Yes, once again the Indie Spotlight shines out upon a new discovery here on the MRC!
This time, our spotlight illuminates none other than the debut issue of Sleuth Comics, starring the All-New Black Owl, published by Atomic Pulp.
Don’t just take my word for it, though: get a load of the awesomely eye-catching cover by Paul Pelletier below, eh?
Now, if that doesn’t let you know what you’re in for, then I don’t know what will.
Well, okay, fine: I’ll let you know a little bit right now, then.
Sleuth Comics, and indeed the entire Atomic Action Comics line, is on a mission to deliver comic book excitement in the style of what’s known as the “Bronze Age” of comics. Odds are, if you’re reading this blog, that term has already brought to mind a period of time roughly encompassing the 1970s and 1980s in more or less their entirety.
If that’s where your mind is, then leave it right there, as this comic book does indeed take place in a very 1970s-styled setting. Not to worry, though, the panels are not overly peppered with “winks at the camera” about how “very 70s” everything is.
I mean, yes, there is more than a little disco involved in the proceedings, but trust me, it all works. Just let’s get into the actual issue, now, shall we?
Oh, and I should also mention: I received a free preview PDF file of this issue for review purposes from none other than Christopher Mills, the head honcho of Atomic Pulp himself.
The good Mr. Mills also wrote this issue, as he has written (and continues to write!) all of the other titles in the Atomic Action Comics line-up.
As for who helped out with all of the other chores at hand for this issue, well, why don’t we just take a peek at the excellently executed opening splash page?
I love the use of narrative captions on this page. Such things have fallen by the wayside in comics over the past couple of decades, and seeing them used so well here makes me realize how much I’ve missed them. When they’re done right, these kinds of captions make me feel more immersed in the story, more a part of the world that’s being created on the page.
As for the creators themselves, well, Rick Burchett (who did character design work for the Black Owl) and Matt Webb are well-known names to me. Don Secrease I was less familiar with, but it looks as though he’s done quite a bit of work for AC Comics, and his work here in this issue is exemplary, to boot.
You’ll notice that both the Black Owl and Mike Lancer receive character creation credits near the bottom of the page, and that neither character is credited to Christopher Mills, or to anyone else who worked on this actual issue.
That’s because the core concept of the Atomic Action Comics project involves the building of new stories around previously existing comic book characters. The rights to these characters have fallen into Public Domain, and therefore, are subject to use by, well…the public.
There is, of course, a little more to it than that, but Mr. Mills has all of that well in hand.
Hey! How about we get back to the contents of the issue? Okay, then!
Check this out: narrative captions aren’t the only classic Bronze Age storytelling technique being kept alive (and kicking!) within these pages!
No, here you’ll find actual fight scenes, with moves, countermoves, and consequences; not just a bunch of pointless posing and pontificating.
But, banter: oh, yes..there will be banter! Behold!
The fluidity of the action and the economy of the storytelling on display are like a breath of fresh air. This is a blow-by-blow fight scene, but it doesn’t exist to eat up multiple pages or pad the issue with gratuitous gobs of decompression. Nope. This scene is just plain old fun to read.
Yes, a sense of fun pervades this book, even in its darker and more dangerous moments (of which there are plenty). Don’t let that scare you off, though! I know that “fun” gets a bad rap in the modern day superhero comics world (which strikes me as exceedingly odd), but that doesn’t imply a lack of engaging content or even (gasp!) gravitas.
But hey, we’ll get back to that later. For now, take a peek at yet another seldom-used artifact of comic book storytelling that gets its due in this issue: the Editor’s Note box!
I always enjoyed these little meta-fictional asides when I was reading comics in the Bronze Age, and it’s no less enjoyable seeing them here and now. I mean, come on, don’t YOU want them to chronicle the Impossible Crimes of the Rubber Bandit? I sure do, eh?
Okay, so I said we’d get back to the gravitas, right?
How about right here in this panel show below? Will that do?
Like the name on the window says, that’s Mike Lancer, Private Eye. Much like in the Gotham City of the 70s (just in case you didn’t catch that the Black Owl is at least kind of a Batman homage), the Knightsbridge of this series is home to down and dirty street level types like Mike as well as costumed crusaders and crazies like the Black Owl and his rogues gallery.
By the way, you may have noticed that I’m not exactly summarizing the plot of the issue. That’s not because the plot isn’t good, or because the writing isn’t well done. I just really don’t want to spoil too much here in this review.
After all, this is a more or less self-contained “done-in-one” story. If I give too much away, I’m taking the wind out of an entire tale (all while mixing metaphors!), not just one-sixth of a single story, as with most modern day comics.
That being said, Mike Lancer appears in this issue because he’s reached out to the Black Owl for help. It seems that Mr. Lancer witnessed something a bit out of his league on a recent job, and he begins to relate the details of the incident in a panel that uses another of my favorite techniques: the floating flashback head!
Okay, so I may be the only person who has a name for that, and also the only person who enjoys it so much. Hey, it’s my blog, people. Don’t go looking a floating flashback head in the narrative caption dispensing mouth, eh?
So, right: I am not going to lay out all the details of the plot in this review.
Instead, I’ll say this: we learn a lot about the Black Owl and his world in this one issue. We discover what set him out on his mission of justice. We discover why (and how) that mission is literally one without sleep. We meet his supporting cast, including Athena Laskaris, confidant, mechanic, and twin sister of the Owl’s dearly departed true love. We meet the Disco Don, also referred to as the Polyester Potentate, whose real name is, believe it or not: Marco Caine. We see that the Owl’s world is liberally seasoned with references to comic book creative veterans such as “O’Neal” (sp), “Adams,” and “Goodwin.” We meet the Silent Skull, learn of his tragic beginnings and get a glimpse at his perhaps even more ominously tragic future.
And perhaps most importantly of all, we learn that the Black Owl and Athena have gone out of their way to add an extra letter to an aircraft-related acronym just so said acronym can include the word “Owl” in it:
Now, that alone is GREAT. But there’s more: a LOT more, in fact.
First, there’s the “Next Issue” box, which lets us know that Ms. Fury will be making a guest appearance, along with the “creeping terror” known as the Green Mummy!
Then, there’s an honest-to-goodness letters page, called the Mystery Mailbag, with letters from various advance copy readers, including one Mike W. Barr!
After that, we have the Atomic Bombshells editorial page, including explosive news bulletins for this and every other Atomic Action title.
There’s also a profile page for the Black Owl, executed very much in the style that readers of the classic Marvel Handbooks or DC Who’s Who series will find pleasingly familiar and informative.
And, of course, there’s a one page advertisement style parody featuring the Atomic Mouse trying to save the day using a supply of deliciously sugary snack cakes.
Simply put (what, now?), there is a lot here in this issue, and every bit of it is fun.
If you like good comic books, you should waste no time picking up a copy of this one in print or digital format.
I’ll even give you some links to get you started. Aren’t I great?
You can start here:
And you can check out all other comics that Mr. Mills has available here:
I’ve read every book that you can find on that second link (at the time of this writing, natch!), and they are all pretty great.
Space Crusaders featuring Rex Dexter was actually the first book in this new line, even!
Atomic Action Comics: you don’t have to read them all…but you’ll want to!
Before we wrap this post up, go ahead and feast your eyes on this seriously cool “house ad” for the entire Atomic Action line:
I don’t know about you, but I can’t want for all the rest of these books to come out, eh?
Well..if you are moved to check out this issue, or any of Atomic’s other titles, let me know, will ya?
Heck, let Christopher Mills know, too! I’m sure he’d like to hear from you!
Until next time, people: I am Max. I read Comics.