Quantum & Woody #3
Publisher: Valiant Comics
Writer: Daniel Kibblesmith
Artist: Francis Portela
Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Although I don’t have a strong attachment to the Valiant Universe as a whole, I tend to make an exception for Quantum & Woody. A large part of the reason for this is that they were created by Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, two creators I have deep and abiding respect for. Indeed, it could be said that Quantum & Woody was the first “modern” Priest comic, popularizing elements of Priest’s current style. More than that, however, it was a legitimately humorous and entertaining comic, in large part because the humor flowed from the characters and the situations. It was still a good superhero comic, but it knew when to poke fun at the conventions of the genre.
Unfortunately, Priest and Bright left large and difficult shoes to fill, and that has shown itself with the current relaunch by Valiant. While I think the current series approached the concept with good intentions, it has the unenviable challenge of living up to the Priest/Bright run while also putting its own stamp on the characters. In addition to that, it also has to land the comedy, which is always a tricky and subjective thing even without measuring up to the humor of the classic series.
While Quantum & Woody makes a good-faith effort to honor the legacy of Christopher Priest, this is at best only a solid flashback issue.
The cover is credited to Julian Totino Tedesco, who turns in some credible work here. This is a cover that fairly hints at the interior story without giving away what that precisely entails, which I can always appreciate. Outwardly, all we get is a singular happy moment with Quantum and Woody as children, together with Eric’s father. It’s a moment that is pleasantly deceptive, considering the interior story, and it’s a good snapshot that works at enticing the reader. Stylistically, I’m reminded somewhat of Mark Texeira, particularly in the way the faces are rendered, and that style works well in this shot. The use of black-and-white on this cover is an interesting idea, and it serves to highlight that this is a flashback issue, showing us the memory of Quantum’s father and his time with his boys. Though I don’t know Tedesco’s work, I hope to see more covers like this one.
Although this is Portela’s first issue on this series, I hope he’ll continue to do more work based on his output here. The interior art is far and away the strongest element of this comic, and much of that is due to Portela’s visual storytelling. The layouts are all clean and create a good flow between panels, clearly getting across the details through each frame. The Priest-inspired black title frames, always a staple of this book, are placed strategically without interfering with the events going on between panels. However, the art also takes some interesting approaches, such as showing family bonding moments by framing them as a family photo montage. The artwork tends to use long horizontal panels frequently, but this serves to give a cinematic feel to the book at the right times.
I’m also quite fond of how Portela focuses on just the right story elements. Even though there are functionally two main stories going on—one centered on Derek’s past and another set with Quantum and Woody in recent times—Portela keeps them visually distinct. The action sequences function well during the big superhero fights, and Portela gives Quantum and Woody just the right stature for a superhero comic. At the same time, he also succeeds in the quiet moments, and the dramatic final page is especially strong because of Portela’s grasp of facial features and body language. Though it’s hard to find the funny in these pages, I can appreciate Portela as a dramatic storyteller.
Likewise, Andrew Dalhouse does some solid work on the coloring this issue. One of the interesting decisions made this issue is the subtle use of color to mark the time shifts. While they’re not dramatic coloring differences, there is a subtle shading in the color palette that makes each time period more distinct. The past sequences with Derek Henderson’s story have a duller color tone, almost as if to imply nostalgia through the shading. Meanwhile, the more recent time periods are significantly brighter with sharper tones. The lighting also works quite well, and the use of bright blues contributes to the final dramatic page effectively.
Dave Sharpe is a veteran letterer whose work has graced the pages of many great comics, and his quality here stands up well. There is a fair amount of dialogue this issue, given that much of it deals with family drama. However, Sharpe arranges it nicely on the page in a way that the eye can intuitively follow. Likewise, Portela’s art is given room to breathe, as the lettering both gets the script detail across and uses the balloon placement to tell the story. The fonts are well chosen, and the caption font for the chapter title boxes keeps a pleasant consistency with previous runs on the title. The sound effects are mostly sparing, reserved mainly for the brief action scenes, where they help create the illusion of movement.
The writer for the series is Daniel Kibblesmith, who I wasn’t familiar with prior to reading his run on Quantum & Woody. Admittedly, he comes with impressive credentials as a writer of comedy, including his work on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In the end, how much you’ll enjoy this comic will come down to how well you appreciate Kibblesmith’s style of comedy. Since comedy is incredibly subjective and comes down to personal taste, I won’t pass judgment on it, save to say that it managed only a few chuckles as I read it. I don’t think I connect to this style of comedy personally, but you may enjoy it more if his style is to your speed.
Regular readers of the title may find the shift to this story jarring, since it’s a flashback issue that is dropped in mid-storyline. It’s unclear whether there are behind-the-scenes reasons for this, or whether Kibblesmith is trying to establish something for later, but the Australia plotline is placed on hold for the time being. Instead, this is treated as an untold story involving the Goat, which apparently was holding the consciousness of Quantum’s father. This leads into a brief reunion story, set against flashbacks of Quantum and Woody’s past with Derek Henderson. Overall this is solid, although the use of Priest’s old framing device works inconsistently within the story structure. Ultimately, this is a story about a man facing the possibility of his imminent death, and the importance of appreciating family in the time that they’re given. That’s a reasonable element to build a story around, using the metaphor of super-powers to give meaning to that moment.
On the other hand, perhaps the worst problem with this issue is that it loses interest periodically. Some of it may be the fact that I wasn’t able to connect to the comedy, in which case it may be a subjective issue. Some of it may also be the convoluted backstory with Derek and the Goat, which provides the basis of the plot. There’s a fair amount of time dealing with exposition and with the brothers trying to find a solution to Derek’s condition, which amount to “talking head” scenes that don’t contribute much. The flashback scenes dealing with Derek’s youth and reflecting on his life are somewhat more interesting, particularly those dealing with his love of old movies, a point which binds the family together. While not a bad story, it is a slight struggle to read through these pages and truly appreciate the familial themes.
While I would not claim that the current run on Quantum & Woody is a bad comic, it isn’t a comic that clicks for me. That said, it’s quite possible that you might enjoy it more if you think the comedy is more to your tastes. However, I do think it strays from the original Priest notion that Q&W is not a comedy book, but an adventure book that reacts to events in a humorous light. This series tends to focus more on finding the comedy in the superhero genre, which isn’t an invalid take even if it is a departure.
Unfortunately, this issue had a hard time keeping my interest, for all that there is a strong central idea behind it. It tries to build on the great ideas that the series was built on, but the execution isn’t quite living up to its potential. Because of that, I can only offer Quantum & Woody a solid 7/10. While I can’t give the issue a full-price recommendation, it may be worth waiting for a Comixology sale to see if this book is more to your liking. As it stands, I would hold off on this one for the time being.
Written By Steve Sellers
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