A Beautiful Gory Display – Kickstart’s
BLACKSMITH and ENDANGERED
This week, our friends at Kickstart Comics have two new books coming out. And once again, they were kind enough to send me copies for review. That’s always an exciting event, and not just because getting to read comics before they come out has been my career goal since I was a small child. It’s also because Kickstart’s original graphic novels have been consistently enjoyable. I’m a big fan of the format, and so far all of their books have been solid, fun reads. This week, they’re releasing Blacksmith and Endangered
Blacksmith – Ever since the Revolutionary War, an organization known as the Blacksmiths has created new and unique weapons on behalf of the government. Blacksmith gives us Alex Malloy, an ingenious young weapons designer who finds himself on the run from the CIA after one of his guns is used to kill a US Senator. And as I say about so many Kickstart books, that’s a pretty awesome premise.
The thing I liked about it right off is that Alex is kind of a weird dude. He’s a guy who spends all his time coming up with new ways to kill people and never deals with any of his contacts face-to-face. He’s a twitchy guy with a strange sense of humor (one of his favorite places for a weapons drop is underneath a pile of manur), and I really like that he’s not idealized in any way. Alex’s only friend is his dog, and it’s a neat touch to have him talk to Tiger like a person.
I also really liked the inventive weapons. Frankly, I would read a whole book about a guy who assassinated people with bullets made of ice. There are so many cool ideas that the book could have just coasted on that. Heck, I found myself thinking I’d read a monthly series about the Blacksmith. But instead, it’s a story about his life unraveling when he’s branded a traitor. Not only does the CIA come after him, but the people who set him up are also on his trail. And again, this is a guy who doesn’t have human friends and has never met the people he works for – he’s all alone. Alex isn’t an immediate badass, either. He’s a tech guy with a lot of tricks, but he’s not going to win in a fistfight. It makes for some unconventional action scenes.
Blacksmith is written by Malik Evans and Richard Sparkman, who are billed as newcomers. (I did find a Malik Evans who’s running for the State Assembly in New York. I assume that’s not the same guy.) If this is their first comics work, it’s really impressive. It reads a little like a movie script to me, but since more people buy movie tickets than read comics, I don’t really see that as being a problem. It’s cinematic, with cool action scenes and strong characterization. And I love that they didn’t go in an easy direction with the story. Rather than having a story that’s nothing but guys with increasingly complicated guns shooting at one another, this is a more human approach to Alex’s story. The big guns are just window dressing.
Artist Alberto Muriel also drew Kickstart’s Heavy Water, which came out earlier this month. He’s got a really good style for large-cast adventures. His characters are easily distinguishable and expressive. He also has a real talent for small-scale action scenes. A fistfight between regular people is exciting, and when there’s an explosion, it seems big and important even though things blow up in comics all the time. I really like his style, and he fits well with the world of Blacksmith.
Oh, there’s also an iPhone game available. I’ve got it on my iPod Touch, and it’s pretty awesome. Check out both the book and the game!
This is the second Kickstart book written by spunkybuddy Josh Williamson. I was a big fan of Mirror, Mirror. His new book, Endangered, is similarly great. It’s quite a bit different from his real-life fairy tale, too. This one is a sci-fi adventure with warring alien races and galactic heroes and monsters.
Chris and Mikey are teenage brothers, raised by an exceedingly boring father. He’s a safety specialist who cares very much about the importance of kneepads. But when he doesn’t come home from a business trip, Mikey learns that his dorky father is actually an intergalactic hero. (The more mature Chris already knows and helped keep the secret.) With their father kidnapped by an intergalactic tyrant and the universe in danger, the boys are drafted into service. Now, the “young man learns about the secret life of his parent(s)” was the basic set-up for Mirror, Mirror, but that’s where the resemblance between the two ends.
Endangered throws us into the middle of a space opera. There’s a magical girl (Caysea), the last survivor of her people, who may be able to return peace to the universe. There are ridiculously evil villains and alien assassins. Where Mirror, Mirror grounded fairy tales in the real world, Endangered just takes off into a well-realized cosmos. It’s full of big action, with starship battles and mystical light, and a trio of monsters who look like the Hulk’s bad-tempered cousins. And my favorite, a fish man who pilots a robot exoskeleton from inside a water-filled globe. I can’t even tell you how much I love that guy.
The big moments are fantastic – there are crazy fights that look amazing. But there are some really small details that made me love Endangered. When dad Donner spills coffee on himself on the first page, it’s such a perfect Clark Kent homage. It’s a neat way to clue people in that something might be different about this guy, but it’s not too obvious. I also like the way that, at first, it doesn’t occur to Mikey to be hurt that his father kept this secret from him. Naturally, he’s much more excited about the spaceship and the alien girl at first. Only later does he feel left out, and that’s really nicely observed. I really liked Mirror, Mirror, but Endangered might be even better – it’s big and crazy and fun. It’s all-out science fiction adventure, and I loved it.
The art comes from Juan Santacruz, who’s done some work for DC and Marvel, and it is really gorgeous. There are so many weird creatures, and he just nails the designs on each of them. Ruin, the villain, has such a great look – he just screams “galactic conqueror” from his very first panel. And man, there is a lot happening on every page. Futuristic buildings, monsters, explosions, it all looks great. I especially like the way that every time Caysea uses her powers, it’s a full-page shot. We don’t see many of those in the Kickstart books, so it makes those moments seem huge. It’s a perfect marriage of writer and artist – Williamson’s big ideas come to life beautifully.
I’m running out of ways to say nice things about Kickstart, but they keep publishing really good stuff. Blacksmith and Endangered are in stores today and you should definitely check them out. As always, thanks to Managing Editor Samantha Shear for sending us the books to review. They’re good people over there at Kickstart!By the way, these two books include previews for a couple of upcoming releases. One, Knowbodys, is a paranormal comedy written by Matt Maiellaro, who’s best known in these parts for co-creating Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I’m not even sure I can tell you how excited I am for that one.