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This week (27 February 2012), it’s all about new takes on old concepts. Vertigo continues to shift into the Newish 50-or-so with Constantine #1 (DC Comics), the law begins anew with Judge Dredd: Year One #1 (IDW), a hero is born in Nova #2 (Marvel), we continue to countdown to the next Star Trek film in Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #3 (IDW) and yet another X-crossover in X-Termination #1 (Marvel).
Constantine #1 – DC Comics, Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire (writers), Renato Guedes (artist)
John Constantine is dead. At least, in as much as everybody else who existed in DC Comics prior to September 2011 is dead. With the end of the 25 year and 300 issue stand of DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer this year, fans of the British magician had to make do with his appearances in Justice League Dark. Robbed of his edge, it has also robbed Vertigo of its backbone of two decades, calling into question the future of the imprint. Yet with Justice League Dark scribes Lemire and Fawkes on the case, there is hope for the geezer in the trench coat yet. Although this is undoubtedly not the Constantine of old, Lemire and Fawkes fundamentally get the character and infuse him with enough of his roguish charms to make him a sufficient bastard for this debut series. Instantly giving off a cinematic supernatural detective vibe, this first action-packed issues rips along at a great pace, throwing in just enough intrigue to make us want to see more in the second issue. Renato Guedes, perhaps best known for his work on Superman, sells the vibe with his solid interiors. The second page features a close-up of Constantine illuminated by the cigarette he has ignited on a dark street, and for a second it almost feels like Hellblazer. Almost.
Judge Dredd: Year One #1 – IDW, Matt Smith (writer) Simon Coleby (artist)
Matt Smith has been serving as the editor of 2000 AD since 2002, making him the longest-serving on the British weekly sci-fi anthology. So it seems there is no better person to take us back to the roots of Judge Joe Dredd during his first year inside the helmet in Mega-City One. While we fully admit to not being completely au fait with the history of the character, there is nothing about this particular issue that smacks of new material. Indeed, people picking this up to introduce themselves to the character will find pretty much the Dredd they were expecting, even if it is set 18 years prior to the earlier material. After a series of youths develop unexpected psychic abilities around the city, a rookie Dredd is sent in to investigate, and responds with typical force. Simon Coleby’s pencils and inks, coupled with Leonard O’Grady’s distinctive colour palette give us something that is simultaneously new and fresh, but reminiscent of an art style that is associated with the classics. While not a jaw-droppingly amazing issue, it does encourage readers to sink into the world a little deeper. Fans might not find anything of particular consequence here, but if the aim was to slowly hook in new readers to this classic character, then Matt Smith definitely has us firmly in his sights.
Nova #2 – Marvel, Jeph Loeb (writer), Ed McGuinness (artist)
When Nova rebooted last month as part of Marvel NOW!, we declared it to be “Ultimate Spider-man in space”, although that’s not entirely true. Poor Sam Alexander is still Earth-bound, but when he wakes up in a hospital room with Rocket Raccoon and Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy looming over him, his instinct is to take off. Sam’s unexpected introduction to the Nova Corps costume is, however, in the grand tradition of Marvel’s best origins. A young boy suddenly has great power, and ultimately great responsibility, thrust upon him – but he is still more concerned with the wellbeing of his dad. The beauty of Loeb’s run is that it isn’t in any particular hurry to create Nova the hero, being content to keep Sam on his toes and perhaps even a few steps behind the knowing audience. The fate of previous Nova Richard Rider can wait for another day, as we are now more interested in Sam Alexander finding his new powers “kinda cool”. Ed McGuinness gives the art the youthful exuberance the book needs, propelling the title like a human rocket into the stratosphere. Coupled with Guardians of the Galaxy and the events of Age of Ultron, we get the feeling that this will serve as one of the major titles for Marvel in 2013 and beyond, so you may as well jump aboard now.
Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #3 – IDW, Mike Johnson (writer), David Messina (artist)
Despite Bad Robot’s effective campaign of keeping all their secrets closely guarded in the lead-up to a major release, Star Trek is ostensibly spilling beans all over the place. Along with a series of press-centric screenings of selected footage from the forthcoming Star Trek Into Darkness, this prequel comic has introduced a number of potentially spoilerific characters so far. As such, this book can only accomplish so much, and despite a fairly action-oriented pace, this is mostly filler for the main event. With motivations of several potential villains now in place, the dramatic turn in this issue would make for a corker of an episode (or film for that matter), and we begin to wonder what kind of shape our crew will be in by the time the film opens this US summer. Based on Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson’s story, and presumably screenplay, we suspect that this character who is “one of their own” is not the same character who threatens to bring down the Federation in the blockbuster movie. Not least of which is because Benedict Cumberbatch looks nothing like the big bad in the pages of this book. Speaking of artwork, Messina’s pencils seem somewhat distant from the art he has been turning in for Ultimate Comics: Wolverine and certainly a mile away from the forthcoming fetishised The Bounce for Joe Casey. Yet it creates a believable likeness of the main crew of the Enterprise, and we couldn’t help but smile at the faux lens flare that peppers the panels on the bridge of the starship. It may be slightly contrived, but it does serve to build a bridge between the film universe and the comic world. Definitely a book for the fans.
X-Termination #1 (of 2) – Marvel, David Lapham, Majorie Liu and Greg Pak (story), David Lapham (writer), David Lopez (artist)
At last, the crossover we’ve been waiting for: Astonishing X-Men, X-Treme X-Men and Age of Apocalypse. At least, we’re sure somebody has. Actually, this is the beginning of the end for the latter two titles mention, with those books disappearing from the already bloated X-line at the end of this mini-event. The Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler has come to the Marvel 616, but betrayed the X-Men when he murdered the man who killed his version of his wife. Yet when the multiverse begins to collapse in on itself, he and Dark Beast look for a way home with disastrous consequences. The story is at its strongest when it concentrates on the Age of Apocalypse characters, with the crossover folk seemingly popping in to conveniently tie the story together. Like X-Treme X-Men itself, the whole idea of universe hopping is an intriguing concept, albeit one that has been done countless times (and better) by the multiverse demolition experts at DC. It all feels a bit rushed here, which is odd for a company that took 12 issues to get through its last major X-event. In fact, artist Lopez has previously worked on DC’s Countdown to Final Crisis (not to mention Brian Wood’s X-Men), and here his detailed art pulls in a variety of characters into a twisted little world. Barely using any splash pages, he creates something epic yet claustrophobic, where you can almost see every hair on Wolverine’s chinny-chin-chin. Unless you have already invested time in any of the three series it brings together, this is probably inessential.