Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Victories Volume 1: Touched (2013)

Michael Avon Oeming loved those high end late 80s/early 90s deconstructionist super-hero comics. I don’t personally know the guy or much of anything about him, but there’s some pages here where his storytelling techniques are so Sienkiewicz that he might as well have skinned the guy and turned the cured flesh into a suit and looked into a mirror saying he’d fuck himself. However, Oeming’s surface style is from an entirely different planet, so he can’t dazzle you into forgetting about a pedestrian Frank Miller action yarn through hoity-toity art school jazz hands. His latest creator-owned series The Victories was also sold with the exploitative zeal of a Millarworld travesty. “If you like to get fucked up and do fucked up shit—in imaginary spandex adventures—work out your problems with women and minorities by pandering to your basest desires in another bestselling mini-series soon to be optioned for a major motion picture: ID MONSTER!” I don’t have many reviews of Mark Millar books up on this blog, because I caught on to his one trick early, and it’s odious.

Back to Oeming, I didn’t approach this book as a fan by any stretch, since I’ve never embraced any of his creator owned projects or partnerships with Brian Michael Bendis. I thought he was a good match for Andy Helfer on DC’s short lived licensing of Judge Dredd around the time of the Stallone movie, but otherwise, he didn’t float my boat. Between my history with the guy and my disdain for the type of book Dark Horse made The Victories out to be, you could say I was a hostile audience. Also, did I mention that the book is called The Victories? We’re officially out of good names for super-teams.

The first two issues collected in this volume didn’t leave me questioning my initial prejudice. It’s one of those near future dystopias where half the narration comes from clearly biased news reports and every figure of authority is hopelessly corrupt, so that the populace prays for one brave libertarian avenger to restore liberty. Blech. There’s the usual cussing and ultraviolence, with a particular fetish for dismemberment you’d think would give an Islamic fundamentalist a hard-on. The protagonist is pre-Miller Daredevil making wisecracks like the second rate Spider-Man that he was, but in a Post-Miller/Mazzuchelli world of sadistic super-freaks. The team isn’t introduced until the second issue, predictably a bunch of assholes and a collection of tropes.

A funny thing happened in the third issue, though. For one, the hero turned out to be African-American, which wasn’t quite clear earlier on, because his race is completely inconsequential to the story. Secondly, his cool vigilante name is Faustus, but rather than being an arbitrary selection, that name was relevant to the story being told. Third, while this is meant to be a team book, Oeming was taking the time to thoroughly introduce this one member so that he's fully fleshed out and distinct from any other super-heroes, rather than the endless parade of analogues that are either slaves to a plot or promised depths that are never actualized. Fourth, this isn’t another nihilistic joy ride, but in fact a book dealing with the very real consequences of the types of transgressive acts Brian Azzarello trades in. Finally, The talking heads on the televisions began to sound less like pastiche and more like the writer addressing the all too familiar excesses of partisan media in an increasingly fascistic environment.

Rather than serving as a vehicle for propaganda or jumping on the sleaze circuit, Oeming is employing his many and obvious influences to tell a personal, human story, hopefully the first in an anthology vehicle more in line with Kurt Busiek’s Astro City than Garth Ennis’ The Boys. In some ways, it speaks to a truer form of heroism than the early tales of Peter Parker overcoming impossible odds to face common concerns. While darker and more adult, Oeming’s book is about inspiring people to rise above the horrors of life to make something better of their world. We could use more books like this, and I’m happy that Oeming finally set me straight on where he was coming from. I look forward to seeing what he has in store for the next volume...

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