Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bullet Points

Cutting to the chase, I pretty much never like DC Elseworlds, at least when they're released under that banner, but I cut my teeth on Marvel's "What If...?" in the early 80's. I always loved the basic premise of a done-in-one tale that takes a specific moment in continuity, alters it, and then relishes the death and destruction that follows in the wake. In an artistic medium governed by commercial concerns, it makes sense that creators would enjoy shaking loose the confines of the monthly status quo in favor of as final a resolution as possible for any of these Elseworlds, which can be satisfying for longtime readers as well. I recall the story of Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth defending his pornographic Eros line. He basically decided that super-hero comics are all build-up with no release, but by gob, Eros readers were at least assured to avoid that cheat.

This leads me to "Bullet Points" by J. Michael Straczynski and Tommy Lee Edwards, which does not fly under the "What If...?" and seems to work inverse to my "Elseworlds" principle. You see, it's not enough to alter one moment in the cannon here, so they lay down one asinine contrivance after another until you realize the consequences aren't the store, but the sheer multiplicity of imagination-deprived minor alterations to the original status quo. You see, not only does Dr. Erskine die before young Steve Rogers can become his only Super Soldier Serum recipient, but the MP guarding him must also be Ben Parker, uncle to then eye-twinkle Peter Parker. Now, with technology a quarter-century behind what Tony Stark had to work with, Steve Rogers becomes a near replica of Iron Man. Result: Captain America in a tin can. Yawning yet? Let's try the second result: a juvenile delinquent Peter Parker, who now assumes the Rick Jones role at the fateful detonation of a gamma bomb. But see, now that Peter is an angry young man, the radiation effects him in exactly the same manner as it had Bruce Banner, down to his becoming a mindlessly rampaging green-skinned Hulk pursued by the military.

But wait-- there's more, and they only get worse. One hoaky, unbelievable co-ink-e-dink after another leads us to pretty nearly the exact same Marvel Universe we already know, just mismatching the hero with the alter ego, though you couldn't really tell from the characterization. Being a pseudo-What If, the body count starts to mount, but I expect only readers with the lowest threshold for entertainment will have lasted to that point, much less derive any pleasure from it. The art is just as uninspired as the writing, seeing as Edwards mostly draws from model (except when he "borrows" Alex Ross' costume design for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, only with drab coloring.) Does the blame fall on editor Mark Paniccia for approving such a lifeless waste, or was it Joe Quesada's starfucking that got this most banal of vanity projects into print? Who exactly do I blame for making me wistful for Elseworlds inanity-- as I imagine endless variations of Mr. Fantastic as a pirate-- no wait-- a cowboy-- ooo Sherlock Holmes! With Ben Grimm as Watson! Genius!

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