By Hervé St-Louis
September 6, 2003 - 11:57
Is Future Comics, the independent company started by comic book pros Bob Layton, David Michellinie and Dick Giordano another Valiant Comics? Many think so, however, below the apparent similarities, Future Comics is definitely not about the past but mostly about the future! This article is full of spoilers, so feel free to stop now, if you want to discover everything fresh.
Upon opening the sets of comics sent out by Bob Layton, I was somewhat perplexed. I had checked the Web site, the week before, trying to get to the bottom of this new company. There's several things that led me to investigate these guys. The first one is simple. All of them are tenured pros who have been responsible for entertaining me, since I was a wee lad.
I believe, the first Iron man comic book I read was by David Michellinie and Bob Layton. It was a black and white reprint of the original. Tony Stark was dressed in a white suit, and the cover blurb said he was fighting spies or something in Monaco. In the story, he had accidentally killed an ambassador. Tony even had an alcohol problem. Can you imagine the effect on a nine-year-old?
I started reading DC Comics late. New books were rarely available in local corner stores. All I had were old Teen Titans reprints. When I finally found a comic book shop, I hit the back issue bin real fast. That's where I rediscovered the name Dick Giordano. He had been one of the artists on an old collection I had featuring Batman vampire-related stories. He had a clean line.
I once read that Giordano inked or drew one page, every day. This is impressing. I had heard stories of Giordano been the man in charge of Charlton Comics, the guys who gave us Blue Beetle and Captain Atom. I gathered from all of this that as well as a DC Comics VIP that he was a man of action. Perhaps that's why he participates in this venture.
I do not know why those three pros decided to create Future Comics, but one thing is certain about them and their work. They have a battle plan. In this market, a company with a battle plan is worth a lot. So far they have published only three titles with a fourth one soon to come. Future Comics publishes Freemind, Metallix and Deathmask. The upcoming title is Peacemaker.
Freemind, is about McKinsey Flint, a man suffering from a degenerative disease since birth and an authority in the field of spintronics. He is wheelchair-bound much like his probable inspiration, Stephen Hawking. His life goal was to liberate his mind from the prison of his body. To achieve this, he creates Edison Wilde, an android into where he transfers his mind.
Once transferred, his mind can access the 90% of the potential that is usually untapped. This allows Flint's surrogate body, Wilde to fly, manipulate energy and other similar psionic powers. Unfortunately, someone forgot to warn David Michellinie, the writer, that the 10% thing is an urban legend. It's a shaky foundation on which to built an entire series.
I did not read any information on the series, before, to judge whether this Freemind was new readers friendly. My first issue was number six. I must admit that I was a little confused by the Flint/Wilde character. I didn't even know who was the star of the book. However, once the story caught up with the plot, every thing fell into place, and I figured out what every body's part was.
Flint happens to be the president, or a chief scientist of the company who created Edison Wilde. Wilde is known to the public as a company body guard/ and living experiment. The public is not aware that Flint operates him, or that he is an android. This reminded me of the classic Tony Stark/Iron man. Except this time, an entire support cast helps our hero achieving his goals.
The stories were very enjoyable. In a sense, Freemind also reminded me of Solar, man of the Atom, as Wilde seems very powerful. However, his missions are more down to Earth. In the stories read, there were much corporate politics involved and even a continuity building nod, to fellow Future Comics series, Deathmask.
The visual quality of the work is stunning. I have always liked when comic book illustrators were also good storytellers. In Freemind, comic book veterans' Ron Frenz and Bob Hall, do not deceive. They know how to tell a story. Nowhere in the books read, did I pause, to ask myself what was happening. Even when two art teams worked on the book, you will not notice the difference.
This is a good thing and very rare in comics. Another thing that I noticed from Freemind and the other series reviewed, was that their panel numbers and layout were an upgrade from what the creators would have created a decade earlier. There are fewer panels per pages and more use of the cinematic frame panelling. Fortunately, they know how to use this layout.
The other long running series from Future Comics is Metallix. The foundation of Metallix is similar to Freemind. A rich corporation is involved in newtechnologies' research. In Metallix, it's nanothechnology. Redstone Research funded Dr Maxwell Krome's research. Krome created a programable metal that transforms into as exo-shell armour.
Krome is evicted from the company when his colleagues find out that he was secretly developing offensive capabilities within the metal compound. Redstone's president Owen Parish recruits a tag team of ground, naval, areal and tactics specialists to control the metal and serve as company protectors and field operatives. The catch is that they have to share the metal.
There is just enough metal to be used by one of the expert at a time. This makes for some interesting storytelling as each character uses the exo-shell armour differently. We also have the traditional team dynamic here. We have the fearless leader, the hot head, the groovy and down to earth guy and the girl. Well-developed support crews also aid the Metallix team.
Like Freemind, there are lots of corporate politics and machinations in this series. I like how much downtime is given. Things are not rushed, although they do not crawl to a halt so that they may read better when they are later collected as trade paper backs. The other thing I liked is that the regular joes, such as security guys are unique and not disposable green guys with guns.
The artist in Metallix is Ron Lim. Of all the Future Comics series, Lim probably has the best appeal to fans from the 1990s and beyond. He fits more with the Image comic book creator's generation. However, his storytelling is smoother than his run on the Captain America series, the Silver Surfer and the Infinity Gauntlet. Working with Bob Layton will do that to anyone!
There's also much less cross hatching in Lim's work than before. His lines are sloppier and thicker but it helps cast the art solidly. Again, this is welcome. He is coming into his own, although he had a huge track record before that. Fortunately, Lim has not loss any of his roller coaster tricks and the action in Metallix are as dynamic as they were a decade ago.
I have one thing to say about Deathmask before going further. The name is not good. It is not inspiring and definitely not memorable. It's not a name you'll remember in two weeks. It's not inspiring at all. To the folks at Future Comics, please rethink your branding strategy for this series. Deathmask sounds like bad Marvel comics from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Were it as bad, it wouldn't be a problem.
Deathmask is not a bad 1980s Marvel comics. It's superior to any of them. It's the story of native Jacob Nakai, a disfigured stage magician who uses a mystical mask of undetermined origin to administer vengeance to evil doers, and to thwart the plans of the man, responsible for his fate, Adonis DuLac. Deathmask is probably the one series from Future Comics where magic has a place.
Like the other series from the publisher, there's many things going on. There's the police hunting Deathmask, there's DuLac and his constant plots to capture Deathmask. Then, there's Deathmask doing the vigilante, and more subplots. Although stories with crazed vigilantes are usually easier to jump on since the baggage doesn't get much in the way of the retribution.
Here Deathmask excels at that. Nonetheless, all the subplots built toward the same story. It's very easy to read this book. The one confusion I have is about the level and breadth of the main character's power. As a mystical character, setting limits is always difficult. At least, the folks at Future Comics have grounded his powers on some type of enigmatic mystical energy.
The artwork in this series is offbeat. It's unlike anything on the market - except other series by Future Comics. It's has a crispy quality that reminds me of Gil Kane. You know, the irregular lines with the bumps and textures. Bob Layton inked one of the sample issues. The other was inked by Pat Broderick who captures the old Kane feel very well.
However, all credits must go to Dick Giordano. It's his work that lends this crispy quality to the artwork. In the past, his work was had more line tones and a clean sketchy feeling. The lines are still there but the crispy stuff adds more dimensions to his work. Obviously, Giordano is another one of those master storytellers who can tell any type of story so clearly that there is no need for captions.
This is one area where Future Comics rules. The art of storytelling in comics is, you've probably, noticed by now, one of my pets peeves. It's not so much the quality of the artwork, but the more the ability to make the drawings propel the story. Future Comics' artwork is more traditional and less hip. However, the reader is never confused about what happens within a page.
I read the Ultimate Wars trade paper back a few months ago and was completely confused by Chris Bachalo's work. Nothing made senses. Lines, smudgy and sketchy art crippled his work. It was very difficult to understand what was going on and who the characters were. Moreover, the colouring was so dark, that black pages with bubbles would have read as well.
There are none of these problems with any of the Future Comics series. For many fans the look of the artwork might look dated. Nonetheless, the artwork always functions as part of the story as opposed to the constant competition that is evident in the work done by Chris Bachalo and Mark Millar. The work done by Future Comics artists will stand the test of time. Not Bachalo's.
Visually, they can improve things. The colouring on the books is simple. I believe it is one of the reasons fans have often compared the company's work with Valiant Comics. The colouring style is similar to what occurred in the mid 1990s when digital colours started to be used. There are lots of soft edges between tones, although there are many stark transitions.
They have simplified the palettes. Unlike many current comic books, some old tricks, such as colouring background characters or out of focus ones darker are used. The colourists also have a tendency to use bad colouring tricks such as texture maps, and strong blurs. The problem is that the quality of the paper used by Future Comics is wasted with such techniques.
The colourists at Future Comics should try to emulate a style that works better for series where a limited colour palette is used. DC Comics's Formally Known as the Justice league uses a three-tone palette based on cartoon animation colouring. There is a base colour, highlights, and shadow mattes. Sometimes, a fourth level is used for specular effects.
They should make all colours starker and not use soft edging too much. For example, the difference between the darker skin tones, and the regular ones are too subtle. They need more contrasts. Finally, they should get rid of all the gradient and texture effects. They belong to another era of comic book art and reinforce the retro look too much. The retro colours turn off many readers.
Future Comics has an aggressive distribution system. You can get them through your regular retailer, but also directly from them. Retailers can bypass Diamond and order books for their stores. Fans can also reach Future's sales department with at a toll-free 1-800 number. Few comic book publishers have 1-800 numbers. Let's hope they won't be the last to do so.
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