Phantom Squad is an indie superhero comic self published by writer Cedbill’s press, Coast Comics. It promises to be an international action flick that seems part James Bond and part Daredevil, with terrorist plots, bloody fights, superheroes, and a whole lot more. In the first issue we meet Perry Greene, an ex special-ops agent drowning his dark past in women and alcohol, and “Cell”, a super-powered “hero” who brutally murders cops when they get in his way. Bloody plot brings them together, and the issue ends with them deciding to team up for a larger mission.
What I Liked:
I’m always a fan of indie comics (It seems I’ve become the go to guy to give indie comics to review!), of an artist and a writer coming together and deciding to tell their story and publish it for others to read. Coast Comics is doing this for several different creators, giving them the means to produce and share their creative craft. That’s just cool. Phantom Squad #1 looks to have a lot of potential to be a good take on the superhero genre. We have an anti-establishment vigilante protagonist in Cell and a dark and moody protagonist with a troubled past in Greene, which could provide some very interesting character development and interactions. There is the promise of a larger counter-terrorist plot, as well as the constant threat from authorities who don’t like vigilantes who slaughter whole police divisions. This isn’t likely to be a “Superman saves the day!” type of story, but rather on the darker and grittier side, which could end being really interesting. The writer, Cedbill, in an authorial note at the end, promises to make the characters “real”, which I hope means giving them believable depth and motivations to their actions.
What I Didn’t:
Unfortunately, so far with just Issue #1 out, Phantom Squad isn’t quite delivering yet on some of its cool potential. Cedbill promises that the characters will have real depth, but so far Cell and Greene haven’t developed beyond their initial presentations as I described before.
Cell just murders people. Very effectively.
Greene mopes about his dark past and somehow seduces women with ease, which doesn’t bode well for Cedbill’s portrayal of female characters.
So, yeah, my biggest gripe with Phantom Squad is what I view as poor characterization. I’d love to see our male protagonists evolve into something deeper and more original than action-hero tropes. I’d also love to see women portrayed well as more than sex objects to be conquered and left behind. While I’m sure (or at least I’m hopeful) that future issues will rectify these problems, all I can review is the issue in front of me.
Artistically, I think that Stone and Mock do a pretty good job. Anatomy is neat, even if stylized more along the standard superhero exaggerations. The details and shadowing and colors work well together to convey the mood and feel of the comic. There are some issues of overuse of copy and paste (the sleeping sex conquest example page being one of them. Also, if you scroll back up, the two panels of Cell’s knives coming out of wrist sheathes appear to be exact mirror images), confusing speech bubble and panel placement (a couple of times I couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to read next), and perspective issues. But overall it is good indie work.
So yeah, overall, artistically pleasant, with some hiccups to work out. The bigger issue for me was the writing of the characters. One last example is when Greene decides to join up with Cell on some mission after a single page of dialogue, for basically the reason that he has nothing better to do.
This review probably sounds overly negative. Overall, I’m still glad that the team produced Phantom Squad #1. I think it has some issues, but I don’t think they are deal breakers. Artistically, some work on balloon placement and perspective are a must. With regards to the writing, I’d like to see some of the promised depth that would make the characters “real”, and less use of action movie tropes. The Coast Comics website could also use a lot of work. This issue’s listing on Indyplanet isn’t even linked to from their store, not all creators are credited, and the design is fairly poor. Improving the website is very important for a digital publisher.
I expect good things from Phantom Squad and Coast Comics in the future. It’s a good intro indie comic that I believe will grow into its own in coming issues. And you can get a digital download for a dollar, so check it out if you’re interested.