Red Team #4 (Dynamite) – Where most cop dramas are either formulaic procedurals or straightforward action, it’s a breath of fresh air when a series tries to go beyond those very tried and tired pursuits and spread its wings into something more involved and story driven. Garth Ennis is probably the perfect candidate for that task as well, recalling the way he masterfully fleshed out and humanized the often two dimensionally characterized bullet blazer in Marvel’s Punisher Maxx series, especially within the Born mini-series. If you have not been following the title so far, Red Team follows the moonlighting campaign of vigilantism carried out by a crack team of elite tactical police officers who become disenfranchised by a failed judicial system whose cumbersome bureaucracy more often than not undermined the teams efforts at ‘legitimate’ police work. At face value the synopsis could easily lead anyone towards comparisons of Ennis’ past work with The Punisher, but in actuality any similarity is generalized at best; there is action within the pages, but usually occupies a scant few pages and the body count is kept low at only one or two per issue. The purpose of bloodshed in Red Team is also greatly removed from many of the writer’s past work, or from most action titles altogether; it is not by any means served for entertainment or eye candy, which would call for copious amounts of splatter, but in this book when the violence arrives it is short, purposeful, and ugly. The impact of these scenes is crafted not by themselves or their content, but the pages surrounding them, as these deaths are not arbitrary or offhand, they are meditated, weighed, and discoursed upon by sane rational people who carry out the acts in what they determine is the best interest of society. This is a character driven series above all else, in fact much of the issues are panels narrated by the two key player’s dialogue after the fact, which creates in the story and the events therein a human and generally sympathetic perspective that would otherwise be completely absent if the comic was a simple presentation of the actions without the background and dialogues. Red Team is an absorbing and often compelling crime drama that carries its weight in storytelling and character development that builds itself beyond the outer shell of a near-standard action title. With only four issues out, it is certainly not too late to jump into it, so do yourself a favor and see if you can’t still pick up the first few off the shelf.
Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1 (Dark Horse) – It is pretty few and far between that we are treated to a Lobster Johnson comic, so it’s always happy day to see one hitting the shelves. A Scent of Lotus is the first of a two-part story that follows the claw of justice as he investigates a string of murders involving members of a Chinatown gang; meanwhile, a detective involved in the investigation is also on the Lobster’s tail (sorry). What helps make this issue interesting is the inclusion of the ‘supporting cast’ backing Jonhson’s up, giving the eyes, ears, and muscle of his operation some spotlight. Telling the story from three different angles (Lobster, the detective, and the Chinese gang) gives the book a good amount of meat to it, much of it fast paced and action-centric and by the time you get to the last page you will really be itching for the second part. Sebastian Fiumara’s art, which looks appropriately neo-noirish in stylish fits the bill perfectly for a Lobster Johnson comic. The still scenes are rendered with shadowy detail and grit, while the action sequences are sleek and fluid, while Dave Stewart’s muted colors give the pages a subdued richness of texture that is very complimentary to the artist’s linework. If you have have yet to jump on the LoJo bandwagon, you don’t have to worry about backstory or many details you may have missed in earlier books, as each mini-series is presented in a stand-alone sort of way that welcomes new readers. Of course, if you’ve been a Mignolaverse reader, you have most likely already committed to picking this one up.
Heartbreakers #1 (Monkeybrain) – Heartbreakers is a sci-fi series that originally appeared in the pages of Dark Horse Presents, way back in ‘89 and created by the husband/wife team of Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, more recently of Boilerplate fame. To bring the classic back into the light of day, Monkeybrain Comics has picked it up for publication on Comixology. The comic features a scientist famous for her innovations in the area of cloning, innovations which bring about a frictioned revolution in society because of their corporate applications in the workplace, ie. replacing the labor pool with a quick-made clone workforce. There are no shortage of groups that would like to see such practices eliminated and matters deteriorate into military action, causing the scientist to flee with her cadre of bad-ass female clone bodyguards. Think of a platoon full of Pvt. Vasquez’s from Aliens. If that gives you a sense of the potential action then the pages of Heartbreaker certainly will not disappoint; nearly every scene is a chaotic battlefield alive with debris, bodies, and, bullets. Guinan’s art is as gritty as it is detailed, and the panels somehow remain sharp and readable despite their business. It’s a fun comic for sure, with an interesting premise that will grab your attention from the get-go if you enjoy the hard-edged action/sci-fi of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The first issue, which is out now, it only 10 full pages, but at a dollar it’s still a deal for some quality reading.