Jinxing It: Capsule Reviews from Jeff

September 19, 2014


I’m a little worried about this:  Graeme and I podcast this  very week so there’s a chance, if I do it wrong, I’ll writing about stuff here that would really benefit by me talking about it there…and yet, I think that’s a risk worth taking since I don’t want my posts to just be reviews of books “unworthy” of being talked about.

That said, there are a few stinkers talked about here, so…you’ve been warned, I guess.

LOW #1 & 2:   A lof ot Image’s current line-up feels like if you’d managed to refract the eighties incarnation of Heavy Metal magazine through a prism, then sprayed the resulting spectrum across a comic book rack: heady science fiction, funny science fiction, oddball fantasy, grimy fantasy, portentous science fiction. Remender and Tocchi’s Low is very much the latter for me—those eight or ten pages I used to thumb through as a desperate teen in search of female nudity are now blown out into a full $3.99 comic book.

So there’s a certain irony to me being annoyed by the amount of nudity in the book?  It’s fine nudity, I guess, but in each of the two issues when it happened I found myself deeply annoyed.  Remender isn’t an especially subtle writer (which is actually the kind of thing I tend to appreciate), but it makes the first issue’s opening game of strip exposition ring especially false, kind of a “hmm, what can I do to make this crazy-ass exposition dump visually interesting in the slightest? Oh, yeah: boobs and butts!”

There’s a lot of “this world is dying!” stuff in the first two issues (in fact, it’s supposed to be so important to the optimism vs. despair dynamic Remender talks about in the back pages that it’s an essential piece of the cliffhanger at the end of issue two).  But there’s no real sense of the world, just a lot of pretty sets, and the family is uninteresting:  there’s no depth to any of them, which makes the “five years later” zing of issue #2 utterly without impact.

Or… maybe I’m responding to the literal flatness of the art?  Greg Tocchini has an extrarordinary sense of color and composition but I’ve never been a fan of watercolor art.  Even as the color heightens my emotional response, specific details end up only suggested in the overall smear of expression. So the art here made me feel like I was reading a comic book through a fishbowl at the same time I was suffering from faceblindness, which isn’t the best way for me to develop an emotional attachment to characters.

But ultimately the problem rests with Remender, who has a lot of ground he wants to cover:  the way he’s chosen to do so isn’t just inelegant, it’s inefficient.  I think he might’ve been better starting us off with issue #2, teasing out a significant backstory between an optimistic-to-the-point-of-being-bonkers mom and her cynical-to-the-point-of-being-corrupt cop son.

I feel like I’m only adding to Rick Remender’s therapy bills by saying this, but I thought this was crazily dull and I’m probably off the book unless something in.

ANNIHILATOR #1:  I suspect Graeme and I will talk about this book more on the podcast, but I had to mention it here in part because it’s such a fitting contrast to Low: at least at first blush there seems to be a very similar set of thematic concerns, what with all the hedonistic despair on display.  But, of course, Grant Morrison is the King of Four Color Manic Depression, and so while he not only has way more experience steering a story into grimmer waters than Remender, I admittedly have way more experience reading these kinds of stories from Morrison.

And so while depraved screenwriter Ray Spass isn’t really any deeper a character than Low’s “my family is in tatters but oh boy an inhabitable world!” mom, Morrison at least uses those flatter characters as a way to jam in more thematic concerns and leitmotifs in a short period of time.  (Also, Frazier Irving’s art works for me in so many ways Greg Tocchini’s doesn’t.)

Mind you, Morrison’s portrait of a successful screenwriter is so diametrically opposed to just about everything I’ve ever read on the subject that I genuinely wonder how much screenwriting work he’s even tried to do in L.A., but I think it’ll be excusable if he really develops the “romantic conception of despair vs. very genuine despair” thing going on here.

And who couldn’t be charmed by “Diabolik by way of Shade The Changing Man, as told in the manner of Clive Barker”? That’s a very fun daisy-chaining of influences. I kinda can’t help but come back for the second issue of this.

finder-third-world-1FINDER: THIRD WORLD:   And this, the latest trade paperback by Carla Speed McNeil collecting the Finder pieces originally anthologized in Dark Horse Presents, shares a certain amount of thematic concerns with Low and Annihilator—I guess it’s unsurprising how much discussions of climate change and diminishing resources may be influencing works of popular fiction, right?—but, of course, both Morrison and Remender are going to pale in comparison to Carla Speed McNeil when it comes to speculative fiction.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how it is for everybody else but my volume came with a pretty large printing error:  my copy includes pages 129-152 twice while excising pages 97-128 altogether.  Hilariously, not only is McNeil one of those storytellers who likes to keep you on your toes with big jump cuts, but she’s also *wayyyy* smarter than I’ll ever hope to be…so when I first encountered the resulting storytelling shift, I just figured I’d hit the inevitable point in every Finder volume where I get confused and baffled.  But, uh, nope.  Printer’s error.

Hopefully, by the time I podcast with Graeme, I’ll have a chance to exchange this for a properly printed volume.  Those first 96 pages are ace, though!

BEE AND PUPPYCAT #3: The book’s still cute as hell, but this is my final issue: the stories are stunted, fragmented things, and even more so when you break them across two or three issues  Everyone working on the book have chops, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of craft on display, if that makes sense?  Or maybe I’m just missing how much of the humor in the book works on anticlimax?  If so, it shouldn’t be too hard to do a complete anticlimactic story in one issue, right?  I mean, I admit it’s actually funnier to take a completely anticlimactic story and stretch it across several issues…but that’s what I read superhero comics for, damn it.

THE WHEDON THREEWAY: Cringe-inducing name, but a great bit of comics marketing:  three full-length issues for $1, and a chance to check in on the Buffyverse?  As a fromer BTVS fan, I’ll take that ride!

That said, I’m apparently not enough of a fan, because these all failed to hold my interest in some crucial way.  As I wrote all the way back on the Savage Critic about Buffy Season 8 (and, wow, great, I can’t even find one of my own posts, nice work), those comics tended toward big action beats and sweeping developments to the mythos. While I myself tend to pick up the books in the hopes of seeing more of the character interaction that hooked me on the TV show.

Both of the first issues for Buffy and Angel & Faith are heavy on the spectacle—which really seems like a sensible alternative to the traditional “frozen status quo” of a lot of licensed comics (though I think maybe the Season 8 series has changed that dynamic across the board)—but it didn’t seem especially interesting to me. Considering how much Buffy (the TV show) bit from Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, I kinda figured Buffy (the comic book) would move closer to that dynamic.  But, I dunno.

Maybe it was because the big emotional beat in the issue resolves some stuff with Giles not in any way on my radar? Or maybe because this title’s last season was more about the emotional stuff and this issue is tnow rying to bring back a lot of big action?  But either way, it was an issue of Buffy that convinced me that I’m doing right by me to keep passing on the title. And I’ve just never really been especially interested in the characters of Angel or Faith on their own, so it’s going to be doubly hard to rouse my interest in a title starring both.

One thing worth noting is I thought the Buffy and A&F issues both had really good art:  Rebekah Isaacs manages to have a style that manages to strike a nice balance between cartoony looseness and a fidelity to the character’s features. She may not be well-suited to the larger scale action in the issue, but I’m not sure if it’s her fault the script doesn’t really make clear why the heroes are losing until they’re not.  And Will Conrad’s work on Angel & Faith is pretty remarkable by having a far more photo-realistic take on the characters without having the usual problems of stiffness or inappropriate expressions you can get in heavily photo referenced work. He seems like someone DC would particularly eager to put through the New52 meat grinder, but some of his DC stuff I’m peeping at on the Web seems kinda generic.  Maybe his chops have developed since then?

Anyway, I thought both Isaacs and Conrad’s contributions were noteworthy.

You may notice I’m keeping pretty mum about Leaves on the Wind #1, the Firefly issue? I figure I’ve done enough carping for one 60+ page dollar promotional issue.  I don’t like Zack Whedon’s work, Georges Jeanty’s work leaves me cold, and I’m now starting to wonder if I ever really liked Firefly?  I watched the show, saw Serenity in the theater, so I must’ve been emotionally invested in somehow, right?  But by the time flashback Wash shows up to utter the (quasi-)titular line, I found myself all-but-groaning aloud .  “Jesus, get over it already,” muttered Crabby-Man.  “That movie is almost a decade old, let it go already,” he thought, explicitly ignoring the point that the book is set nine months after the events of the film (and so also ignoring the entire hook of the miniseries).

So yeah, the Firefly issue is really not for me.  But…I still think it was a great way for Dark Horse to promote these books? Assuming there are still people out in the world who aren’t so crabby and particular, this is a great way to get the material into their hands. If one of the books had really rung my chimes, there’s a good chance I would’ve hunted down at least the next issue.

TEEN DOG #1: Bad decisions made all the way around here.  Why did they make a comic about Poochie?  Why did I buy a comic about Poochie?   I mean, they made a comic about Poochie because they clearly believed people would buy a comic about Poochie, and I did indeed buy a comic about Poochie, so in theory Boom!’s logic was actually flawless, but…?

And it’s worth pointing out that Jake Lawrence is doing a very post-modern “Teen Dog as the Fonz” comic, with visions of mind-melting transcendence intermittently popping up among all the deliberately generic all-ages high school comic strip gags. I mean, if Jim Starlin suddenly started writing and drawing Archie, you wouldn’t hear me complaining, would you?  (Graeme, yes, but me and Chad Nevett?  No.)

It’s possible Lawrence has bigger fish to fry, and there’ll be some kind of meta-commentary on how mass market pop culture renders the  crazily bizarre (talking skateboarding dog obsessed with pizza) into the utterly unnoteworthy, and so stifles our ability to apprehend with wonder and awe and thus keep us from the genuinely transcendent?  But, honestly, it just seems to me like the kind of ironic re-appropriation needed these days required to move con merch.  “What is it?” asked Crabby-Man, leaning on the cane he didn’t even need to use.  “Did everyone decide Scott Pilgrim’s emotional and thematic issues just got in the way of all the great pop references?”  I gave Bee and Puppycat three issues; Teen Dog isn’t even going to get to issue number two with me.  Sorry, Teen Dog!


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5 comments on “Jinxing It: Capsule Reviews from Jeff

  1. Annihilator reminded me a lot of Change (which in turn reminded me a lot of The Invisibles and The Filth) and not in a good way. I cannot really decide if It felt shallow and out of touch or like a more streamlined version of The Filth aimed towards Hollywood producers.

    • Jeff Lester Sep 21, 2014

      Alin: it is a tough one. I’m not surprised that you were underwhelmed since I share some of your concerns. Nonetheless, I decided to ride my current wave of Grant Morrison good will as far as it will take me. We’ll see if I make it to the shore or just wipe out…

  2. Zaragosa Sep 20, 2014

    Jeff, thank you for pointing out the extraordinarily lazy and cringe-inducing exposition dump of dialogue between the nekkid folks at the beginning of LOW #1. I am someone who wants to like Rick Remender’s writing, I really do — he seems to have fine ideas for comics, and he has impeccable taste in the artists that he pairs himself with: Craig, Scalera, and Tocchini are all blindingly great artists, for my money. However, the writing in the first issues of both LOW and BLACK SCIENCE is objectively bad writing. I know that most believe Art is subjective, and technically, I suppose it is. But dear Lord, to read the narration in that first issue of BLACK SCIENCE, which was about as utterly lacking in subtext and wildly redundant as anything I have ever read, was painful beyond measure. As far as LOW, I could not get further than 10 pages in that first issue before putting it down, even though I thought the art was stunning. Both of these books seem to have been generally well reviewed, which, to me, points to the paucity of sophisticated or considered critical insight when it comes to “pop” comic book reviewing (i.e. genre comics). Because there really is not much room for debate when it comes to how poorly executed the dialogue and narration are throughout both of those Remender first issues. Just dreadfully clumsy stuff, which sucks, because the art is masterfully done. Again, I feel like Remender has wonderful ideas for comics and clearly loves the medium, but he seems to need an editor big-time (no shame in that) or a writing group or just someone to go through his scripts with a red pen, and help him trim out the clunky bits where people SAY EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE THINKING WITH NO SUBTEXT AT ALL TIMES (Black Science) or SPEAK IN ABSURDLY STILTED, UNNATURAL WAYS IN ORDER TO EXPLAIN BACKSTORY AND PLOT (Low). I am going to try reading the DEADLY CLASS trade, because, again, Wes Craig’s art looks gorgeous. Plus, the collection has a quote from David Lapham on the cover and he happens to be a brilliant writer, so I’m gonna trust his blurb. Btw, why on earth are you and Graeme not discussing the new STRAY BULLETS run? It is fucking fantastic — Lapham is such a singular kind of genius, for my money, and there is a ton of stuff to “unpack” in his work, as only you guys can do, in gloriously idiosyncratic fashion. Anyway, thanks for the show, as always… And thanks to both of you for frequently taking contrarian views on “critically acclaimed” books, as I tend to find your reasons fascinating, whether I agree or disagree.

    • Jeff Lester Sep 21, 2014

      Thanks for the comments, Z! I’m glad I’m not alone in this, and I think you make a good point about critical insight and “pop” reviewing. It does seem like a lot of the best reviewers either move along to non-pop comic work or to non-reviewing altogether.

      And you’re right about Remender’s choice in artists: he has superb taste.

  3. I really enjoyed Annihilator#1 despite not one character being likeable, the parts that were suppose to be funny falling flat and the premise being a tired retread of Morrison’s major themes.
    I really don’t get it, what the hell was it about this issue that made me like it so much?

    Yeah sure it could be because that coin falling bit was pretty neat, that there was a bunch of clever repeating imagery ideas with the black hole/full stop/tumor/hole in the lawn and obviously Frazer Irving is doing amazing work, but I don’t think that’s it.

    Now that I think about it I think its because I saw the protagonist as the worst aspects of Morrison’s public persona and not only would there be 5 issues of kicking the shit out of him but it might end with Morrison landing on some sort of personal realization about himself and his work. That what I was hoping for, but a more likely prediction is that the protagonist is the worst aspects of Mark Millar’s persona and this will be be 6 issues of Morrison working out his frustration with an old friend.

    Reading too much of a creators personal life into a comic? Seeing stuff that probably isn’t there? Critiquing the inner lives of people I’ve never met? Only here on WaitWhatPodcast.com!