By Don Alsafi. One of the more frustrating things about Marvel over the past few years has been their attempt to shore up falling sales by throwing more and more new series at the wall in a desperate bid to see if anything sticks.

However, when faced with a plethora of new books drowning in a sea of too many choices, the readership ends up leaving them on the shelf. Is it any surprise? When Z-list characters like Slapstick and Prowler inexplicably get their own series, the only guaranteed outcome is that any standout gems (like last year’s Nighthawk) will almost certainly be overlooked.

With that in mind, it’s worth checking out a couple of new titles Marvel launched in the last few weeks, two that might not have received the attention they deserved.

'Nick Fury' #1 is out now from Marvel ComicsNick Fury #1

Marvel Comics / $3.99

Written by James Robinson.

Art by Aco & Hugo Petrus.

Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.

Letters by Travis Lanham.

New hero, classic thrills. At first glance, Nick Fury Jr. might seem an odd choice to get a solo series. Historically, the character has never had a huge following, and the market has rarely supported a Fury solo comic. Additionally, the fact that it’s a relatively new character with the same name (as opposed to the WWII army sergeant created by Kirby & Lee, later recast as a superspy in the swingin’ Sixties) means that this new series can’t rely on any sort of sales cushion that might have been supplied by any long-time Fury fans. That potentially made it an even tougher sell.

And would be a damn shame, because this is an astonishing debut.

Confident. Sleek. Assured. James Robinson has made a career out of updating Golden and Silver Age characters and concepts, while yet respecting their legacies.  (The tour de force example of this was his stellar 80-issue run on DC’s Starman.) That deftness of skill is here on dazzling display, as Robinson throws the reader into some seriously high-octane espionage business showcasing Fury’s exceptional talents. The story is told at a breakneck pace which challenges the reader to keep up, but never once descends into confusion; when Fury presses his thumb to a high-security elevator panel, we don’t need the narrative to stop and explain to us why the digital scanner reads him as his target, Auric Goodfellow. He’s a superspy with a plethora of tools and gadgetry, and the comic confidently trusts us to fill in the blanks.

Interior art to ‘Nick Fury’ #1. Art by Aco, Hugo Petrus, and Rachelle Rosenberg/Marvel Comics

A visual delight. On the other hand, nothing from Aco’s past work could have prepared me for the jaw-dropping visuals seen here; at the risk of sounding too hyperbolic, the artistic styling inside could be a career-changing work. Imagine the trippiness of Jim Steranko mixed with the frantic energy of Steve Ditko, complete with swooping curves and circular panel insets galore, and you’ve got a good start. (Rachelle Rosenberg’s bright color palette further heightens the effect with a 1960s Dayglo aesthetic.)  

Not since JH Williams III have I seen someone so committed to the idea of the page layout as another artistic element, as opposed to just a problem to be solved; of the twenty-one story pages inside, a staggering sixteen of them are designed as double-page spreads, with one holding as many as twenty-three individual panels densely packed with visual information.

New reader? No problem! More impressive still, the tale told is a single-mission done-in-one that effectively illustrates what you might expect from future issues.  Hints of an ongoing narrative are peppered throughout, but the initial story is entirely satisfying in its own regard, and is done so damn impressively that you can’t wait to see what’s in store. (This is in marked contrast to most first issues, which often feel like a TV episode’s first fifteen minutes.)

Further, the comic not just wisely steers clear of any Secret Empire entanglements, it actually requires zero knowledge of current events in the Marvel U. As a lapsed reader, I’ve no idea if this Frankie Noble is a new villain or an existing one – but that’s fine, because she’s effectively introduced, without the standard (and off-putting) assumption that of course you know who this character is.

As it is, the only real misstep is the cover.  The single color on all-white background is an interesting visual, but perhaps it’s too subtle and minimalist for its own good; I fear that this cover might not catch the eye of any readers skeptical of Marvel’s current deluge of new books, and that it fails to convey the utterly brilliant wonders found within.

9 out of 10

'Black Bolt' #1 is out now from Marvel ComicsBlack Bolt #1

Marvel Comics / $3.99

Written by Saladin Ahmed.

Art by Christian Ward.

Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles.

What’s old is new again. For the last few years, Marvel have been trying their best to make us care about the Inhumans, seemingly with the hope of transferring brand loyalty from the X-Men (the film rights to which are not owned by Marvel Studios). By and large, the readership simply has not cared, as fans have always had a knack for sensing when a publisher attempts to artificially manufacture a hit.  

This time, on the other hand, they seem to be trying something different: Instead of asking readers to buy an Inhumans book largely on concept alone – i.e., because they’re telling you it’s important – they’ve instead taken some truly stellar creators and have tasked them to come up with something amazing. Imagine that!

All-star creators. Certainly the creative team they’ve assembled is an impressive one. The comic is written by Saladin Ahmed, acclaimed Hugo and Nebula nominated sci-fi & fantasy author, and it’s clear from the start that he’s tackling a complex tale with some serious themes. Artist Christian Ward does his own share of the heavy lifting, as he supplies everything but the lettering.

Our first unsettling glimpse of Black Bolt on that foreboding cover continues inside, aided by Ward’s intentionally muddied colors; some panels look like they were illustrated with watercolors, and the deeply weird architecture that abounds only heightens the oppressiveness within.

'Black Bolt' #1 is out now from Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘Black Bolt’ #1. Art by Christian Ward/Marvel Comics

One for the fans. That said, the results are a bit of a mixed bag. While the recap page for Nick Fury #1 requires little more than a single sentence describing the character – BOOM, and you’re off! – Black Bolt gives us six full paragraphs of recap text totaling over 200 words. (Yowch.) Occasional mentions of Thanos (and Marvel’s mutants) give a sense that this is a comic firmly entrenched in the Inhumans über-plot Marvel’s been telling for the past few years.

Likewise, though we do see our protagonist already overcoming harsh odds, the story as presented is an unsteady mix of inventiveness and superhero cliché. Upon waking up chained in an unknown cell, Black Bolt quickly navigates the bizarre prison in which he finds himself. His solo explorations make for an oddly quiet first chapter, until he witnesses the torture and seeming death of a fellow inmate… at which point he encounters a standard supervillain, and gets into a standard superhero fight scene. By issue’s end, we still have far more questions than answers (even with a highly effective twist ending).

7 out of 10

Amid the onslaught of debuts Marvel has been kicking out of late, Nick Fury is truly a fine example of what works — and definitely what we’re looking for as readers.

Black Bolt #1 came out on May 3, and if you’ve already been following the current saga of the Inhumans, this is likely a must-buy. Though it’s explicitly positioned more as a comic for the existing fans (rather than designed to capture new ones), the writer and artist are both talented enough that there’s a sense of real potential.

On the other hand, Nick Fury #2 comes out next week (on May 17). If you missed picking up #1 last month, do yourself a favor next Wednesday and don’t leave the store before flipping through both issues. If you’re looking for an exciting story with jaw-dropping visuals, Nick Fury might just be what you need.

Did you read ‘Nick Fury’ #1? How about ‘Black Bolt’ #1? What did you think? Lets us know in the comments below.