Joe Casey is lighting it up at multiple publishers lately with alternative comics. First was Sex three months ago and now Catalyst Comix #1 is here to blow your comic book expectations away. 28 pages of pulpy, superhero fun is right there in your grasp…is it good?
Catalyst Comix #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Let me preface this review by saying that anyone who ultimately buys this comic should read the afterword by Joe Casey. He explains why there are three different stories with three different artists and the overall goal of the series. It’s not necessary to enjoy the book, but there is no explanation to introduce this series. It starts right up and doesn’t relent.
The general gist of this series is thus: broken up into three stories with one main and two shorter backups, the series will rotate the stories once the main one is completed. All three take place in the same world and will build on each other. This keeps things fresh by allowing characters to go in and out of being the central focus. The first story in this issue focuses on a Superman-type hero who wears a leather jacket and fights some alien blimps blowing up a city.
Those things are kinda gross. And they’re super mean to humans. Jerks.
This story focuses on a hero named Frank Wells and it gets his head showcasing his fear of death in the face of impossible odds. Clearly Casey isn’t doing the reader any favors with details or exposition. He thrusts you into this world and expects you to catch up. Take for example a scene that cuts to the White House. The president seems to be doing a seance and a ghost Abraham Lincoln is floating around. Nobody explains why that is and it makes for a sometimes confusing but always interesting experience.
Dan McDaid draws this portion of the comic with sketchy almost Frank Miller-esque glee. He infuses the book with a bit of crime level grit, but the coloring helps make it pop out as the superhero comic it’s trying to be.
In deep space nobody can hear your awe.
The second story focuses on Amazing Grace and is drawn by Paul Maybury. This story is about a space adventurer who’s traveled 300 light years from Earth to make first contact with a sentient being. This story takes on a completely different tone with the first as the first person narrator is more of a scientist straight out of Star Trek. The first person narrator is much more controlled in their emotions and speaks as if they are reporting on their findings.
Once again it’s not made obvious what her deal is, but instead Casey takes us on an adventure with her and expects the reader to enjoy the journey.
Maybury brings a Fantastic Four styling to the art with pretty imagery and a less chaotic flair than the previous story.
Is that Noche Libre with a lot of guns?
The third and final story follows the Agents of Change who seem to be recruiting a team and is drawn by Ulises Farinas. Warhammer has been out of the game and they want him to join a team to stop world annihilation. The story seems to be your basic recruit the team story. We get a taste of the powers some of the heroes have for instance, a hero named Ruby can inflict pain by touching someone and now uses her powers to enact some S&M on dudes who will pay for it.
Of the three stories this one seems to deliver the most detail as far as what’s going on in the world. That said, we’re only given a peek and not many answers are there for the taking. The art is my favorite of the three as Farinas delivers a weighty style similar to Frank Quitely.
It’d be a crime to not mention colorist Brad Simpson, because he’s the one pulling all this art together. While he delivers a different type of feel to each story to separate them, he also adds some continuity to the issue so that it’s not another anthology but a unified story. He does a great job making things pop, giving LA a warm muggy feel and making space an awe inspiring experience.
Orgy of Ordinance! Alliteration: know the risks!
- A new world of heroes that’s interesting
- Compelling storytelling concept driving this series
- Story leans on writing too much, leaving the art gasping for air
In a lot of ways this comic reads like Joe Casey’s Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker complete with no-nonsense storytelling and potentially lewd themes. It’s much more of the superhero persuasion though and its creativity seems to stem from the conceptual way of telling the story rather than subject. There’s a lot of ideas flowing here and not a lot of explanation so some readers might find this a frustrating experience. That said, there’s a lot of content here, and this feels like a groundbreaking way of telling a story in comics. In some sense it has a European persuasion that you’ll find familiar if you’ve ever read comics from other nations.
If the lack of details doesn’t bother you some of the writing might as it is heavy handed. Obviously this is all coming out of Joe Casey’s brain, but it reads as if he doesn’t trust his artists, stuffing every page with enough reading to stifle the pacing. The art doesn’t get to tell the story enough in most cases with a lot of first person narrative taking up the page. A balance needs to be struck between action and character, but so far the series seems to be more interested in character. With so much first person narrative that doesn’t relay many details most readers will find themselves confused and frustrated rather than interested and compelled to read more.
Is It Good?
Yes…and yet no. It’s going to take a long time, at least for today’s standards, to finish reading this issue. That means you get a lot of bang for your buck, but seeing as the story is a bit confusing and the writing feels long winded it’s still unclear if this series will be worth your time. That said, there should be enough in this issue for any comic reader to enjoy, especially for those looking for a different experience.