Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Off The Shelf -- Infinite Frontier #0

Off the Shelf, DC’s “Infinite Frontier #0”
By Will Rose   

Everyone needs a good reboot every now and then.

As horrific and challenging as this global pandemic has been on so many levels, this global challenge has hopefully also given us the opportunity to pause to reflect, rethink, and re-evaluate how we navigate life, what is truly important to us, and how our gifts can contribute to a better world.  

As frustrating as it can be for long time collectors, comic book publishers are constantly looking for new ways to get new readers, and to find a way to get our attention in the ever so noisy and crowded popular culture.

Infinite Frontier is another reboot from one of the oldest and well-known creators of comic books, DC.

Being a long-time collector myself I too get fatigued by the constant reboot or, “this major event will change everything!” publicity stunt the major comic book companies roll out.
But, also being a congregational pastor, I am sympathetic with the quest to grow my audience and find new ways for complacent members to get excited about the story you are trying to share.

Infinite Frontier is a great jumping on point for those looking to explore the genre of comic books for the first time or for those of us who have been reading a long time and are looking for something different and a fresh and new take on well known characters.  

This reboot starts with a #0, yep… even before they get to any collector #1 issues or new story arcs, this zero-issue is a prequel and a foretaste of the fronteir to come.  

This anthology issue #0 rolls out of the mega DC event “Metal” where another major crisis to the multiverse was thwarted and a new multiverse was restored where there are… (wait for it) “Infinite” possibilities for these characters that we have grown to love, or new characters that have the potential for us to fall in love with.

The premise of the book is that the huge crisis that threatened every corner of the DC universe AND multiverse was saved by Wonder Woman herself… and so now that she gets a god-like view of the newer universe that has emerged.

The book starts with this narration… “Things will never be the way they were before. We survived, and our reality has been changed forever.”  
…and as I personally prepare to lead my life and a community of faith in a post-pandemic world, I feel ya DC! You got my attention.  

Wonder Woman, like me who didn’t read Metal, is a little confused so she is led (with the reader in tow) by a few other god-like entities who give her brief snapshots of heroes and teams and their place in this new DC universe… well known established teams and heroes like the Justice League, the Teen Titans, Batman, and Green Lantern, to newer heroes like Wonder Girl, Stargirl, and perhaps a new Green Lantern.  

The book is filled with gorgeous art from a host of creators and splash pages from the best in the business… and without spoiling it, the last page does look like a game changer.

Do you need to know everyone’s backstory? Nope.
Do you have to read all of the mega-event Metal first? Nope, I didn’t.
Do you have to like every story or character, no. They don’t expect you to, but you may discover a new creative team that gets your attention or be introduced to a character that you don’t know that much about.

I had already planned to stick with flagship titles like Batman and Superman… But I’m hopping back on Wonder Woman that has a new creative team on issue #770, and I’m hopping back on Justice League with its new lighting rod of a writer Brian Michael Bendis with issue #59.

When people ask me what my favorite super-hero is, I usually respond with “It depends on who is writing them and drawing them.”
Case in point, super-hot author Tom Taylor is teaming up the incredible artist Bruno Redondo on Nightwing, and so while I have never really read or collected the original Robin turned Nightwing, I’m going to for sure check this one out.

In a crowded market, DC is doing its best to stay at the top of the game. With this issue its clear there is an infinite frontier of storytelling laid out before us and this issue is a great jumping on point to see what paths you choose to follow…

So go exploring and have fun friends.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Off The Shelf -- Decorum #6



 Decorum #6
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Huddleston
Lettering: Rus Wooton
Design: Sasha Head

And now for something completely different.

Brian and I have been on a streak of serious comics, or at least reading comics seriously. I even got a book on how to read literature and am applying it to how I read comics. But sometimes something is just cool and awesome and well written. Heck, if you read every book like you’re a literature professor, I’m expecting you won’t like reading for long.

Why did I pick up Decorum #1? The jarring, cryptic cover for one, and that last name “Hickman” on the cover for the other. Jonathan Hickman is one of the most recognized names in comics right now for what he’s done in Marvel’s big-name titles. He gave the X-universe a much needed punch in the face with his House of X/Powers of X series and has shaped the mutant world since then. Unfortunately I have to say that some of the luster is off the pearl as of late. Perhaps it’s just been too much to keep on the reign – too many titles, too many events, too much to keep track of. The coherency and detail of HoX/PoX was getting lost as stories didn’t always seem to mesh with one another, and the universe didn’t feel quite as universal as it should.

Well Decorum isn’t that.

Decorum is probably Hickman’s most ambitious and grand-scale story yet, benefitting from the fact that this is a universe the creative team gets to create from the ground-up and supported by the artistic freedom afforded by Image Comics. There’s no history to hearken back to, no easter-eggs, no deep discussions about why that character is wearing that particular costume. It’s all fresh and new, and the creative team knows it and uses it to its advantage at every step.

This is an epic that at times shares a similar feel to that of Powers of X. Hickman uses his trademark data sheets and text-on-white-space to set up a space opera that conceals as much as it reveals. The opening of issue 1, where robotic space Conquistadores attack a group of Pterodactyl riding maybe-Incas, was like my right brain pulling up to my left brain in a stolen Impala, telling me “get in – I’ll explain later”.

From there on we are told two parallel stories. The first involves Neha Nori Sood, a street urchin and courier who is taken in by Imogen, a classy, aristocratic assassin. The second involves a sentient AI power called the Church of the Singularity that is trying to find a group called the Celestial Mothers to stop some sort of galactic messiah from being born. As we progress through the issues, we see Neha develop as an assassin under the eye of the assassins’ guild called the Sisterhood of Man while more and more of the larger story is revealed as well, finally coming together in issue 6.

I’m not saying much regarding plot because, like that stolen Impala, the less you know the more fun you’ll have. This isn’t deep, heavy stuff either. There’s a dark humor that develops throughout the story, and the creative team never lets you take things too seriously. A splash page of a cowboy facing off in a draw against a four-armed alien on a street populated by spacemen and dinosaurs, with a skyline of mushrooms and Blade Runner-size buildings in the background, should end any notion that this is going to be anything but fun and crazy.

It’s the classic “fish out of water” trope, where the naivete of Neha, who states some of her strengths as being pretty decent at math and not being bothered by spicy food, stands in stark contrast to her classmates, such as the polite ibis-like being who has killed exactly 6242 beings already. It’s mystery and violence (this is a story about an assassin after all) are tempered with points of outlandishness that feel right out of an anime at times. The unnamed headmistress of the Sisterhood of Man swears every panel and somehow manages to get around with a 10-foot sword/knife inexplicably strapped to her front rather than her back.

The artwork is, well, amazing. Huddleston’s art moves from trippy psychedelic to black and white line drawings with ease, often from frame to frame on the page. It always captures your eye and keeps it moving, and can be a feast for the senses at times. The shifts in styles keeps you off your guard, never letting you rest with a notion of what the story might be or what might be happening for too long.
The art also serves to set apart different acts of the story thematically. The psychedelic trippiness of the Celestial Mothers scenes stands in stark contrast to the detailed line art of the scenes where Imogen’s brother shares his dreams. The combination of wonder and mystery present in both story and art helps to provide the thing that I love so much about really good sci-fi movies, that sense of jaw dropping awe and wonder that spurs your own imagination and makes you feel like a kid looking through their first telescope.

If one wants to level criticism, it’s that Hickman can become a bit too pretentious or dense at times – not just here but in other titles he’s written. Second and third readings are well advised as the story progresses. There’s also the temptation to follow every rabbit trail that he lays down in order to try and discern patterns that may or may not be there.  

Decorum though I think is a great title and well worth your time. If you’ve been interested in Hickman’s writing but the sheer density of his X-Men run has put you off, this is a great series to dive in to. It’s a great example of what got me and so many others interested in comics in the first place.