Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wednesday Is An Awkward Reunion For All I Care #154

Aquaman #10 (2012)
Minutemen #1
Spider-Men #1
Youngblood #71

Aquaman #10 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
I've had occasional pangs of regretful indecision when it's come to the Aquaman revival. It's a top selling book involving the classic Sea King I prefer with magnificent art. This is the month when I preorder the #0 issue, or not, as the plan has been to go no further. Reading this issue helps me stick to the plan.

The first eight pages (a.k.a. half the book) involve a super-secret agent invading Black Manta's layer, facing security, and getting shot. There's a twist to his identity that remains a twist for about one panel, because the writing is immediately on the wall as to the ultimate fate of said identity. The arc is after all about the legacies a father can leave a son. Speaking of which, the entire rest of the issue involves Aquaman and Manta fighting over their daddy issues, with Shin illustrating a hyperbolic comment made last issue. I know comics are about showing rather than telling, but if you can tell me exposition in a panel (as Shin already did) and get on with the story, do that. Instead, most of this issue reads as belaboring of stuff already established.

As for the art, I'm definitely starting not to care. Prado's inks have serious issues with wonkeye, and I flip right past the two page spreads at this point, since this book renders them meaningless. Aquaman punched Manta. It was a random punch. That barely rates a panel. Fuck Geoff Johns' indulgent plotting and sparse dialogue. Fuck Ivan Reis' aftermarket value and splash abuse. Fuck Aquaman. My money is better spent anywhere.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 (DC, 2012, $3.99)
The good new is that Darwyn Cooke is trying really hard, so at least I felt like I read $3.99 worth of effort. The bad news is that an effort is exactly how this reads. The book starts with a bunch of symbolic transitions, and then the writer's proxy dismisses them as too ambitious and pretentious for him. From there begins an illustrated adaptation of "Under The Hood," the faux book excerpted in Watchmen. Again, literally, this is just a sexed up translation of those prose pieces.

I haven't read Watchmen in a few years, but my memory of it was that it was very deliberately not comic-booky. It was basically Hollywood Babylon in tights. When I see Nite Owl jump from an overturning car to push innocent bystanders out of the way, I can't help noting how completely impossible that would be in anything resembling reality. Moore had characters like Rorschach push the limits of what was humanly possible, but retained just enough plausibility for someone who's game to suspend belief and accept it. When Hooded Justice is doing that Batman thing of disappearing and reappearing in plain sight, it's the comic book equivalent of going full retard.

The book seems to be "mature" for mature readers' sake, as well, which only heightens the cognitive dissonance between Dave Gibbons' Minutemen and Cooke's. The most egregious example is when racial epithets get thrown about in a scene more reminiscent of Mel Brooks than Alan Moore, and come to think of it, so did that one guy pissing himself. The New Frontier was a nostalgic whitewashing of what became Watchmen tropes, which worked for DC's Silver Age properties. Here it comes across a form of comedy that your grandparents laughed at, but leaves you scratching your head. It's post-punk Tin Pan Alley; James Brown doing the Charleston; two old things that don't fit together and aren't relevant to your life today.

Finally, there doesn't seem to be much story in this story. Cooke seems to feel the need to introduce eight protagonists through individual vignettes across twenty-six pages. He accomplishes this goal, however redundant it might seem to Watchmen readers, but there's nothing left afterward. Sure, the final segment foreshadows what they'll do as a team, but after reading the prequel to the credit sequence of the Zack Snyder movie, I feel no compulsion to continue further up the narrative bunghole. I was more involved in the pirate back-up strip after two pages, frankly.

Spider-Men #1 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
This is the part where I point out that in the olden days, everything that happened in this book would have been the first few pages of an old Marvel Team-Up, and then likely would have told a complete adventure from there. Now that I've got that oft-repeated negativity out of the way, let me say that this was a good read in its time. While it would have been nice to meet the new Spider-Man Miles Morales instead of springing him on the tail end of an old school Peter Parker joint, Brian Michael Bendis handles Spidey 1.5 better than I've read in a long time (or okay, Slott's FCBD entry.) He was funny without mugging, self-deprecating without being pathetic, and he looked marvelous under the pen of Sara Pichelli. I got to the end of a Web-Head comic and was interested in reading more, which is no small feat.

Youngblood #71 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
I was a Rob Liefeld fan in the early '90s, so I read most of his early Image books, and they were all pretty revolting. A well received revival has been launched, lending indy cred and (*gasp*) writing talent to the "new" old books with Marvel math "continued" numberings. Bloodstrike is the one I'm most looking forward to sampling, since I've gotten a kick out of Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash, and he seems to be shooting for "so faithful it's a parody." I'm not a huge Erik Larsen fan, but he's handling the grim n' gritty version of Supreme that was the most enjoyable of the early Liefeld books, and I never took to Alan Moore's Silver Age affectations anyway. I'll probably pass on Prophet, but I've already got the Glory trade on order, since the Ross Campbell art alone should be worth the price of admission.

I'd be curious to learn how Youngblood made it to #71. Does that include stuff like Team Youngblood and Strikefile and that incomplete mini-series with Mark Millar? Maybe the creative team just counted backwards from a major "anniversary" event they've plotted? Doesn't matter. This is the one book Rob Liefeld has kept the closest ties to, and it is therefore the closest in quality to the wretched shit he squatted out back in the day. Whatever promise the Extreme revival has, Youngblood does its best to undermine.

The Youngblood characters are, if anything, more archly drawn and base than ever under neophyte writer John McLaughlin. The finished art by Jon Malin has all of the incompetent idiosyncrasies of Liefeld, but none of the energy, and it's so ill defined as to be visually lethargic. This is a book that to modern eyes seems almost too bad not to have been made that way by design, as if setting up some meta-punchline down the line that will pay off the banality seen here. If there's one creator in comics who hasn't earned the trust necessary to pull off such a stunt, it's Rob Liefeld, so I figure it's safe to call this book a dog best avoided.

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