Friday, March 18, 2011

The return of CrossGen

I was never really a big reader of CrossGen, the short-lived, high-profile comics company that flamed out in 2004 and whose assets were subsequently purchased by Disney. I picked up one or two of their early launches, but those didn't really grab me, and the only series I read for any length of time was the Victorian detective book Ruse, which I stuck with until writer Mark Waid left. I also have the entire run of the creator-owned series The Crossovers that I picked up at a 10-cent sale, although I haven't gotten around to reading it.

Thanks to Disney's recent purchase of Marvel Comics, the CrossGen characters are now back in the hands of a comic book company, and Marvel has relaunched two of the properties as four-issue miniseries: Sigil, written by Mike Carey and drawn by Leonard Kirk, is a full-on reimagining of the old sci-fi series, moving from galaxy-spanning space opera to more grounded teen fantasy. Ruse picks up nearly where it left off, with Waid returning to write the same characters and artist Mirco Pierfederici taking over the art. Predictably, I liked Ruse more, but I enjoyed the first issues of both series, and I hope they sell well enough to warrant more. It's great to see Marvel branching out beyond its insular superhero comics, and the CrossGen characters offer a chance to explore multiple genres.

Both series play to the writers' strengths, too: Carey does a great job of combining the fantastic with the everyday in The Unwritten (and did the same with his underrated Crossing Midnight), taking as much care with character relationships as he does with mythic world-building. Sigil starts out with a fairly standard set-up, as a misfit teenage girl is picked on at school only to find herself manifesting strange powers and transported off to an unfamiliar world (one lifted from another old CrossGen book, El Cazador). The first issue mostly just sets things in motion, with a lot of vague references to secrets in the main character's background. Teenager Samantha Rey is a bit generic right now, and the issue ends just as it feels like it's getting started, but it has promise, Kirk's art is appealing as always, and I trust Carey enough with this sort of material to keep reading.

Ruse, however, is totally entertaining from the get-go, and feels both familiar and new at the same time. It's been quite a while since I read the original series, but I easily fell right back into the groove of arrogant detective Simon Archard and his long-suffering assistant Emma Bishop. Their banter is sharp and funny, the mystery-solving is just complex enough to be enticing but not so convoluted that it's too hard to follow, and Waid ends the issue on a cliffhanger that immediately left me wanting to read the next issue. The tweaks that have been made to the concept all seem positive: Instead of some planet that resembles Victorian-era England, the book now takes place actually in Victorian-era England, and Emma's vaguely defined magical powers (along with, it seems, all supernatural elements) have been eliminated. That makes this a much more straightforward mystery series, and allows Waid to focus on the cases and the characters. Pierfederici ably steps in for Butch Guice, with a slick style that reminded me a little of Daniel Acuna. With his work for Boom! (Incorruptible, Irredeemable, The Unknown) and now Ruse, Waid is really on a roll lately, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

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