This one offers up seven issues of comic book goodness, of fledgling superheroics combined with juicy horror elements. THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN, following the lycanthropic adventures of a young captain of industry, is another one of Robert Kirkman's creator-owned series, and Kirkman unsurprisingly again delivers. When Gary Hampton is savaged in the woods by a bear, it turns out it wasn't a bear. Strange stuff begins to happen, starting with Gary's miraculously rapid recovery and followed by his jaunts out into the night, of which he only ever has a vague memory. But, eventually, Gary learns the truth, that he's now cursed to be a werewolf.
And what does he do with this? He decides to become a superhero.
It starts out as a rosy picture, Gary's life. Runs his own company. Has a loving wife and teenaged daughter. Posh digs. And a butler. Even his initial clocking in as rookie costumed crimefighter starts off promisingly (he teams up with a superhero group - horribly called the Actioneers - and gets to beat up on a gooey supervillain). Dude's secret lair is underneath a mall. There's even a Wolf Car.
Then, gradually, things start to sour. Firstly, dude's a werewolf, and it shouldn't be such a shock that the wife and daughter find it challenging coming to grips. Then, there's this: once a month, on the first night of the full moon, the curse is at its most irresistible, and the wolf is rendered uncontrollable. Gary learns this in the worst way possible.
Not to mention, Gary is being mentored by a vampire, an honest-to-goodness bloodsucker. There are surely trust issues here.
As if that's not bad enough: the Astounding Wolf-Man has a run-in with a pack of werewolves, this pack seemingly with a personal grudge against his vampire mentor. Then his do-gooder status is called into question (the newspapers dare to ask "Hero or Killer?"). And the superhero team (with the lame name) which Gary had once fought alongside with comes looking for him, suddenly harboring a vendetta.
On the personal side: the husband-wife relationship is slowly crumbling. His daughter stops wanting to hug him. And wealth, it turns out, is ephemeral. And maybe love, too.
You can tell Robert Kirkman is having fun, because he's gleefully putting his lead character thru the wringer. This trade, THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN Vol. 1, collects issues #1-7 of the bi-monthly ongoing series (although it went monthly with #8). I actually caught the debut issue during Image Comics' 2007 Free Comic Book Day, although the bi-monthly schedule made it hard for me to stick with this series. Which is why this trade comes in so handy.
Robert Kirkman is writing some of the best comic book stuff currently going, what with his hit zombie series WALKING DEAD and his so cool teen superhero series INVINCIBLE (and I'm currently reading his Tech Jacket Volume 1: The Boy From Earth trade). Kirkman is all kinds of prolific, and one wonders how he's able to keep penning so many titles. In reading THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN, the first impression is that Gary seems to be going 'round in circles, patrolling at night and scrapping with super-villains. During the day, it's family crisis time, as his personal relationships slowly circle down the drain. But, as Kirkman himself has mentioned, nothing much seemed to be happening with INVINCIBLE either, during the early issues. And, then - Pow! Bam! - he sprung that trapdoor under you feet (remember when Omni-Man was once deemed the greatest superhero in the world?)! So, me, I'm being patient with this series, giving Kirkman time to develop things. THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN is slow at exploring this particular corner of the werewolf mythos, true, but there are some interesting "Oh, snap!" moments which Kirkman throws in. Check out issues #2 and #7, to see how quickly the status quo changes. Anyway, now that this series is on a monthly schedule, I'm back on board again, and very, very curious (Just what exactly is the Elder Brood? Hint: Gary is one).
Note that the Wolf-Man's exploits take place in the same universe as that of Invincible, Brit, and Tech Jacket, so expect cross-overs in future issues. But, for now, there's the Actioneers, playing a key role. Note also that the supervillains have been largely forgettable. In fact, there's almost a casual, throw-away feel to the way Kirkman writes the superhero battles, as if that's not where the true narrative punch lies. Thing is, the Wolf-Man is a creature of the supernatural, and there's so much more to dig up from that source.
One downside is that, in my opinion, Jason Howard's artwork doesn't match Kirkman's storytelling. Howard's style isn't what you'd call polished; it's more cartoony than anything, although it undeniably has a clean look and an energetic vibe to it. For whatever it's worth, I do like how he draws the Wolf-Man. It's the rest of it that bugs me. But, if you dig his illustrations, this trade also comes with 20 bonus pages of sketches, concept designs, and rough cover drafts by Jason Howard.
I like this series quite a bit, so it actually wouldn't surprise me at all should I find Howard's stuff growing on me. Meanwhile, Kirkman keeps whetting my appetite. After the shocking developments in issue #7, I had to pick up issues #8 & 9, and, well, things don't get any cushier for our man Gary.
So, go ahead, give THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN a try. It's a werewolf in tights, for cripes' sake! Now that's entertainment!