Comic Reviews: Super Ego and Manifest Destiny

Thanks to the folks at NetGalley, I found a couple of interesting new comics last week:

Super Ego (graphic novel)

superegoWe’ve always known a couple of screws could use tightening in most superheroes’ emotional engine, but Mike Kennedy and Caio Olveira of Magnetic Press have taken this idea and run with it—the result is Super Ego, featuring Dr. Ego, shrink to the supers. Super Ego began its life as a black-and-white webcomic, and this graphic novel, fully-rendered and colored, was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

It’s an intriguing premise, and there are some nice touches, like the reflective mask Ego pulls on for each session that provides his clients a mirror of their own emotions. It’s the opposite of Rorschach’s mask in Watchmen and echoes the psychologist’s technique of reflecting questions back to the patient. Toward the end of the volume, we discover how he got into the therapy business, and how he might not quite have resolved all the baggage from his own past, so there’s potential to carry the story onward. There are a ton of allusions/homages to iconic comic-book heroes and villains that will be fun for fans to ferret out.

Unfortunately, Super Ego didn’t inspire me to follow it beyond this volume. First, it spent too much time on the couch. It’s very talky—I suppose you’ve got to expect that from a comic about a psychologist, but it quickly began to feel like one long skull session. It doesn’t help that Ego is a rather bland character who only gains substance as the book draws to a close. Second, when the action did ramp up, the violence felt gratuitous. There’s a lot of overkill and kicking people after they’re down and out, over and over and over again, though most of the resulting bloody pulp is kept just far enough within the shadows to require a bit of imagination to fill in the rest. Fortunately, supers, like the denizens of Toon Town and the Great Bumble Snow Monster, always “bounce back.”  Neither the action nor the characters’ mental/emotional issues seemed adequate to keep the story moving. There’s good potential here, but it feels like it needs more fine-tuning.

The art is competent, if lacking in dynamism, and depiction of character emotion seemed flat, which made it hard to connect with the characters. The story veers back and forth between tongue-in-cheek humor and deadpan intensity, so at times, it was hard to know how to feel about what was happening on the page.

superego_sample

Speaking of fine-tuning, if you’re looking for gender balance, you won’t find it here. Female characters aren’t exploited for fan service, but they’re tangential to the story and mostly relegated to the background. Of the two who have an impact, one nearly triggers cosmic annihilation by dumping a nearly-omnipotent super teen on his first date, and the other is literally dismembered (don’t worry, she’s a super—she’ll bounce back!). I don’t expect female fans will be snapping this one up.

Not for kids. Graphic violence, some coarse language, and an implied prison rape. Ack.

MFDManifest Destiny #1

In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, comes Manifest Destiny, a reimagining of the Lewis and Clark expedition into the unexplored American West, by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts of Image Comics. Here there be monsters, which is the hush-hush part of the survey mission President Jefferson has given our two intrepid trailblazers and their support team, composed of equal parts soldiers and a ragtag assortment of criminal “undesirables” / monster chow.

Like most who’ve ventured into Missouri from points East, It doesn’t take long for brainy Meriwether Lewis and stalwart William Clark to discover the land west of the Mississippi is, well, different. In short order, they encounter a disturbing alien artifact—and two varieties of eldritch horror that decimate their little squad. It makes me wonder (1) why T.J. didn’t send L&C with more manpower in this scenario, and (2) how our heroes can possibly survive their little jaunt into the Louisiana Purchase, if this installment of Manifest Destiny is a representative sample of what they’ve yet to face.

They get more than a little help from their Shoshone guide Sacajawea, who in this telling is a warrior woman, equal parts ninja and barbarian berserker princess. Perhaps she’ll even the odds all by herself. Another woman, a French colonist the party encounters at a ravaged outpost, also provides strong, courageous leadership in a very nasty situation.

MD_sampleThe art is pretty and detailed, and this first volume does a good job establishing Lewis and Clark as interesting, distinctive characters and building curiosity about what might happen next. Supporting characters also get lots of love in both detail and dialogue. Landscapes are evocative of the untamed West, and the scary bits are splattered with goo, gore, and body horror in the necessary spots, with a decent buildup of suspense in-between. There’s some nudity, particularly in a hallucinatory experience Lewis seems to rather enjoy despite the terrifying circumstance that generates it.

Manifest Destiny is going on its 7th issue and seems to be getting a warm reception from fans.

Graphic violence, gore, nudity, coarse language, and sexual content in a hallucination. Not for kids, and that’s unfortunate, because it’s well-executed and there’s a strong Jules-Verne-ish vibe to this comic that would appeal to all ages. I think the adult-level material could have been dialed down a notch without losing the older audience.

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