Between Archie’s Cosmo and Titan’s Atlas & Axis, 2018 is already proving a strong year for all-ages comics. Lion Forge’s upcoming series, Encounter, looks to join their company. With a tag line that wouldn’t be out of place on a horror title (“Prepare for your first encounter!”), the smiling, spotted face of Encounter on the cover makes sure no one gets the wrong idea.
I’ve never read Art Baltazar and Franco’s series, Aw Yeah Comics, but remember seeing their covers, too, and, after thinking the name of the comic shop in Encounter sounded familiar, put two and two together. As far as I know Encounter hasn’t been marketed as part of the Aw Yeah universe, but I enjoyed making the connection (though it’s not necessary to understand the story) and thought it was a smart way of laying the groundwork for a possible crossover without creating confusion over whether you need to read other books first (you don’t).
Co-storied by Baltazar, Franco, and Chris Giarrusso (Giarusso also draws, colors, and letters), Encounter’s first opponent is Gadget Man and the opening pages waste no time drawing them into conflict. The messenger bag Gadget Man’s carrying is full of yellow and green-spotted eggs. Encounter calls them “pods” and the word’s not unimportant, since when Gadget Man hits the ground hard, they remain intact, unlike regular eggs would.
How did Gadget Man get his hands on these unborn encounters, and is that the name of Encounter’s species or just our alien hero? Issue one only cracks the surface of Encounter’s origin story, but there are a surprising number of twists and turns along the way. Thanks to how the issue’s structured, you’re not made to suspect that Encounter’s physical appearance has gone through so many transformations. What’s great though, is once you realize how it all began, you can trace Encounter’s trajectory in Giarusso’s art. What he looks like now is a variation on what he looked like when he was born, and that reveal is the best part, because while I never would’ve put it together on my own, it clicks in a very satisfying way. Another small detail is the “U” in Encounter‘s logo incorporating Encounter’s antenna. They later are the subject of Baltazar and Franco’s backup story, “Antenna Frequency.”
The transition out of Encounter’s backstory, back to the present day, could be more organic, and the quick erasure of Encounter’s problem communicating with his sidekick doesn’t add anything to the plot. While having Encounter’s ability to change forms not extend to language starts out as a cool way of setting limits on Encounter’s powers, he’s then able to muster a solution out of nowhere that doesn’t pay-off.
A little bit Horton the Elephant meets Clifford the Big Red Dog, it’s very easy to imagine kids taking to Encounter‘s characters, and the possibilities for pretend play are endless. A pair of rubber gloves and green shorts are all that’s required for an Encounter costume and their actions are very mimicable, too. Who wouldn’t want to catch an exploding cube in their fist and smother the blast, like Encounter, or type into a keypad on their arm like Gadget Man? The strong colors pop off the page and into your heart and should have kids flying to their local comic book stores in no time.
Encounter #1 goes on sale this week on March 14th, 2018.