Monday, November 17, 2008

Noble Causes Vol. I: In Sickness And In Health

I never had much use for Jay Faerber. He kicked around the industry quite a bit in the late '90s/early '00s, mostly on books I had no interest in reading. When he did cross my path, it was usually on forgettable fill-ins, or fodder for anthologies. The only extended consideration I gave him was on "Titans," where he followed Devin Grayson's disappointing run with some okay stories that didn't manage to keep me buying the book. I noticed that as his mainstream work seemed to fizzle out, he carved a little niche for himself with a small line of related super-hero titles at Image Comics. I figured, "good for him," but gave it little more thought.

This leads me to my theory about the downfall of super-hero comics: the weight of expectation. I was really looking forward to Devin Grayson taking on Titans after some nice solo Nightwing stories she had done, only to find she didn't seem to have the slightest idea of how to handle writing team dynamics. The truth is, Titans fans have been waiting for someone to recapture the magic of the Wolfman/Perez "New Teen Titans" since about 1987, and that's a pipe dream. After all these years, you'd really think we would have learned our lesson.

By the same token, when everyone and their brother was conceiving whole new universe to compete with Marvel and DC in the early '90s, I was there to sample each of them, dollars in hand. I sunk a lot of bills into awful Image comics, not to mention Dark Horse Comics Greatest World, Valiant, Malibu Ultraverse, Triumphant, Defiant and even a few Jim Shooter had nothing to do with. Of course, none of these matched the excitement of first discovering the Big Boys, or Star Wars, or Indiana Jones, etc.etc. You can't fabricate lightning in a bottle, after all.

Which brings me to today, when I'm finding that with the coming new year, I have exactly one DC Comics series I can look forward to collecting every month (R.E.B.E.L.S., the very last revival of a beloved series I ever expected to happen.) I haven't supported a Marvel series in a long time. I'm so tired of waiting for someone to get my childhood favorites "right," which typically means exactly the way I remember them from when we first became acquainted. Nostalgia will eat itself, whether through numbing repetition or the heinous shock tactics that have sullied all our super-heroes in recent years.

Here's the thing: some characters were created to be fucked with. Guys like Adam Warlock and Guy Gardner positively beg creators to dick with them, as they were misfit toys their own "parents" cast off, but were redeemed through odd twists and perverted currents. Today, even the weirdos are too sacred to be played with, typically just killed off and replaced before the inevitable resurrection. I'm sick of the same old, but I don't want to see some twisted version of Kitty Pryde, either.

What I've found I need is to locate creators who work in their own little niche, crafting stories they're personally invested in and have complete control over. You know, guys concerned mostly about pleasing themselves first, but inviting you along for the ride. I don't need a monthly fix, but I'd like to enjoy a good comic book on something like a regular basis.

Re-enter Jay Faerber. With his "Noble Causes" series coming to a close after years as a cult favorite, and heat surrounding his new "Dynamo 5" series, I figured it was about time I gave the guy a proper chance. I'm damned glad I did, as the initial Noble Causes trade felt like a remedy on my reading.

I recon every variation on the super-hero has been tried, so nothing is going to be entirely original. You can sum the Noble Family up as "Fantastic Four meets All My Children," but I never liked the FF, and Faerber doesn't wallow in analogues like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis. The Nobles have their own feel, unique make-up, and some gloriously dark turns from the norm. Their adventures are exciting, funny, and compelling. The characters are developed well enough to take on a life of their own, and this first trade is not only an excellent entry point for decades-long fanboys like me, but also their wives or precocious children. Reading "Noble Causes" reminds me of why I loved comics when I was seven, but is written in such a way that I can take full pleasure in them again in my thirties. Bottle, meet lightning.

Those kudos extend to the art, another area this book was blessed. Billy Dallas Patton opens things nicely, but the real gem is Patrick Gleason on one of his earliest efforts. It's amazing how good this guy was from "go," and he just gets better with each passing issue. There are also a series of back-up stories providing history on the family by talents like Amanda Conner, Jeff Johnson, Jimmy Palmiotti and more. It's a feast for the eyes.

My only complaint is it all ends to soon, but I intend to seek out the Archive edition to pick up on more of this series. After years of feeling lost amongst corporate comics, it's great to find more work from people who seem to take as much pleasure in producing as I do in reading.

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