Indie Comic Review: The Occultist, The Cape, Red: Eyes Only

These three comics give one-shots a bad name!

It isn’t that the following comics are, in themselves, horrible.  In fact, one of them is quite good.  The problem is that all of these comics leave me with an unsatisfied feeling when I am done.  As a one-shot, they should leave me feeling like I got everything I need and got it for a good value.  Read on to find out where each of these comics succeeds and, where each ultimately fails…

The Occultist
Writer: Tim Seeley (with plot by Mike Richardson)
Art: Victor Drujiniu and Jason Gorder
Publisher: Dark Horse
Price: $3.50

The Occultist is an awkward tale about a college loser who accidentally becomes the wielder of “the sword”, a series of magical powers granted to him by a mysterious book.  He is chased by a group of demons who are sent by Jean-Luc Picard with facial tattoos who want the book for themselves.  Mayhem, of course, ensues.

I enjoy Tim Seeley’s work on Hack/Slash.  No one is ever going to argue that it is high art, but there is no denying that it is entertaining.  There is a sense of whim and fun about it that makes it a pleasure to read.  None of that was evident in The Occultist.  Everything was played to straight without a wink or nod to acknowledge just how ridiculous everything was.  The dialogue was ham-fisted and the pacing was all wrong for a one-shot…

Which leads me to the biggest problem: This was not a one-shot.  This was a first issue.  The issue ends with the antagonist addressing a collection of (I am not making this up) “Magicians. Street Mages. [and] Assassins.” to kill “The Occultist”.  The bottom of the page boldly declares that the story is to be continued…

So why was this called a one-shot?  Why deceive the audience like this?  I like one-shots because they require skill in plotting, pacing, and storytelling that come together to give the reader a satisfying experience.  I gave up on the floppy format because comics were no longer being written for that format.  They are decompressed and written for the trade.  So why bother purchasing something in installments when it is just going to be collected in a couple of months and be in the format the writer intended?  If The Occultist was going to be a series (or even a mini-series), it should have been solicited and branded that way.  The bait and switch meant that a fair concept with a mediocre execution is frustrating to me and leaves me unwilling to follow up with any future incarnations of the title.

The Cape
Writer: Jason Ciaramella (based on the short story “The Cape” by Joe Hill)
Art: Zach Howard
Publisher: IDW
Price: $3.99

This is a double bait and switch.

A bit of background.  Joe Hill is the writer of Locke & Key, a series of stories published by IDW.  The individual stories are entertaining and each contributes something to a larger story.  Hill also wrote a one-shot, Kodiak, that was entertaining and wholly satisfying.  So, when I saw the solicitation for another one-shot from Hill, I jumped at it…

But it wasn’t actually by Hill.  It was written by Jason Ciaramella, based on a short story by Joe Hill.  Now, I’m not opposed to someone writing a comic based on someone else’s work.  The Courtyard and Neonomicon are both basted on Alan Moore stories and are absolutely amazing.  Hotwire is taken from a Warren Ellis concept.  But neither of them are advertised and/or solicited as being by Moore or Ellis.  The Cape boldly proclaims on the cover and the solicitation that it is “From the Writer of Locke & Key”.  Hill is listed first on the cover credits (but second on the inside cover).

I actually liked the story.  It is well-written and well-paced.   Ciaramella and Howard put together a story that is entertaining and full of nuance.  The reader is pulled in to the story and kept there. The characters and their interactions felt real.  The plot was believable and the motivations were understandable.   The ending of the book was a real surprise…

And then I got the second bait and switch.  Like The Occultist, The Cape is a part one!  Why the bait and switch?  Why not just make it a zero issue or a part one?  My enjoyment of the book was severly diminished when I realized that, once again, I had been duped in to buying soemthing that I had not ordered.  I had ordered a one-shot, a complete story!

The Cape is MUCH better than The Occultits.  I will, in all likelihood, be back for more when it “Returns in 2011″.  However, I will be wary of other one-shots from Joe Hill.  No telling who wrote them or if they are truly “one” shots!

Red: Eyes Only
Writer: Cully Hamner
Artist: Cully Hamner
Publisher: DC/Wildstorm

There were several prequels released in conjunction to the movie, Red.  I enjoyed the original three issue series, but realized that they were going to have to expand it significantly for them to make a full-length movie.  Even while reading the original series, it was clear there was much more story to tell!  I chose this one because it was the only one that had involvement by either Warren Ellis (the original writer) or Cully Hamner (the original artist).

I always forget how much I enjoy Hamner’s art!  He has a distinctive style, and I love the way he lays out a page!  His recent work on The Question reminded me of that!  His work on Red: Eyes Only is another high-quality endeavor.  His characters are clear, his action is intense, and the pacing is impeccable.

What Hamner is not known for is his writing.  He has few writing credits to his name, so I was a bit wary of how well he would be able to craft a story.  Those fears were allayed when I breathlessly put down this one-shot.  Let me declare it loud for all to hear, Hamner can write!!!!!  Red: Eyes Only works as both a prequel to the Red series, and as a stand alone issue.  Everything the reader needs to know is contained in this slim volume.  It is a complete story that challenges the reader to both love and fear the main character.  Hamner sets us on edge and never lets us know exactly who to trust!

So why is it on my list of comics that give one-shots a bad name?  The price.  It was $4.99 for 40 pages of comic (plus a bunch of ads) on standard comic paper with slightly thicker stock for the cover.  I realize that 40 pages is more than your average comic.  Heck, now it is twice as many pages as a DC comic.  But, for basically $5 I expected more.  I wanted sketches or scripts or something to make it worth more of my money.  This just felt like a regular comic.

The one-shot format is ripe with potential.  I just wish that these comics would have done a better job of meeting that potential.  Red: Eyes Only came closer.  For $1 less it would have been a home run!

For a shot to the heart that does not disappoint, check this out!

This entry was posted in Cully Hamner, Dark Horse, DC/Wildstorm, IDW, Jason Ciaramella, Jason Gorder, Joe Hill, Mike Richardson, Red: Eyes Only, The Cape, The Occultist, Tim Seeley, Victor Drujiniu, Zach Howard. Bookmark the permalink.

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