book. This is a story with a lot of characters, most of whom are guys in suits. He still manages to distinguish them, and it’s always clear. Deadline would be a mess if we lost track of the characters, but that’s not a problem here. Co-writer Moore has done some work that I’ve really liked in the past. I’m a big fan of Hawaiian Dick, and he wrote a Superman arc that I loved, but I think Deadline is my favorite thing I’ve read from him. It’s a genre that we don’t see often in comics, and when we do, it usually falls flat. But Deadline is tense, exciting, and clever – it’s good stuff!
Headache – I’m going to be honest with you – I anticipated liking this one solely on the basis of the cover blurb from Matt Nix. If the guy who created Burn Notice and The Good Guys likes something, it’s got my interest. And writer Lisa Joy has written for not only the aforementioned Burn Notice, but also the much-missed Pushing Daisies.
The hero of Headache is Sarah Pallas, an institutionalized 18-year-old girl who is also Athena, the Greek goddess. (The clever title comes from the myth in which Athena was born by bursting, fully-formed, from Zeus’ head. You have to admit, that’s a darn good joke.) Even though she’s in an asylum, her mother, Hera, still wants her dead. The rest of the Greek pantheon has big plans to plunge the world into war, and Athena is the only one who can stand in their way.
We’ve seen ancient deities transplanted to modern times before, but it’s rarely been as well-executed as in Headache. The characterizations strike a perfect balance between the figures of myth and modern America. Zeus is a philandering deadbeat dad, Apollo is a universally-beloved movie star, and poor Hephaestus has to watch his wife (Aphrodite) cheat on him over and over again. Persephone is a girl who’s only to happy to spend six months out of every year in the underworld, because it means she gets time away from her mother. There are some really funny jokes that come from the portrayal of the gods, yet there’s real danger, too. Scenes with Sarah’s mortal friend, Twigs, under the mental control of Zeus are seriously creepy and unsettling. And Headache provides some really powerful emotional moments – Hephaestus stars in a couple of moving scenes, and Sarah’s infatuation with Hades works so much better than you’d expect.
There are some awesome action scenes here. Whether it’s two gods shooting each other with magic or actual physical confrontations, the battles are just great. Sarah is a fantastic protagonist – she’s not quite comfortable with her godhood, but she’s a fierce combatant. Sometimes Sarah is practically a teenage girl version of Wolverine, which is appropriate. Athena wasn’t just the goddess of wisdom, but also warfare and strength.
If you follow Kickstart on Facebook, and you should, you’ve probably seen that they’ve been posting quotes from Headache for the last week. Joy writes some killer dialogue. “I don’t need Armageddon to inspire fear and respect in humans. I’m a movie star.” “I was worried she’d want to save mankind. Turns out, she just wants Hot Pockets.” “Twigs. An anorexic depressive. She hates herself so much, there’s no hate left for anyone else. She’s an innocent.” It’s a big ideas book that’s packed with nice moments.
I like Jim Fern’s art a lot, especially his strong facial expressions and the lack of exaggeration. The gods don’t look like gods. Instead, they look like people. Since the story focuses on their human failings, it’s really effective to portray them as regular people. And his surfer-dude Poseidon cracks me up to no end.
I love Headache. It’s fast, funny, and exciting. Surprisingly human moments sit right next to inventive uses of the pantheon, and it’s a lot of fun to read.
Heavy Water – I don’t want to spoil anything, but Heavy Water is partially based on a true story. One of the key characters is an actual person who really existed, and was instrumental in the Norwegian fight against Nazi occupation. The parts about time travel, however, are completely invented.
Heavy Water gives us Ben Haukelid, a citizen of New London in Reichsland. He lives in a future controlled by the Nazis, and the one thing that really makes him special is a notebook from Knut, his ancestor in WWII. In their society, the population doesn’t have access to any historical records beyond what their leaders allow them to have. The notebook makes Ben invaluable to an underground group of rebels who intend to fix the past by stopping the Nazis from developing the atomic bomb first.
I’m a sucker for well-thought-out time travel stories, and I really enjoy the way Heavy Water presents a two-front war. The rebels in the future are under siege, and when Ben travels back to 1943 he fights Nazis alongside his ancestor. And in both time periods, the good guys are the underdogs. The Norwegians weren’t exactly in a position to stand up to the German Army, and the rebels of New London have only an unreliable time machine that has yet to be tested on humans. It’s a little bit like Star Wars in that way, only with actual Stormtroopers.
Heavy Water blends the sci-fi time aspects with a completely straight approach to the World War II scenes. Again, Knut is an actual historical person, and other than the presence of a time traveler, these scenes play out in a very convincing and realistic way. Half of the comic is essentially a dramatization of the Norwegian resistance in 1943, while the other half features a time machine and death rays. It’s a very cool mix, and I’m glad they avoided the temptation to have Ben go back in time with crazy future technology. There’s also a real difference between the dialogue styles in the two time periods. In the past, it’s a clipped, Mamet-esque style that plays like the English subtitles in a Norwegian film. It’s dialogue that gets to the point. In the future, it’s more conversational – characters struggle to get their point across. It’s a neat little trick that really makes the two sections read differently.
There’s also a strong emotional subplot for Ben – if he somehow succeeds, that means that the world he knows will never exist. Maybe he won’t exist in the new world. Maybe his girlfriend, Floria, won’t exist. And even if she does, there’s no reason to believe they would ever meet. If Ben makes the past better, he loses literally everything he knows.
Jonathan W.C. Mills, the writer of Heavy Water, previously directed a documentary about the OC punk scene and it looks like he has some scripts in development. I can’t find any previous comic work from him, but he’s really got a handle on the medium and I hope to see his name again. I love the art by Alberto Muriel - he draws such great faces, and there’s some really lovely design work.
Kickstart is three for three on their new releases – I can’t say that they’re specifically aiming their publishing line directly at me, but I choose to believe that they are. Deadline, Headache, and Heavy Water are in stores today, and all of them are well worth checking out.
Thanks once again to Kickstart Managing Editor Samantha Shear for the books. There are more books coming out in the next several weeks, and we’ll be covering them in the very near future. In the meantime, check out their website or their Facebook page and tell them spunkybean sent you.