I went into reading COPRA #1 not knowing what to expect. I knew that Michel Fiffe had created a Suicide Squad fan comic called Death Zone, and I was aware from the preview pages that COPRA was an original creation that was in the same vein as Suicide Squad. Beyond that, I really didn't know what I was getting into when I read my copy of COPRA #1, a monthly comic written, illustrated, produced, and distributed by Michel Fiffe. What I found is one of the most enjoyable first issues that I've read in a long time. COPRA is a sci-fi psychedelic mind bender of a superhero action comic...it's got intense, expertly orchestrated fight scenes and reality warping craziness, but it's also got characters that are interesting and I legitimately cared about them when Fiffe made it clear that everyone in COPRA is expendable.
COPRA #1 opens on the titular team being deployed on just another of what we assume are countless missions that they've dealt with before. From the first panel, I was struck by Fiffe's ability to use sequential storytelling to convey ideas efficiently. We see in the first panel a silent establishing shot that makes heavy use of negative space, and your eye is drawn to the right of the image where we see a smoking and destroyed building that pulls you into the story immediately with the question of what happened there. We learn in the following panels that the leader, "Man-Head", is the cousin of someone who lives in this unnamed, presumably foreign city, and that he has been sent here with a team to deal with whatever strange phenomena blew up that building.
Fiffe then introduces us to COPRA, and the premise of the series. The idea of the comic is similar to Suicide Squad, and the so far unseen narrator describes COPRA as a collection of, "the dangerous and the hostile" who go on "black ops outings". Right off the bat, the narrator makes it clear that the team as we see it now is not a permanent fixture, and "some died, some stuck around"...none of these characters are guaranteed to survive this mission, and this makes the stakes of the narrative a bit higher. Fiffe does a great job here of succinctly describing COPRA with great tag lines like, "The throwaways had dirty work to do," and "They've humbly described themselves as the wrath of god by way of loser assassins."
Fiffe then gets into introducing us to each member of the team through an engaging conversation between the characters. One of the strongest points of this comic is that the members of COPRA are not only appealingly weird (they look like they could be straight out of the Doom Patrol reserves), but they talk like real people. They're also pretty much all original characters except for Lite who is an obvious parody of Dr. Light. In one page, Fiffe concisely acquaints the reader with almost the entire team in just four panels through the narrator's descriptions and their pre-battle bickering with each other.
Lite is the only character who doesn't feel comfortable with some small talk before the mission...the captions describe him as a "neurotic crybaby despite a power suit", and he's the only character who is paranoid about the weird skull with a strange, lightning bolt shaped object sticking out of it. This skull, also on the striking cover of the comic, is just sitting in the back of the van with the team, and Lite points out that they could all be getting radiation poisoning from the crazy thing. We see in the above page that Fiffe has a tight shot on the skull that parallels the following tight shot on Man-Head, which foreshadows the thing's importance and instills a sense of dread in the reader. We also learn in this page that this is an "unauthorized mission", a piece of information that Fiffe drops at exactly the right moment, right before everything goes to hell.
COPRA is confronted by another elite, superpowered team who want the skull-bolt, and "Marty", who was just talking to Man-Head seconds earlier about how his kids have stopped laughing at his jokes, is impaled. Fiffe then gets into 7 solid pages of some of the most amazing superhuman action I've seen in comics in a while. Fiffe's style is extremely kinetic and he conveys a sense of movement that just leaps at you through the page. This sequence is also hyper violent and in the first few panels the neurotic Lite is killed with a machete, following through on the Fiffe's implied promise in the beginning of the book that none of the members of COPRA are safe from death. Almost no words at all are used in this sequence as utter chaos erupts and superhuman soldiers spring into action.
It's not really necessary to totally spoil what happens here, but use your imagination...there's a genuinely heart breaking set of panels where the hyper violence of the scene is halted for a brief moment to focus on this couple and what happens to them. Here, Fiffe takes this 7 page sequence of kinetic, fast paced, gruesome action and turns something that could be gratuitous into something that connects with the reader on an emotional level. These aren't just action figures banging against each other...Fiffe gives you the sense that the stakes are real for these characters, and his hyper violence comes with hyper tragedy as well.
COPRA #1 is a stellar first issue that establishes the premise of the series, the main obstacle for these characters, and the new situation that the team has to handle. The art is a really beautiful mixture of a feeling of homemade, DIY aesthetic that seems like Fiffe did it all with colored pencils, and a refined, professional look. The presentation of the comic itself, such as the highly stylized cover and inside cover, the nice paper quality, the letter from the creator on the inside back cover, is extremely professional in the way that it's been produced. Fiffe has also created trailers for the first and second issue of the series that are very cool.
Of course, this is all icing on the cake of Fiffe's compelling, action packed story with weird and interesting characters, but it was a major selling point for me when I subscribed to the next 11 issues of this series. What I find so amazing about COPRA is that it's a comic completely written, illustrated, and produced by one person and there is a concrete goal of putting an issue of the series out once a month. That's an ambitious and difficult project for one person to manage, and I enjoyed the first issue so much that I'm on board to support it. You should be too...check out COPRA #1, and the second issue is out now.