Friday, April 21, 2017

Tie-ins, Part ?? / The Fairer Sex, Part ??: Miranda #1

You have the right to two pages of colored art, anything you read can be used against you…

What is canonical? How far out from the source material can something go and still be considered part of the mythos. As a Cthulhu fan, I often pose that question about works I read. Take for example Stephen King. Somewhere in most of his stories he’ll drop a name from the Necronomicon. People like me who pay attention to stuff like that, appreciate the nod to HPL’s work. However we also know that mere inclusion doesn’t make it part of that shared universe of stories. It's not mythos, unless it is Mythos. A story has to have the same tone or work with the same elements to merit inclusion.

How does all this relate to Miranda? Miranda is the brainchild of Lance Parker. Parker was a fan fiction writer who made good, advancing to being a published author of his most beloved character. 

That character just happened to be the BBC Time Lord called The Doctor or as we know him Doctor Who. In one of Parker’s novels he introduces the character of Miranda, an orphan living in our time who has escaped from a violent future where her Father, the Galactic Emperor, has messed up the timelines. It’s alluded to that her father is a Time Lord (Miranda has two hearts) and he may even be a future incarnation of The Doctor himself. That books is called Father Time and a synopsis of it can be foundHERE.

The series Miranda takes place after she’s left the company of the Doctor and is convinced by other time travelers to return with them to the future. Once there she is to take her place as the Galactic Empress. I’m going to be honest and say that all this came as a shock to me because I read the book before doing any of my homework. The links are so tenuous between the comic character and the origin material that it can be enjoyed without having any knowledge of the good Doctor. It has a very slight bit of the quirky humor found in the Doctor Who books/series, but nothing very overt. Miranda lasted a scant three issues, which was far too short to complete the six issue story arc setup in issue #1.

Allan Bednar handles the art and does an outstanding job. Sadly, the book is rendered in black and white with the exception of a two page color spread in the middle of the book. I say sadly not because I see black and white art as somehow inferior, but due to the fact that Bednar’s panels on those two color pages look gorgeous. That brief taste leaves you salivating for more. I’m sure all of you are salivating for me to get on with it and so I shall.

The issue begins with a full page of horrible art. Stuff so bad that you think you’ve found an awesomely bad book. A page of nine panels that look like these three.

I’m not sure what we are suppose to be looking at, all I know is that white on black background is hard to read when run through the art like that. I’m sure you agree. So page one crushes any expectation that this book will be good. Which we soon find is not the case.

Very next page we are introduced to Miranda who is getting ready for her big debut as Empress of the entire galaxy…excuse me, of 12 entire galaxies. With her is a guy named Ferran, he seems like an alright bloke here and it turns out he’s the one that plucked Miranda from the past and brought her back to the future. He’s got plans for her, it seems and those plans may not be exactly in Miranda’s best interest. For now he’s her support system. 

Her introduction to the dignitaries goes well considering that Miranda is a real fish out of water. Note the art here is really only minimally better than on the first page, but we are digging our way out of the hole. By page four, however the book appears to have hit its stride. 

And we see the first inkling of real character from anyone in the book. The author does everything in his power to play up this “fish out of water” aspect of our heroine and in the end that makes up for the book’s main problem. A problem that amounts to a fairly decompressed storyline where very little happens. Miranda comes off as plucky, charming and thoroughly British and I find myself wishing that more was done with her character.

As the party slides along at a snail’s pace, Miranda bumps into a waitress who passed her a note as soon as she got out of the TARDIS or whatever time travel device was used last issue. The chick disappears into the crowd and Miranda loses track of her before she can riddle her with questions. Next she’s accosted by this monocle gentleman who she puts on the spot.

In that last panel he does appear to be giving them an appraisal. All these great comedic moments can’t last however because we are due for a confrontation of some type before book’s end. We get it in the form of a giant robot that snatches Miranda up.

Ferran calls out the skywardens, who appear to be the future version of traffic cops. Or, given their effectiveness, the future version of meter maids. These brave gentlemen with jet packs slapped on their backs fly off to certain doom against the huge robo menace. By the way, you can definitely tell the book was a product of English sensibilities because these gentleman do not try use a gun to shoot the thing out of the sky. What they do attempt, in glorious full color, is to use harsh language against the techno-terror, the result of which is very efficient.

They are efficiently dismembered. The panels look really good and the overall image is almost poster quality. The next couple of pages have Miranda using the jet pack thing to get away, then this robot with religion shows up and battles the evil, Miranda-stealing robot. Evil bot gets the upper hand and is about to kill the good-guy bot, when suddenly Miranda on accident dumps herself in the sea and turns her jet pack into an unguided missile. While good-guy bot prays…well, see for yourself here.

If you can’t make that out, it is the jetpack flying out of the sea and slamming into the bad robot. It goes kerboom. I guess those skywardens have balls of pure steel to be riding around with one of those “flying bombs” attached to their back. I can see the recruitment posters now: “Skywardens – If you’re lucky, you’ll be dismembered before your jetpack explodes!” Anyway, our robot feels thankful to Miranda for saving its life, the concept of which I have a problem with since it is a) not alive and b) shouldn’t be sentient enough to be thankful. After being fished from the drink, Miranda is back at the Emperor’s palace where Ferran violates her privacy.

I think HR is going to need to have a talk with that young man. I’m pretty sure he needs another round of sensitivity training. You don’t watch a female bathing without their permission. Ferran’s nickname in grade school was “Tom Peepers”, by the way. And does anybody else find it odd that the Empress’s bathtub looks like something from a Walt Disney Resort?

I guess it really is a small world after all. And speaking of small worlds, that servant that tried to warn Miranda earlier about Ferran shows up. Just in time to put the skids on his peep show too. Miranda has a typical reaction to the news.

The issue sums up with Miranda getting a warning that Ferran expects them to be married and that he is not one for uniting the galaxy. He even gets a three-quarter page, sitting on his throne like Doc Doom shot to round out the last page of the issue.

It’s a shame there isn’t more here. Miranda is a likeable character. The book takes a leisurely pace getting anywhere and while the art is good, the color centerfold makes the rest of the book look bad. A shame more wasn’t invested in this because it could have turned out to be a top shelf product. Sadly after issue number 3, Miranda ceased to be.

Mythic #1

Just because we've seen this before doesn't make it any less enjoyable

Script – Phil Hester
Art – John McCrea
Letters – Willie Schubert
Logo & Design – Rian Hughes
Colors – Michael Spicer
Editor – Rob Levin
May 2015

Phil Hester is a quiet, likeable fellow with a great taste in shirts.

Oh, sure. I should start a review by saying he's a talented writer and artist. I should say that he had a breakout hit with Mythic and that of the four issues I found in the Crapbox, I've enjoyed each one more than the last.

I probably should mention John McCrea's art too, given the amount of great things I watched him do in those four scant issues, the number of odd and amazing creatures he's concocted.

I should do all those things. But I'm not. I am starting by pointing you to a piece I did for DC in the 80's where I interviewed Phil and Jia Nitz that lead me to keep a keen eye out for Mythic when my bin diving came across them. And now that I've read a few, I'll have to find the trades next.

They are so, so good.

If you had to boil them down to a 2-second sales pitch, I'd have to go with "Magical version of Men in Black". That does the book a bit of a disservice by being too cut and dried, but there are many similarities at work here.

First off is our protagonist, Nate. He's just a young man working in a beat up ramshackle cell phone store. Nothing unusual about that. Then one day…

…this grotesque old lady customer walks in.

Check out that gorgeous full page panel by McCrea. The colors and the layout with the book title running down the left side. This book is really something special. And speaking of special…

Yeesh, she's ugly. And all she can do is complain about her dead cell phone. Which is okay, really – that's Nate's job: fixing cell phones.

Except when he goes to touch this one, there's an odd hair-like growth that attaches itself to his finger. An odd hair-like growth that appears to originate at a nasty wart on the old woman's chin.

Nate pulls…

…and all hell breaks loose, starting with the eruption of the old woman's head...

...and the emergence of two spike-armed monkey things attached by their top knots.

They seem to have their sights set on straight-up murdering Nate.

What an opening. You immediately invest in poor Nate who was just minding his own business when all this head-full-of-crazy starts happening. The battle rages out into the back alleyway in a pretty one-sided manner as the monkey-things grow while taking turns slashing at Nate, who is bound to them by a clump of hair that grows thicker with each passing second.

Nate turns the slashing to his advantage and uses his surroundings (that being a passing city bus) to do away with one of the creatures.

Unfortunately this makes his last adversary larger somehow and even more bloodthirsty. 

By now you should recognize Nate as the Will Smith of this book. He's resourceful, brave and athletic. So this next bit shouldn't come as too much of a shock. Nate gets the better of the stabby-monkey using a hunk of its brother's arm spike.

And as he stands over the carcass of the dead thing, he is approached by a stranger with a job offer. A job offer that sounds very familiar. Meet Waterson of Mythic.

(I love the spit thing. Such a great touch.) Seems that Nate is now "marked" because he has seen and dealt with creatures from the supernatural realm. Marked in such a way that they will keep coming after him.

But Waterson has an alternative to waiting around for the boogie-men of bygone religions to come after Nate. He offers Nate a job.

Quite an opening. 

Sure it has story elements we've seen executed before, but NO story is 100% original. Heck, my favorite movie is Alien, which is in essence a haunted house story set in space. The crux of the matter isn't "have we seen this concept done before?" It is "Is this version entertaining?"

And boy, Mythic certainly is. Amazingly entertaining.

From this opening we skip right into Nate on the job as part of a Mythic "problem solver". Note that a lesser writer might turn this into "chase down the boogieman of the month" but Hester has a bit more gray matter than that. He's got gods and creatures lined up with problems rare and unusual. As well, there is an overarching plot that involves the fate of Mythic Lore Services and the human race as a whole.

Our jumping on point to the bigger picture, now that we have the concepts down, starts here, with what is possibly Nate's first assignment to a Mythic Lore Team investigating a drought in a southwestern part of the country.

They've setup bar when they are stumbled upon by the Sheriff and two members of NOAA looking into the odd weather condition. Of course the locals don't take kindly to the team at first, especially since part of the ritual they are performing involves burning a small sacrament…while drinking cocktails from their portable, pull along bar, I might add. However things take a turn when one of the NOAA scientists owns up to having called them in on a lark.

The head scientist pish-poshes Mythic's ability to do anything to resolve the situation, until one member of the Mythic team, a young lady we haven't been introduced to, handily discards his "science"…

…with a very Lovecraftian "the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents…live on a placid island of ignorance…and it was not meant to voyage far" kind of thing, that works really, really well. 

McCrea's art working hard to sell all of it.

Meet Cassandra everybody. She's the psychic part of this team.

She discovers what the problem is: an unlikely and amazing story of elemental lovers who have grown "disenchanted" with each other. 

See, I told you Hester was up to snuff when it came to inventive plotlines. She also comes up with the plan for how best to solve it.

Waterson seems unsure he's up to being the king of seduction, however. When traditional methods fail, Cass makes a suggestion.

What Waterson isn't letting on about is this little secret he has. A secret that involves needing to be struck by a wrench the size of a two-by-four wall stud. Nate seems reluctant to do bodily injury to a fellow team member.

The wrench does the trick, knocking one of Waterson's teeth straight out. Waterson plants it and out springs this guy.

Meet Waterson's "wild side," a headless beast known simply as The Killer of Enemies, and he is every bit as much fun as that name implies.

What's also fun is this entire series. I won't spoil where things go from here, but you know the drill: humanity is in danger and these guys are the front line of defense against all things hoary and mythological. Hester and McCrea are to be commended. They've put a new spin on a great premise and created a series everyone should enjoy.

I hope we haven't seen the last of it.