Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday Is Spelled "IDW" For All I Care #121

Duke Nukem: Glorious Bastard #1
Hero Comics 2011
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (2011)

Duke Nukem: Glorious Bastard #1 (IDW Publishing, 2011, $3.99)
Duke Nukem never did it for me. I appreciated that the guy was a sexist alpha male parody, and the games played okay, but I couldn't get involved. His stories were lame, and his personality consisted of regurgitated Ash/Jack Burton quotes (sometimes verbatim.) Decent premise, but weak, lazy execution.

This Duke Nukem comic is about as bad as the games, better in some respects, but far worse in others. It reminds me of how the Beastie Boys tried to make fun of the frat boys that came to their shows by mimicking them, went method by getting lost in a sea of beer and assholery, wound up hating themselves, and made Paul's Boutique. Nothing like that last part here, though. Not even a Some Old Bullshit.

Instead of lampooning, Duke Nukem reads like jocko homo literature; nothing but swagger and attempts at humor so base and tired that they make Larry the Cable Guy look like George Carlin. It isn't completely mindless, since the writer has clearly seen some classic war movies to emulate, and there's enough dialogue to keep you reading (time-wise) for a bit. I guess the production values are decent, overall. Still, this is a fine example of why asking $4 for a comic book just isn't sustainable across an industry. It only takes a few of these before you're twenty bucks poorer with nothing to show for it.

Hero Comics 2011 (IDW Publishing, 2011, $3.99)
Besides wishing to support a worthy cause, one of the reasons I tend to buy the Hero and Liberty Comics annuals is because they attract premium talent to the unreliable but sometimes rewarding anthology format. For too many years, publishers used the format to try out underripe creators, while veterans used them to draw a quick paycheck, giving anthologies a bad name. Knowing these charity books are more widely read and prestigious, contributors bring their "A" game, and in the case of Hero Comics, there's always a few autobiographical sob stories that win you over with veracity if craft fails. The book delivers, with one lengthy exception:

  • My Last Landlady by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg is the best story of the lot, straight out of the gate. It reads like a folk tale, and the impressionistic art paints emotions more than subjects.
  • This Is My Story by Christopher Ivy is another in a reliable series of one page stories about comic creators living in a van down by the river. I think I remember this guy as an inker, but his full art is quite good.
  • Chew is an indie hit that didn't really do it for me in long form, and his usual creators gain no traction in short, either. If you dig Layman & Guillory, you'll likely be pleased.
  • My Hero by Jason Craig is another single page autobiography with nice art, so it's golden.
  • Once Upon a Time is for Sam Kieth completists only. In his quasi-childlike style, Kieth turns quotes from his co-creators' emails during the slow production of "My Last Landlady" into something vaguely resembling a narrative. There's either too many pictures or too much text, depending on your interests, but it seems likely to frustrate both crowds.
  • Hero Initiative by Ralph Reese uses old-timey comic strip characters and a few super-heroes in a retirement home as mouthpieces for the charity. It works through novelty and brevity.
  • An Elephantmen story closes out the book, with lovely art by Dougie Braithwaite making up for Richard Starking's maudlin story.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (IDW Publishing, 2011, $3.99)
I have a long, stupid, pointless history with TMNT. Like most readers, I first became aware of them through ads for comic book mail order shops that heralded their "hotness" and sold seemingly every available issue for an inflated price. I bought something like a seventh printing of the first issue at a shop in 1988 or so, but didn't "get it" get it. Growing up on Ambush Bug and Cracked, I was expecting it to actually be funny, instead of straight-faced satire-- if you can even call it that. Comic fans are asked to take a lot at face value, and plagiarism is a fact of life, so a Daredevil/Fantastic Four mash-up didn't come across as particularly askew. However, the cartoon came along surprisingly soon, which was the first (and still pretty much the only) time actual comic book creators got rewarded with all the riches of a multi-media sensation. The cartoon was surprisingly solid, and I bought a set of the Turtles in action figure form. I tried more issues of the original comics, the Archie adaptation, later projects by the creators, and the first feature film. Some of it was pleasant enough, but as a phenomenon, I couldn't wrap my brain around it.

I of course now realize some important truths. The first is that neither Kevin Eastman nor Peter Laird are especially good as creators, because they've had virtually no further creative or financial success, and never seemed to exactly beat away non-TMNT publishing offers. The second is that the only appreciable difference between the pair and their legions of imitators was that they got there first, and borrowed from better material, rather than having to replicate their own mediocre output. The third truth is that TMNT were part of a cultural zeitgeist that targeted children, and I wasn't a child. I loved the Muppets as a kid, and if I had any of my own, I might enjoy sharing that love by taking them to that new Muppets movie coming out. We could bond over comfort and my hope the kids could appreciate the new feature the way I had the original Muppets Movie. I never had that with TMNT, and I don't really have much use for the Muppets anymore either, so the pop culture circle of life ends there. Without nostalgia and/or target demographics, there isn't much to TMNT, so they might as well be anthropomorphic slap bracelets.

This brings me to the revisionist TMNT relaunch. Just like the many times DC Comics has done this thing (memory only has to go back to the last several shipping weeks,) there's a ton of superficial change for change's sake, characters introduced earlier to fit into a streamlined cosmology, but most importantly, decompression out the yah-yah. There is not a single story in this book, but instead a bunch of subplots that run for a number of pages each with the full expectations that readers are already versed in the franchise and committed to each issue or the trade collection. It's boring, plodding, forgettable, and poorly realized in text and visuals. It's a book that expects adults to take pizza eating reptiles with martial arts prowess very seriously, which again in the world of comics isn't too much to ask, but I've yet to be offered a compelling reason in nearly a quarter-century to do so. I can kind of understand why this exists and who it is for, but that person isn't me, and I simply expect better than this from even licensed product revolving around properties that mean nothing to me. It seems to me the only thing separating IDW from Dynamite is the veneer of prestige offered by quality reprints of other publisher's old material.

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