I’d reviewed Lightning Strike #2 last month with a lot to dissect with the anthology, and had many misgivings about the quality of some of the titles within. The content of the second anthology proved Lightning Strike still had a lot to learn, and in some cases needed more room to feel confident in its own skin. Since then (and to my surprise), the Lightning Strike crew were grateful for my review and understood where they could improve a bit more.
Although in between that time from the release of Lightning Strike #2 and my review, the third iteration was already being produced. I held some trepidation about this new comic, but during a hearty chat with the Lightning Strike crew at Arcadecon, I’d flipped through a copy of Lightning Strike #3. After a quick glance of the much improved quality of the book, I took a chance and dove right back in again.
Lightning Strike #3 is a sleeker, trimmed down version of its predecessor: there are four full stories, one short story, and, save for the newest installment of A Clockwork Universe, all of them are fresh and new. Whether the stories from Lightning Strike #2 will be continued in a later anthology or given their own spinoff book is another story, but right now the effects of the new breathing room are obvious. The clunky unevenness from issue #2 has been cleaved away, for now.
Let’s remember that Lightning Strike is still a project affected by the noodly deadlines and efforts of indie collaboration, but #3 is the example of the title taking a massive stride in getting better and hitting some right notes. Although there are still a few things in this issue that could have a little more ‘oomph’ to it, it also contains evidence of the anthology finally trying to do it right.
There are five stories in total in Lighting Strike #3, each with their own hits and misses, but, regardless, #3 is a better product than #2 by far. Let’s see what we have here:
Customs (writer: Mike and David Lynch, artist: Kevin Weldon) – a very interesting story (hopefully the beginning of a series?) about alien immigration and customs control, after a scientist named Jeff Driscoll successfully attracts extraterrestrial attention to Earth, and opening up an intergalactic trade route. A smart, witty script and Wheldon’s art blend rather nicely to bring the frustrations of alien beings bringing strange things to Earth (and how far they’re willing to go to stop their goods being confiscated), and Driscoll’s new alien business partners being weary of his lack of sobriety during meetings. It cuts off rather abruptly at the end, so I wonder if this will be continued very soon.
While Weldon’s characters are expressive, more could have been done with the layouts and backgrounds. The pages as a whole look sparse and empty without any texture or gradient – if the comic was going to end up with flatted colours, maybe some thin hatching or cleaner lineart could be utilised, or have some coloured lineart, to at least lift the art a bit more. Other than that, if Lightning Strike needed a new headline comic, Customs would be it (it’s also on the glorious cover art by Luca Pizzari).
Spector (writer and artist: Luca Pizarri) – now THIS is more like it. A gorgeous maroon and lemon palette with arresting layouts frame this story, which is about a reporter getting an anonymous tip on an occurrence at a museum. Turns out she records the appearance of a mysterious caped hero called Spector, beating to a pulp several Roman Centurions on jetbikes, and who in the process saves her life too.
This is the first Lightning Strike story I have read that’s told from a female perspective, or at least have an active female lead. The effective use of colour and layout make Spector the most artistically accomplished Lightning Strike strip so far, making the other strips look sadly colourless in comparison. My only complaint is that the caption boxes are spaced oddly rather than wholly adhering to or even complementing the frame they’re narrating, which takes a while to mentally piece together and read in order. That aside, the rest of the Lightning Strike art team should learn from this one, and hit this standard with all of their future content.
And Now…. (writer: Stu Perrins, artist: Israel Huertas) – a spoof advertisement at the centre of the book, advertising a ‘Adopt A Zombie’ campaign and how you should own one. Nice idea, and funny, but not laugh out loud funny – there is some weird spacing going on in the speech bubbles after every apostrophe, which could have been easily fixed.
Status Quo (writer and artist: Pete Hernandez III) – a story about a cleanup crew that removes fresh corpses made by the ‘mishaps’ of supernatural beings, who get a call from a vampire to clean up his latest ‘feed’, including killing a witness to the body and disposing the bitten victim via acidic bath. The lead clean up guy is rather tired of his latest client leaving his entrails around, and leaves him with a warning. The script jumps from snarky, snappy one-liners to another – for all of the speaking lines – ala an episode of a C.S.I. show and, including the sheer apathy over the disposal of the bodies, the cleanup crew are unlikeable as a result.
Hernandez’s art has some weird things attributed to it – it’s tugging itself between 2D flat versus 3D airbrush shading for skin tones and clothing, and along with uncanny facial designs, it renders the characters into looking like plastic heads on cardboard cutouts. The figures have shifting proportions between panels and an inharmonious relation to the backgrounds, making some of them at least three to twenty feet tall when standing in a crowd scene, and look really out of context as a whole.
A Clockwork Universe (writer: Ciaran Marcantonio, artist: Cormac Hughes) – again, the further adventures of Baron Thornbridge III, Penelope Von Meowinstein and the deceased Lord Thornbridge as the Q.U.A.S.A.R. beams them onto an alien ship far into the future. While fighting and fleeing from their captors, they meet a character called Captain Jeremiah Issac Thornbridge, who asks for their assistance in time warping away from The End of the Universe. The layouts look neater and more directed than the previous part of the story, with dialogue and panels given even breathing room.
Lightning Strike #3 is indeed a better sum of its parts than the previous issue, and hopefully seems set on going this direction with its works. The anthology is still on a path of learning the ropes, but the improvement here is obvious. If anything, start with this one instead.