Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chronic Review: Heralds # 1!

Heralds # 1
Marvel Comics

Script: Kathryn Immonen
Art: Tonci Zonjic

22 pages for $2.99

I've made no secret over the past, oh, 6 months or so that I think women are the key to saving the direct market as we know it. What gets lost in the shuffle of the digital comics revolution talk is the fact the underlying problem is that there are fewer readers. We need to add new blood, and lots of it. So why not find some humans that bleed once per month, is my thinking.

All jesting aside, this is not an unthinkable thing. Women aren't just people who generally smell better and have better hair than me....they have money, none of which is typically spent on comics as we know them.

It's a fresh, untapped market, and it can be done. Human beings are story machines, specifically designed for the transmission and reception of narratives. Comics are just unique and powerful narratives, when done correctly. And if Uncle Ben's rice can launch themselves into an empire by simply putting their crap in a bright orange box, somebody out there should be able to find the marketing trigger that will attract women into picking up Secret Six. That's my theory.

Marvel have made a very conscious effort to produce some "girls" comics these days, and I think it's safe to say that Heralds falls into that category. What we have here is a mini-series starring a bunch of women, written by a woman. The thing is, will that be enough?

Hope Larson just did a study that seems to indicate that women, when polled, like the same things I do. They like Batman stories that don't suck leopard balls. The sample size is a bit small, but then it would have to be, wouldn't it? It's hard to find a comics reader with a uterus, which is the whole crux of the problem.

So what we actually need more than "girl" comics are "good" comics that we tell girls about and then compel them to pay for. That would be nice. Here are some things I can tell you about Heralds issue one:

1) It's a damn sight better than say....Models, Inc.

Now, this is not exactly a rousing endorsement. That's kinda like saying that you like something better than botulism. Models, Inc. was insipid nonsense, fit only for the Lake of Fire. Show a girl that comic book and you sentence the industry to doom.

Kathryn Immomen has some very solid chops. She obviously did some work on astronomy vocab, and while I'm not in the business myself, that dialogue felt authentic. She's got range, too. The folks in the diner that Frances works at talk like diner folks. Frances makes some characterization quips there, and if it isn't clever, it's certainly the next best thing.

2) There are some fun moments

The book opens with some character play between Scott Summer and Emma Frost, intimate stuff, not the kind of thing you're likely to get from Warren Ellis over in Astonishing, is what I'm saying. Does it work? Eh. Not in my wheelhouse, but then that may be the point.

We're sort of trapped in our own cliches. Hope Larson advises against comics turning to pink sparkly princesses who obsess over boys, and that seems like sound advice. Straight up girly stereotypes are to be avoided as a general rule. But on the flip side, the romance novel industry seems to be surviving, and I don't see the Lifetime network folding any time soon.

So while we may not like to paint any gender with a broad brush, I don't think it's necessarily a mistake to play to the crowd a bit and do a Cyclops snuggling scene, even though it did sort of make me want to retch in my mouth a bit. Again, that wasn't made for me, and Immomen just strolls through Relationship Town briefly, it's not like we're living there for the issue.

Aside from that, Frances is kind of a pistol, and Patsy Walker is played as kind of a goofball who gets off on punching clones that look like Einstein, because she's always wanted to punch Einstein. When the action hits, it's off the rails and pretty wild. And that's a good thing, probably.

3) The group premise is weak

If you want to know how to do a random "girls night out" the right way, head straight on over to Brave & The Bold # 33, my favorite comic of 2010 so far. That evening and its principal players had a purpose that served the story and made some internal sense. This one feels artificial and forced.

It's Emma's birthday, and she doesn't want a big party with people she knows. So Scott calls up Valkyrie, Patsy Walker, Agent Brand, Jennifer Walter, and Monica Rambeau. Cuz she doesn't know them. Sure. You know, it's not a deal breaker...but it's weak. There's just gotta be a better way to get them together.

4) The art is a bit dodgy in spots

I'm not qualified to critique art, of course. When it's running good, the art in this book reminds me a little of old Bachalo stuff. When it's running bad, it looks like this:


On the whole, this thing is solid but unspectacular. I didn't say much about the plot, because there's a twist at the end, and it's obvious who this book is really about. There's a mystery surrounding that character and the can of worms opened in this issue, and it's possible that said mystery could pay off. Kathryn Immomen demonstrated enough skill in the issue where I could believe such a thing could happen.

But if this is supposed to act as a gateway book for new female readers, I think it fails. There's nothing to say that Heralds must act as a welcome mat, but then again, why not? Isn't that why they shockingly went with the $2.99 price tag on this one, to try and draw some extra people in? I don't know.

The hook in this story is tied up in continuity rather than what's presented in the issue. There's no real novelty for the new reader in the cast. They don't know them, or know to consider this grouping quirky. There isn't enough time to get to know them or care. The ending twist is completely continuity dependent. If you don't have the back story to sniff out Frances' true identity and the potential implications, I would have to believe this story comes off as a confusing sort of "Lost" type mess.

So there you have it. Immomen does have chops, but there's nothing in here that would make it urgent for me to spend the extra $12 to find out if it pays off. And if the real objective is to draw female nubies, I'm not sure that it works as to that end as a single issue. But at least it isn't Models, Inc.!

- Ryan

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