Comic Book Review: Newuniversal: Shockfront #1

The Revolution was never a fan of the New Universal titles the first time around. So, I will admit that I had little interest in this new take on these characters with Newuniversal. However, I heard good things about the Newuniversal mini-series from last year. So, combine the good reviews and the fact that I am a huge fan of Warren Ellis, I decided to go ahead and give Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 a try. I’m confident that Ellis will deliver an intriguing and intelligent story. Let’s go ahead and hit this review for Newuniversal: Shockfront #1.

Creative Team
Writer: Warren Ellis
Pencils: Steve Kurth
Inks: Andrew Hennessy

Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with a recap of past events. There was “The White Event” that occurred on March 2, 2006 with a massive unknown astronomical incident that turns the sky white all over the Earth. Following the White Event, four people in the United States ascend to the superhuman condition. A secondary crux event occurs when agents from High Future and Uchronia (alternate histories) converge to view the first test of White event-activated superhuman Kenneth Connell. Connell is take out of the situation by superhuman Izanami Randall immediately before the U.S. military attempts a nuclear strike.

There have been three failed White Events in Earth’s past. There were superhumans created during the most recent failure, in the 1950’s. They were all murdered by intelligence operatives by 1959. A previous failed event in late 19th century had unknown impact. The first white Event may have occurred in Latvia more than five thousand years ago.

Kenneth Connell has the Starbrand glyph on his hand. He is suspected of murdering his girlfriend and is currently in hiding. Izanami Randall has the Nightmask glyph on her face. She is hiding Connell from the world and can access the thoughts of the world and the telepathic underspace called “the Superflow.”

Detective John Tensen has the Justice glyph. He was shot in the head hours before the white event. He believes himself to be dead and in hell and has commended on a killing spree since March 2. Dr. Jennifer Swan has the Spitfire glyph. She has the ability to see the errors in her design and construction of a mechanical enhancement suit conceived to combat and kill superhumans.

We cut back in time to ancient China where a young hero named Judge Bao has saved the people of Duanzhou. We shift to March 6, 2006 in San Francisco to a manhua (Chinese comic books) shop. We see Izanami reading the manhua of her favorite character, Judge Bao.

Izanami’s boss comes storming into the shop and engages in a typical fanboy rant about the bastards at B-Bop for screwing up manhua that they publish. Izanami’s shift is over so she leaves.

She walks out of the shop and some strange man bumps into her. The man mumbles about how life was better when he lived in a forest in a trailer making crystal meth. The man says he remembers going to Vancouver as a kid and how nice it was. The man mumbles that he misses Vancouver. The man says he would give anything to see Vancouver again. Suddenly, the man explodes and takes out the manhua shop and several bystanders. Izanami is stunned.

We cut to One Police Plaza in New York City. Police Captain Stacy (The Earth-555 version of Gwen Stacy’s dad?) gathers his detectives for a closed door meeting. Stacy reveals that the mass murderer that they are after has been caught on security camera footage. That the killer is Detective John Tensen.

Stacy says that no one can breathe a word of this to the media. That the detectives shall catch Tensen first and then reveal his identity. And they have to catch Tensen before he crosses state lines and the FBI swoops in and claims jurisdiction over the investigation.

We cut to Izanami arriving back at her apartment. Ken is sitting on the sofa watching TV. Izanami tells Ken about the bomb being set off outside of her store. That she doesn’t know if her boss is going to be okay. That he is currently in the hospital.

Ken tells Izzy that they should go take a look at the scene of the bombing. Ken says that he thinks his girlfriend died because he was asleep. That her dad and those cops died because he was only half-conscious. That he needs to wake all the way up now. That for some reason he wants to see the bomb sight.

Izzy responds that the police are looking for him. Izzy says that the beard Ken grew will help disguise him, but that he needs to do something with his dumb Midwest cracker hair. (Wow! That was incredibly offensive. And I’m not even white.)

We cut to an exhibition professional football game. A running back named Jack Magniconte is tearing up the field like a locomotive and plowing through defenders. We see a linebacker go to tackle Magniconte. Magniconte sticks his arm out to “Heisman” the defender and end up exploding the defender’s torso into tiny bits with his hand. The defender is split in half and falls to the ground dead. Magniconte stares in horror at his hand that is covered with the defender’s blood.

We shift to Izzy and Ken arriving at the sight of the bombing. Ken mentions that the thing in his hand has got to be of some use. Ken then comments that bombs usually burns stuff and leave marks. Ken says remember when Izzy turned off the television and he freaked out so she turned it back on and just muted it and Ken was all right with that. It was because it wasn’t the sound that he wanted. That there is a glow around Izzy’s TV when it is on and the glows kind of like how mint tastes.

Ken says that he tastes what he is seeing and sometimes feels it or smells it. That he can see something on the sidewalk that no one else can. It is a beam of light coming from the middle of the bomb blast site. It is a vapor trail of sorts. Ken says that this was not a bomb. That maybe the strange guy is like them and got super powers from the White Event. That maybe the strange guy set off this bang.

We slide over to New York City where Tensen is sitting near some dead bodies. Tensen comments that he is not reaching enough to them. That if Hell is the size of Manhattan then he doesn’t dare look over the bridges to see if it extends past that. Tensen says that the people he just killed were the worst people that he has found in the last two weeks. That they help John think of something. They help him kill more of them.

We cut to Vancouver and see the strange guy from outside of the manhua shop lying in a large crater from a blast. He gets up and looks around and smiles. End of issue.

Comments
The Good: Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 was a fantastic read. Seriously, this is one of those few comic books on the market that transcends being just a mere comic book and reads like literature. And this is no surprise since Ellis is one of the most talented writers in the industry. There are excellent comic book writers who I enjoy immensely but I would never call them anything other than traditional comic book writers. There are only a handful of comic book writers that I would classify as pure writers capable of delivering any form of literature. Ellis is one of those rarities in the comic book industry.

My favorite comic book writer of all time is Alan Moore. And I have always viewed Warren Ellis as one of the few writers who are able to walk in Moore’s footsteps. Ellis is one of those extraordinary writers who endeavor to take the comic book genre and raise it to all new levels. To constantly push the boundaries and evolve the comic book industry. Ellis certainly accomplishes that effort with Newuniversal: Shockfront #1.

Ellis weaves a delightfully complex and dense story in Newuniversal: Shockfront #1. The world that Ellis has created is incredibly textured and realistic. The reader is immediately captivated with the first page and Ellis doesn’t let the reader go until the end.

Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 was a well paced issue. Ellis employs a tightly measured pace designed to create tension in the reader. The slow burn method is deceptive as Ellis manages to captivate the reader’s attention through strong writing rather than fast paced and furious action scenes.

Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 was a properly plotted issue. The reader gets the clear impression that Ellis has a purpose to this story. Ellis assures the reader that he has spent plenty of time and effort into constructing a byzantine story that while it might not be fast paced; it will certainly never wander about aimlessly.

Ellis wisely makes Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 incredibly new reader friendly. I missed out on Ellis’ first Newuniversal six issue mini-series last year. I will correct that error immediately by getting those six issues from my local comic book shop. I didn’t bother getting Newuniversal last year because I already had such a huge pull list and I never even remotely liked the New Universe titles.

So, I approached Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 as a new reader armed only with a little bit of knowledge that I gleaned about Newuniversal from a quick Wikipedia search. Ellis definitely scores high marks for making sure that new readers can easily hop aboard this title and not feel left out of the story at all. Ellis does a good job laying the foundation for this title and giving the reader plenty of back-story.

Ellis manages to give the back-story in a relatively succinct manner in the first couple of pages of this issue. As a new reader I was quickly brought up to speed on the pertinent points of this story and got a good feel of the world that Newuniversal is set in. I understand that the first couple of pages might have been a bit boring for returning readers, but it was definitely a necessary evil.

Ellis serves up some excellent dialogue. Each character had a nice external voice. The dialogue had an enjoyable flow to it and captured the reader’s interest. Ellis also delivered plenty of superb character work. I immediately got a good sense for each character’s personality. The three main characters, John, Ken and Izzy, are all nicely developed and quite interesting.

Ken and John are probably the most intriguing of the three main characters due to their bizarre personalities. I dig the fact that John believes himself to be trapped in hell. What an interesting angle to take with his character. I am fascinated by the dark and disturbing world that John has descended into as he proceeds to kill people who he feels deserve to die.

Ken has an interesting back-story with the traumatic “birth” of his powers that led to his girlfriend’s death. I like Ken’s surreal impression of the world with the different tastes that he receives from what he sees. Ken is an odd character that has great potential.

I dig the mood of this story and the setting of the Newuniversal Earth being very much like ours but just a tad darker and creepier. The Newuniversal world is a captivating place that leaves the reader wanting more once we arrive at the end of this issue. The concept of the White Event completely intrigues me. I am curious to learn more about the current White Event as well as the three other failed White Events in the past. I dig the basic premise of a world just like ours where a strange event takes place that causes several humans to take that next radical step in evolution. Ellis was wise to take the four separate New Universal titles and realize that this makes much more sense as one story.

Ellis introduces two more superhumans in Newuniversal: Shockfront #1. We have the babbling meth head who is able to teleport by exploding himself and re-appearing at whatever location was in his mind. This is by far one of the most unusual methods of teleportation that I have seen in a comic book.

We are also introduced to a football player named Magniconte who evidently has suddenly received incredible speed, stamina and strength. The scene with Magniconte was a pretty sick scene. I liked how his powers became uncontrollable during the football game. Both new superhumans immediately piqued my interest. I am looking forward to learning more about both of them as well as how the connect with the White Event.

Steve Kurth and Andrew Hennessy combine to deliver plenty of great artwork. Kurth’s style of art is the perfect match for the realistic world that this story is set in as well as the dark nature of the title itself.

The Bad: I only have one minor quibble with Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 and it is a complaint that virtually no one else will have with this issue. I’m not even white, but I still I found Izzy using an offensive racist slur directed at Ken to be a poor decision by Ellis. Racist slurs are an example of lazy writing and I respect Ellis’ talents so much that I expect much more from him than this.

This isn’t the case of a despicable and vile villain tossing out a racist slur in order for the writer to get the villainous character over as a total heel. While still an example of weak and lazy writing, it would at least be more acceptable if it were used in that type of situation. However, it is not. Izzy is a protagonist and presumably a hero that Ellis wants the reader to like and root for.

I image that Ellis had Izzy spouting a racist slur at Ken in order to make the story seem “edgy” or “realistic.” It certainly did not do anything like that for me. Instead, all it did was get me to view Izzy’s character as a raging racist at worse or simply an ignorant and unintelligent person at best. I don’t think making the reader have either impression of Izzy is what Ellis had in mind when he did this.

Overall: Newuniversal: Shockfront #1 was a brilliant read. Ellis immediately hooked me into this story and I cannot wait for the next issue. This issue was such an enjoyable dense and intricate read. Ellis weaves a beautifully written story that you simply are not going to get on most of the titles currently on the market. I you enjoy cerebral comic books that rely heavily on strong character work and that that give you plenty to chew on and digest then you will probably enjoy Newuniversal: Shockfront #1. This title is certainly worth the cover price.

5 Comments

  1. I thought that newuniversal was really well done.Ellis did a great job flying under the radar with the mini-series. I didn’t order this because I was under the impression it was a different writer. I will get it today.I never liked the original New Universe either.This just proves that the concepts were good,but the stories really didn’t work.I think the New Universe led directly into Valiant Comics, however.Valiant was done much better.

  2. Pleased to see this reviewed here. Your review is almost perfectly on the mark for an issue that deserves the attention. I hope people are giving this a try (or continuing after the break between series).

    When I read it, I didn’t think the scene from ancient China was actually real, but just a page from the the comic in the story. Perhaps you are right though.

    I agree that the cracker comment came out of nowhere and seemed out of place. Reading your comments on it, I went to look up the exact meaning. Ken is a rural guy who is slow on the uptake, but the word is a pejorative and the other character had no reason to use it with him. Maybe they are fast friends after a few days, so it was a joke? Eh… I doubt it though. It isn’t a word I run into all that often thankfully. I’m almost sorry I learned what it is now. The writer isn’t American and doesn’t live in the US, so not everything will feel genuine. And we all have different experiences anyway since it is a large country.

    I almost cynically passed on the first newuniversal (assuming Marvel was just keeping their properties alive), but I’m glad I didn’t. I had never read the original New Universe or any other Ellis stories.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the first six issues. I think they recently came out in trade if you can’t find them. And it looks like we are in for a couple of one shots on the previous White Events later this year. Should be interesting!

  3. Caucasians dont consider cracker an ethnic slur. It dosent carry the same connotation as the N word or the C-word which was used on Izzy in the previous series.

    As a cracker i support its use by ellis.

  4. I remember the reading the original new universe titles in the mid 80’s(yes im old and decrepit) and i always thought it was a great idea that was poorly executed. The first mini was awesome(and supposed to be a full title but ellis is not into doing work for major companies if he doesnt own the book. The second mini i like even more because they are bringing the other characters(kickers inc etc) it seems into the story. Also they are doing one shots to explain what happened during previous white events(which is awesome) and also gives other writers a chance to show their stuff, so if ellis wont do an ongoing title they can. I hope marvel does make this an ongoing, it is a great concept and the art is cool(larocca is better imho but the new guy isnt bad). This is another take on superpowers(much like Rising Stars by JMS) that predates and is superior to Heroes.

  5. Just an offtopic remark but what other books do you guys and or ladies read? besides the usual(and lately quite good super hero fair?

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