Friday, December 02, 2011
Review: The Phoenix Issue Zero
The Phoenix has arrived, and it's looking good.
Considered by many to be the reincarnation of, or successor to, The DFC, the new weekly comic will be a welcome sight for those who were saddened when The DFC folded. In my view The Phoenix is a considerable improvement on The DFC, at least from the evidence of this preview issue.
My main problem with The DFC was that its content was aimed at too wide an age group, with younger-readers strips sitting uncomfortably alongside material for older readers. In my experience (as we learned with Oink! in 1986) this divides and alienates the audience from certain strips that are either too young or too old for them. With The Phoenix, this isn't a problem. The tone of the material is even and the result makes for a better comic.
Perhaps comparisons to The DFC are unfair, so with that out of the way how does The Phoenix hold up on its own merits? Extremely well. All of the material is of a very high standard indeed and the design of the comic is clutter-free and easy on the eye. With high quality printing and good paper stock this really looks the business.
In the tradition of children's comics of old, The Phoenix has a fictitious editorial team (the characters seen on Matt Baxter's cover) and this will no doubt serve as a good way to welcome young readers. Indeed, the comic is unashamedly and firmly aimed at children, but the high standard and variety of the creators involved should make it an appealing purchase for adult comic fans and pros as well.
The comic kicks off with a four page prelude to The Pirates of Pangaea by Daniel Harwell and Neil Cameron. The strip begins at the start of a voyage into unknown territory, and, for many young readers, that will no doubt mirror their experience of reading The Phoenix as their first comic. Set in 1717 and with a female hero, it's an intriguing opening chapter.
A regular feature of The Phoenix will be an extract from a children's book. In this instance it's To Be a Cat by Pete Williamson. It's good to see a text story in a comic again, and it reflects the editorial attitude of The Phoenix being influenced more by children's books than comics. This is a positive thing as it gives The Phoenix its own identity.
My favourite strip in the issue was James Turner's Star Cat. Fantastically daft and very amusing, as his Super Animal Adventure Squad had been for The DFC.
There's a two page article in strip form explaining the basics of How to Make Funny Comics. Now this is the sort of activity page I like; encouraging kids to make comics! There's another activity page at the back called The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan by Lorenzo Etherington. It's a puzzle page, but, again, in strip form. An excellent use of comics.
Corpse Talk by Alan Murphy is a strange strip. Strange in a good way though. It seems that in every issue a dead historical figure will be dug up and interviewed, wherein the corpse explains his/her history and achievements. This issue it's Amelia Earhart. Next time it's Nikola Tesla. This has to be the most bizarre educational strip idea ever seen in a childrens' comic. Brilliant.
Every issue of The Phoenix will feature a complete, one-off story. Issue Zero features The Apprentice written by Ben Haggarty with dark cartoony artwork by John Welding telling a tale of demons being summoned. Very nice work.
Fans of Jamie Smart will be pleased to hear that he's on board with a new strip, Bunny vs Monkey. The usual Jamie bonkersness and sure to be another hit.
As a free preview issue this is a very impressive debut for all concerned and it bodes very well for the regular weekly when it arrives on January 7th. I've always maintained that if a comic wants to succeed it must be unique, as Comic Cuts, The Dandy, Eagle, 2000AD, and Viz were when they launched. In that regard The Phoenix definitely has its own identity and, if it can spark an interest in those elusive, indifferent readers of today, I'm sure it'll be a success.