Welcome to our latest edition of the comic review round-up! This week we’ve got reviews of Saga from Image and an Empowered special from Dark Horse, Nine Beers With Ninjette. We’re kicking it off though with The Powerpuff Girls in the first issue of their new ongoing series from IDW.
THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1/ Written by TROY LITTLE/ Art by TROY LITTLE/ Lettering by NEIL UYETAKE & TROY LITTLE/ Edits by SARAH GAYDOS/ Published by IDW COMICS
The City of Townsville… has not been seen on airwaves since 2009! However, with the launch of a new TV special later this year (or at this rate early next year) Cartoon Network and IDW have released a new on-going starring Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup as they once again fight crime and the forces of evil! Going by the first issue, it is an incredibly average return. Not bad, certainly not good. Just meh.
The best thing in this comic is writer/artist Troy Little’s artwork. Everything is perfectly or near-perfectly on model, and each panel looks like it could be a snapshot of an episode of the show. Little did a particularly good job of coloring, and captured the bright and cheery mood of Townsville and her inhabitants.
As cute as Little’s art is, though, it’s not enough to liven up the story. His script isn’t a wholly negative thing by far. Sure, Mojo Jojo could stand to be a little more redundant, perhaps, and Blossom’s confession of secretly liking golf without going on about the classy and intellectual aspects of the game struck as odd, but your mileage may vary on that. Little’s character writing really does have things going for it. If you know the characters already there’s a lot to recognize, and if this is your first introduction you pretty much get who everyone is straight off the bat. But what drags the comic under is just that not enough happens in it.
The Girls defeat Mojo and send him to jail for the umpteenth time, and he decides to do away with his super-intelligence. That’s the first four minutes, at most, of an episode of The Powerpuff Girls, and here it is twenty-two pages! The setup of the issue is padded out with a B-story that is mostly an excuse for golf puns, which is either tolerable or terrible depending on your pun stance, but it all just drags. The sluggish pace and padding is partially to be expected. Comics, especially modern comics, have a maddeningly slow pace at times, and what you get in 22 comic pages is never going to shake out to 22 minutes on TV. But it’s still a letdown to pick up a $3.99 comic and get so little out of it. It’s possible that next month’s issue will pick up the pace and actually get things moving, and if it does, do pick it up. But there’s just not enough going on in #1 to justify the price of it.
SAGA #14/ Written by BRIAN K. VAUGHN/ Art by FIONA STAPLES/ Letters by FONOGRAFIKS/ Published by IMAGE COMICS
Saga #14 certainly doesn’t disappoint compared with the previous issues in having a fresh, well-formatted story. The issue opens with a rather unexpected but reasonably deserved look at Alana’s family life. Her father marrying a classmate definitely explains a good deal about Alana’s strong will and desperate desire to raise a close, loving family. The story also sheds some light on D. Oswald Heist, the author of A Night Time Smoke, the light at the end of the fuse of this story’s conflict. There are a plethora of emotions flying around as Heist meets Hazel, since in a way, you could argue Heist was almost as responsible for creating Hazel as her parents.
Just when it feels like Saga #14 is on the cusp of answering some questions, the focus shifts again to Marko’s ex-girlfriend, Gwendolyn and The Will. The Will is arguably the most neutral character in the whole story, but there is a force that is chaining him to the hunt for Marko and Alana that is a clear shift in character motivation. To make matters more complicated, he’s really tripping out in a way that should bother the characters as much as it presumably bothers the reader.
Saga #14 is incredibly strong in differentiating character motivation and highlighting different conceptions and purposes of a family. Alana’s home world family isn’t an example of a family that is defined by an unconditional love and bond, but it’s important to contrast this against the other conversations regarding family. The Will, in his delusional mind, is perhaps processing what kind of role his new companions are taking in his life and how grieving for those lost fits into a new beginning. This leads into some information about Heist’s family and where that really fits into a grander worldview of togetherness. Heist puts it so incredibly well when he calls attention to the relationship between grief and love and if that connection can ever be broken.
There is so much that can be said about this issue, like the incredible artwork of Fiona Staples capturing a naturally uncomfortable atmosphere while appearing extremely warm and mysterious. Staples somehow manages to leave a really deep impression with very minute character features, such as Marko’s stress beard or The Will’s shaved head. Her complex facial gestures capture a real understanding of the environment but they still manage to be soft and beautiful.
Ultimately, as with every other issue of Saga so far, the next one can’t come soon enough.
EMPOWERED SPECIAL #5: NINE BEERS WITH NINJETTE/ Written by ADAM WARREN/ Art by ADAM WARREN & TAKESHI MIYAZAWA/ Letters by SUSIE LEE with ADAM WARREN/ Published by DARK HORSE COMICS
In-between each new volume of Empowered, Adam Warren has released several specials; short stories that serve to flesh out the Empowered universe as well as tease future plot points. Of the bunch, Nine Beers With Ninjette proves to be one of the most unique artistically as well the strongest narratively, and is well worth a read.
Nine Beers With Ninjette is framed around Empowered’s best friend Ninjette as she describes the nine beers she drinks every night, and ties each one to an emotionally significant moment in her life. The events range from Ninjette’s wild nights out on the town, to traumatic recollections of her ruthless alcoholic father.
One of the volumes biggest surprises is that the art is drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, not resident author/artist Adam Warren. Whereas Warren’s art is merely manga inspired, Miyazawa is a full on manga. It’s a nice twist on the art, and perfectly compliments the backstory of the series resident ninja princess. Whereas Warren’s art is more bold and bombastic, Miyazawa’s is more polished and stoic, a perfect fit for a ninja princess who hides her pain behind a chipper façade. Other specials have experimented with different artists, but none have had as quite a nice fit as Miyazawa.
As for the story, even with a different artist Warren’s style shines through. The blend of tongue in cheek comedy, subtle intelligence, and genuine pathos that are staples of the Empowered universe are all there. What makes this issue a cut above many of the previous specials is a real sense of weight and simplicity of storytelling.
For long time fans getting some more depth and insight on Ninjette, especially in light of Volume 7, is a real treat. Very few of the prior specials have ever managed to capture so much character development in such a short amount of time. At the same time, the story is perfect for newcomers as it is mostly told in flashbacks. There’s a lot of exposition through a straightforward story to follow, but raises just as many questions as it answers – a perfect lure to snag new readers.
In a nutshell, Empowered Special #5 is well worth the read. It has all the strongest aspects of Warren’s writing, a unique yet complementary art style, gives more depth to the story for old readers, and is an easy read for new ones. Definitely worth a look.