Thursday, 12 December 2013

New Beginnings - Dead Body Road #1 & Manifest Destiny #1

Skybound is not a name in comics that most people automatically know. It’s actually an imprint of Image, although if I asked people to name titles that are under it’s umbrella I doubt many - including myself - could get past the odd one or two comics. If I dropped Kirkman’s name into the mix then icons such as The Walking Dead and Invincible should immediately spring to mind, giving you an idea of the creed that Skybound carries. There are some other notable titles such as the recent Thief of Thieves and the all-ages Super Dinosaur to name a couple.

Recently we have seen two new titles released on the imprint. Dead Body Road this week and just over a month ago Manifest Destiny. So this week we take a look at the pair of them to see how the new starters play off against each other.

Dead Body Road arrived in front of me as a complete unknown. Even the cover doesn’t give much away. A low profile shot of the front end of a car with a man nonchalantly walking towards it, a bag in one hand and a shotgun casually slung over the other shoulder. Matteo Scalera’s cover being suitably understated just added to the mystery. Plus it helps that I like his style too. Now I know I often mention my love of Larroca’s work, but if his linework and Ben Templesmith’s style had some kind of lovechild then Scalera’s work is the equivalent of that artistic offspring. The pencils have some great crisp clean lines but then the added extra detail and attention lends itself to a grittier feel without it going too far and feeling dirty or grimy. Given the story that it is wrapped around, it feels more than apt.

The story – from Justin Jordan – opens in a bank heist. Although it plays a role in the overall picture, it's predominantly designed to provide the reader with an idea of the team involved and that is the key. One of the members of the team simply bolts, he realises things are wrong and makes a run for it in fear of his life. This is a crime noir comic, so does he get far? Of course not. Like all the films we see he gets tracked down and subsequently hunted. Only to be “rescued” in unlikely fashion. Meanwhile another member of the team has been snatched from the street only to be tortured in a quite horrific way. The common link is that both parties hold information that will unlock accounts holding millions of secret, virtually untraceable money and they are not the only ones who want it.

Wrapped up in this all as well is the cover star Orson Gage, the unassociated wild card who is only getting tangled in this all - along with his trusty shotgun - to find a woman...

As first issues go I really liked it. There are elements of the book that would fit the big screen and it really drips with testosterone in places so will really tick the boxes of readers who like their macho comics and action films.

Manifest Destiny is a different kettle of fish. For a start it’s set in the West - the Wild West complete with uncharted and strange new territories. Revealing the "true story" of the Lewis & Clark expeditionary force, we meet a crew which is an amalgamation of trusty military men and a round up of volunteers and criminals. Although the crew think they are on a voyage of discovery they have no idea that the discovery is really to track down monsters.

The story starts with a narrative diary leading the reader through the opening pages. It’s a very straight forward way to get the audience into the story and up to speed quickly. Attention isn’t really to the individual sailors and crew outside of our main characters, but then again it isn’t necessary yet.

They do have a certain “bit part” feel to them and on one occasion I even felt that at least one of them should be wearing a red security Star Trek uniform. They definitely feel expendable. Even as they venture onto dry land and find a mysterious archway that can’t possibly have been made by human hands, the feeling that most of them are fated to perish still lingers.

True to form the prophecy comes true and a crewman falls foul of one of the monsters they were unwittingly hunting down, but two lucky shots in the melee brings down what can only be described as a werewolf centaur, leaving everyone dumbfounded.

Chris Dingess has taken a lot of time to make this an easy read and a lot of attention was paid to give it an historic feel in the writing, BUT there were occasional slips where language and vocabulary were somewhat anachronistic in tone. This was a slight sticking point for me and changed the feel of the book, breaking my suspension of disbelief.

Matthew Roberts has undertaken both the artwork and the colouring for the issue, meaning that the vision for it is completely his. The cover of the standard issue is full of intrigue when you look further into it and see a variety of ghouls and goblins hidden right before you. It promises the cowboy version of the X-Files, but I couldn’t help feeling that the story didn’t quite live up to that, yet. The internal artwork was full of attention to detail, but it’s not a style that I prefer. It’s not a bad book to look at but not for my preferences.

It’s unfair to compare the two with each other directly, as they hit different genres. I personally found that Dead Body Road chimed with me more, but fans of Supernatural, Buffy and Angel will potentially be more akin to Manifest Destiny. Personally I will be reading Dead Body Road, but I would suggest fantasy fans give Manifest Destiny a go and see where it leads.

Matt Puddy has fond memories of Lois & Clark.

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