Back when this website used to be called the Sidekickcast, all we talked about was comics, we lived and breathed comics. Times have changed, we’ve moved on, and until now we’ve intentionally not talked about comics, that’s about to change, consider yourselves forewarned.
Blackhand Ironhead is the latest release from Panel Syndicate, the pay-what-you-want website/publisher set-up by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin to digitally publish their Eisner Award-winning story, The Private Eye. Since then Panel Syndicate has become a home for other creators looking to tell their own stories, unfettered by the restrictions of the main publishers and their outdated commercial reimbursement models.
Blackhand Ironhead #1 introduces us to a world where superheroes and villains are almost a thing of the past, instead of fighting each other in the streets, those with superpowers now have to join the Foundation’s Fight League AKA The Cages to test their mettle against the mightiest competitors. We’re introduced to this world by Alexia Ross, a second generation super-powered person whose father, the eponymous Ironhead, set-up the Foundation in the first place. To say anymore would give away too much and I have no wish to spoil but lets just say everything is neither ‘rosy’ nor what they appear to be.
In this first issue at least there is a very strong C.O.W.L. vibe, the style is very different but the set-up of a super-powered league with clandestine origins feels familiar at least. That series took itself quite seriously and was more focused on the political machinations of the trade-union movement, this book already feels that it will be focused more on character and what it means to be family. This is not a superhero book even though it has superheroes in it, maybe it will be come one but even if it does, it’s definitely trying to bring you something different. Other than his long run on the original Fallen Angel series with Peter David, Lopez has mostly covered short runs in ongoing series from Marvel and DC Comics as an artist only. Blackhand Ironhead is Lopez’ first foray into realm of ‘creator’ where he is the writer and the artist but you wouldn’t be able to tell, the story flows well and unfolds each twist through natural characterization.
Like most of the content on Panel Syndicate this book feels fresh, there is some strong world-building on display and the art makes the pages pop without distracting too much from point of the story, which is the characters. There’s enough new stuff here to keep even the most cynical comic fan intrigued and with the pay-what-you-want model, why wouldn’t you give it a go? On that model, I wanted to declare how I do it; I pay €1.00 for every first issue I buy from Panel Syndicate and then if I like the book I pay full price for each following issue which I consider to be €2.99. You do what you want but I think this is fair and so far I have not been disappointed.