How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
The folk at Big City Comics Studio sent this to me, and I’d like to thank them for that. It’s published in conjunction with Zenescope Publishing, and it came out last week, so you can find it if you’re so inclined. It’s written by Jeffrey Kaufman, drawn by Kevin West, inked by Mark McKenna, Bob Wiacek, Jack Purcell, and Kevin Yates, colored by Tom Chu and Pete Pantazis with assists by Nik Sardos and Wilson Ramos Jr., and lettered by John Hunt. It’s only $9.99, which is nice.
Angel Falling is a strange graphic novel. It’s a lot better than Kaufman’s last graphic novel, Whore, but it’s still not great. The book has a general through plot, but it still feels unfocused. The name and the cover implies that it’s a comic about a woman named Angel, and we begin with her, as she wakes up in an alley with no memory. She looks like she does on the cover – with jeans, no top, and angel wings tattooed on her back. She is accosted by skeevy dudes, but she somehow beats the crap out of them. Another dude shows up and beats up the bad guys, and she quickly realizes that he’s a bit different and that he knows something about her. So they team up, although they’re not exactly friends. He says his name is “Five,” but she decides to call him Connor, after the Highlander. She doesn’t know her name, but Angel certainly fits.
Kaufman reveals that both Angel and Connor are products of – wait for it – a secret government group that experiments on kids, turning them into perfect assassins! They cull the herd until there are 10 left, and Angel is “Three” and Connor, of course, is “Five.” The government dudes are a bit pissed off at them, and they want to kill Angel because she’s gone rogue. According to them, Connor is just a weapon waiting to be fired, and as we’ve already seen that Connor doesn’t speak much and when he does, it’s in sentence fragments, it’s even clearer that there’s something different about him. We soon learn that he’s like the Taskmaster – he can mimic any movement he sees after a few minutes of studying a subject, which is why he’s such a good assassin. The bad guys send “One,” their top subject, after the two of them, and things get messy. Meanwhile, Angel introduces Connor to a girl he likes, and they have a date that goes horribly wrong. Along the way, we find out that Connor is autistic. That clears some things up.
Eventually, of course, there’s a big showdown, and we learn all of Angel’s and Connor’s secrets. None of them are particularly interesting, but Kaufman keeps things moving along nicely. The story is far too familiar, from the main characters on the run from a shadowy governmental agency to Angel’s somewhat unbelievable amnesia. It’s frustrating because Kaufman does some interesting things with the characters. “One” is a fascinating and conniving sociopath, and he enjoys his cage at the “Sanctuary” – the secret government facility – because he’s made his peace with it. Angel, strangely enough (for being the eponymous character) recedes into the background as Connor becomes the focus, and while we learn about her, her amnesia is glossed over far too easily. Kaufman does some nice work with Connor – perhaps because Kaufman’s son is autistic – but there’s an unusual twist that isn’t really offensive (as Kaufman feared it would be, as he explains in an afterword) but just … odd. I know a little bit about autism, and I’m not the expert that Kaufman is, but it felt like Connor’s autism was a bit too convenient. Kaufman obviously wanted to tell an exciting story, because those sell better, but for me, the espionage aspect of the book is somewhat boring. When Kaufman delves, even a little, into the way Connor acts in the world and the way Angel is trying to figure herself out and the way “One” is trying to manipulate people, the story becomes more interesting. There’s not enough of that because everyone keeps trying to kill everyone else, and it’s fairly dull. (Kaufman tries to introduce Connor’s autism in a casual way, too, but he should know that it’s somewhat insulting for strangers to assume things about people with special needs. The scene in which he explains a bit about autism is necessary but awkwardly handled.)
West’s art is serviceable but nothing special. It’s good because West actually draws it and doesn’t use any photo referencing tricks, so it certainly looks organic, but it’s in that mediocre, middle-of-the-road superhero style that we see in far too many comics – we get from Point A to Point B fairly well, but it’s instantly forgettable. All the women are pretty and have big boobs, all the men have hip haircuts and soulful eyes. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about it, but it’s not ugly or offensive, so there’s that.
I don’t love Angel Falling, but it’s clear that Kaufman is getting better as a writer, and perhaps it’s simply that his interests just aren’t mine. I do think he doesn’t challenge himself or the readers as much as he could – if he wants to write thrillers, that’s fine, but the plots are the weakest parts of the two comics by him that I’ve read. He manages to create some mildly interesting characters, and it’s too bad he puts them into a fairly pedestrian plot. That’s just my opinion, though – we all have one! I think it’s great that Kaufman is doing his own thing, and I hope he does well with this book, even if it’s not really my thing.
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