Friday, October 14, 2011
Chronic Reviews: The Rundown!
My intention is to write a series of very brief reactions/criticisms to a bevy of stuff I've been reading lately, and by lately I mean the last 60 days or so. The only text I want to cover in a little bit more depth is the first one. So here goes...
A God Somewhere
I've been waiting to talk about this book for awhile now, because I keep waiting for it to settle into my brain at the "Eureka, I've got it!" level, and it's just never going to happen. I don't know exactly how to feel about A God Somewhere, I don't think I ever will, and that's part of its achievement.
The quick capsule gist is that a regular Joe gets superpowers when a mysterious phenomenon hits his house, and the travails that causes the people around him. That's the quick gist, but the text is really rather complex in its themes and philosophy. The theme of "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is in there for sure. It has something to say about religious zeal, and it isn't all positive, but neither is it ham handed. It's odd. A God Somewhere is about family, and letting yourself get caught up in how awesome you are, the value/danger of solving problems with violence, the ethics of power, and inexplicably, it's also about what it really means to be "black", I guess.
There is a message in the bottle, but I don't know that I have a lock on that, and I doubt that any two people will entirely agree on what said message is. A God Somewhere knows where superhero books have been before, knows you know where they've been, knowingly leads you down those very familiar paths...and then punches you directly in the face. Numerous times. You know you know where the story is going. But you don't. This is not a "comfort" book.
A God Somewhere is exactly what indie comics should be. The trouble with something like, Witchblade, as an example, is that it really isn't an alternative. It's the same superheroics you've been reading all your life, only with characters you care less about. I'm not suggesting that Witchblade is a bad comic. I've read and enjoyed large chunks of the Marz run. It's fine. What I'm saying is, (finally!) is that Marvel or DC would never, ever, EVER do A God Somewhere with one of its characters. It's too raw, and it's too challenging, and it has too much in the brass balls department. That's what indie comics should do - what Marvel dare not, lest it sully the sales figures on that Spider-Man toothpaste it wants to sell.
I haven't directly declared whether I like the book or not. I surely did. It's imperfect, but it might be genius. The story makes you turn the pages with intensity, then makes you wonder what the hell just happened to you when you're done. Not very many comics do that any more. I wish more comics had the audacity of A God Somewhere.
I read some of the new 52, and like everybody else, I have an opinion. Here's a very brief recounting of my experience tackling the soft reboot books:
My favorite of the new DC titles, and the best Superman story I've ever read. Without question the most daring and fresh of the new 52. I think the more vulnerable, human take on the character will make for the best Superman stories of my lifetime, and cause a lot of small minds to cringe.
Hard to believe the Perez Superman could have anything at all to do with Morrison's version, but I've given up on that. I found it uninspired, but also warm and comforting - it reminds me of a bygone era I adore, when it took more than three minutes to read a book.
What more can I say about Scott Snyder's work on Batman? It's a superlative blend of distinctive voices and characterizations, odd and surprising plot twists, and the atmosphere is always pitch perfect. What you thought a Batman book should feel like? That's what Snyder is doing.
It certainly gets points for style and gusto. If Batman is a fine single malt Scotch, Detective is a shot of sour mash. It gets the job done, though, and I know plenty of people who prefer Jack to Glenlivet.
I like the fact that Gail took a risk with the character and played up Barbara Gordon's vulnerabilities and fears. Not enough to continue with the book, particularly since I find her roommate to be more grating than spunky. But to me, the new 52 was supposed to be about taking chances and trying things, and Batgirl does those things.
One of the great objections I hear is that the DCnU urinates upon that which came before it, and you can make a case for that. Swamp Thing, however, knows exactly where its been, apes it and advances it. Maybe I'm just in love with Scott Snyder, but this was a smart horror book that I look forward to.
Speaking of smart horror books that lovingly know from whence they came - it's Animal Man! Lemire's script was edgy, and this is a pure and classic Vertigo title without the label. I find Travel Foreman difficult to digest, but there's enough Lemire sugar in it to get it down.
It's Abnett & Lanning. You'll never be bored, and given enough time, it really seems like there's a deep "A" plot to dig into, and a lot of random "B" plot smashing and banging to keep you occupied in the interim. So far good, with a fair to middlin' chance at being terrific somewhere down the road.
It's not the horror book that Azarello threatened in a recent interview, but this is not your father's Wonder Woman! I don't know that I was in love with the first issue, but the visuals are striking enough and the mythological angle Azarello takes is so raw and novel that I appreciate it more as I digest it, and have decided to give it some time to develop
Really disappointing. This might have been my most anticipated read of the lot, (weird but true) and one that really seemed to suffer under the Didio "ramp up the action" dictum. The concept is still intact, and the hook is actually very strong, (what if everyone thought you were crazy because you were the only one who could see the real threat?) but the execution needs to get more clear and more clever.
This was a big fat mess, and I think largely dependent on two shaky foundations. 1) The idea that "big stuff" you can't possibly feel invested in is happening and 2) Martian Manhunter's "This is where I go to be a bad ass" line. I wasn't impressed with either.
Justice League Dark
I think I said something like "this is close to a perfect comic" on the show a couple weeks ago, and after reading it again....no. Not anywhere close to perfect. But pretty darned good, and worth it for at least two reasons. 1) Milligan doing Shade = magic. 2) This is a REALLY pretty book. I'm around for six issues at minimum to see if Milligan can make these characters live and breathe, instead of spout cryptic nonsense.
It had a couple of "Aw, C'mon, man!" moments in it, but it was also energetic, fun, and set itself up to play Hal and Sinestro off each other in the most entertaining ways. It may not be reinventing the wheel, but I wouldn't miss that Odd Couple taking it to the Guardians for anything. Well played, Mr. Johns.
Fury of Firestorm
There's something of value in there somewhere, but it got lost for me in all the random, heavy-handed racial stuff. I despised both of the main characters, so even if the the plot hammer was sublime, (it isn't) I'm not sure I could tolerate this as is.
Perhaps I was predisposed to object to this as a "replacement" to the incomparable Secret Six, but I found the characters to be less than refined and less than entertaining. Skinny Waller doesn't bother me a lick, but this felt a little too "lowest common denominator". Having said that, the cliffhanger had me desperately interested in looking over someone's shoulder as they crack the second issue. Does that mean I actually liked it?
Thoughts on the reboot as a whole:
I consider it a success. I enjoyed many of the books, and didn't get caught up in feeling betrayed, although I can understand it. Carol Ferris pulls a complete about-face as a character in the GL reboot, and I don't think it was an improvement. But you know what? It's a do-over, and it was worth it. For me, at any rate.
What's funny to me is that I'm hearing shots fired from all angles. Some blister the books for not really doing anything new, (Batman just picked up where it left off!) while others blast the comics for destroying all that was once good and pure. The Old Guard supposedly hates the changes, while the new readers supposedly won't be able to keep up with what's not been left behind. Somewhere in all that rancor, nobody seems able to keep these books in stock!
If I were to be critical of the DCnU, I think the levelled charges of exploiting that which titillates is probably fair. They probably catered a bit too much to the adolescent erection. It doesn't offend me, and in fact I enjoy both sex and violence. But you can have too much of a good thing, and the pendulum is swinging pretty far. I also don't think think there was very much actual "new" in the DCnU, either. Lots of new paint on old toys. I think they can do better, be more innovative. When some of these first experiments hit the scrap heap, maybe we'll see some more creative projects.
Sure the reboot has some warts. But this is exciting, we are seeing new people, and this is proving two axioms I've been banging on for years:
1) People love comics. When they see them, they buy them. The hullaballoo is getting people to see the books, and they're buying them.
2) Winnowing works
DC went with about thirty fewer titles this month, and did equivalent or better sales. That's HUGE. And that's healthier for everybody.
I'm tired now, so I'm going to bed. I might pick this up later and do more baby reviews. Or maybe not. Good night!