Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lost in the library #1 ­ Bullshit from the front line

The local library must have had a chunk of budget to blow recently, because a deluge of recent superhero comics started appearing on the shelves. I’m not complaining, this is the only way I’ll ever get to read them, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t pay any money for the vast majority of it, because it’s hard to see how anybody could want to pay the money they’re asking for these largely humourless, idea-free and ponderous comics.

And the few that are actually worthwhile are still far too expensive, with the really good stuff often going for $50 a book in local money. If I had bought the books I’m going to review over the next few days in New Zealand, it would have cost me close to a thousand dollars.

I could buy a car for that.

* * *

Secret Invasion ­ Front Line
By Reed and Castiello

Appalling comics, and the entire Front Line stories might be the worst superhero comics I’ve read in the last ten years.

Going for a street level view of the Marvel Universe during massive conflicts is a good idea, but not when your characters act like people on day release from the local mental
institution. It would be much nicer if they acted like ­ you know – actual people.

And there was one little detail in this thing that really bugged me. Ben Urich is the main character, and is wearing his big dorky glasses that went out of fashion 20 years ago, because that’s the only way we’ll recognise him.

So when his glasses get completely shattered during the cacophony surrounding Secret Invasion, Ben keeps on wearing them, even though the only glass left is jagged pieces that are stuck to the inside of his frames.

Ben Urich ­ the Marvel Universe’s greatest reporter ­ is running around a war zone wearing glasses he can’t see out of, glasses that stand a good chance of gouging his fuckin’ eyes out if he looks sideways.

Because we wouldn’t recognise him otherwise.

That little detail just about sums up everything that’s sad and lamentable about modern mainstream comics. Nice one, Front Line!

For a series that once featured the extraordinarily retarded sight of a reporter berating Captain America because she confused the nation’s past-times, hobbies and entertainments for its goddamn ideals and values, taking the bar of crapness one step higher must have actually been an effort.

* * *

JSA ­ Thy Kingdom Come Part Two
By Johns, Ross and Eaglesham

Possibly the most exciting book I’ve read in a long, long time, as the DC Universe’s first (and arguably greatest) heroes stand around and watch stuff happen around them.

For all its faults, the original Kingdom Come story did zip along at a swift pace, stuffing a superhero apocalypse into four issues. Did any sequel really need to be another four times as long?

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of introspection, but this book ­ which appears to be the only the middle section of single story spanning three trade paperbacks ­ takes pages and pages to do fuck all.

There is a long detour into Earth-2, which features some lovely Jerry Ordway art that is wasted on many, many pages of people standing around a table arguing about things, but this doesn’t go anywhere either. There is no resolution, or explanation, or anything. Just one big set-up for something else, somewhere down the line.

I can barely keep track of what day it is, keeping on top of a storyline that stretches out over a year and a half is asking a lot. More than I can manage.

* * *

Green Manor
Vol 1: Assassins and Gentlemen
Vol 2: The Inconvenience of Being Dead
Vol 3: Murderous Fancies
By Bodart and Vehlmann

Marvel and DC have a real talent for keeping stories percolating for eons before realising they’re driving anybody who was interested in the first place. It’s often forgotten that the notorious Spider-Man clone saga was actually fairly well-received before being buried under a mountain of idiocy that never ended, and a lot of the criticism levelled at the current Superman storyline seems to be more about the fact it is going on and on in half a dozen different titles, rather than any individual issue’s quality.

So after skipping through the latest tangled super-continuities, reading the Green Manor and its seven page stories of Victorian murder and mischief felt like the first wank after being stuck in church all day.

It’s a shame so many modern American comic writers are fatally inept at writing short stories. While there are notable exceptions – and Jaime Hernandez’s ‘Tear It Up, Terry Downe” remains the most notable in my book – I’ve got loads of issues of Marvel Comics Presents and DC 80-page giants from the turn of the century that are full of idiotic and clumsy short stories and point to a true ability to do anything decent in the format.

But the stories in the Green Manor, and there are dozens of them, are perfectly-formed little gems that sparkle with irony and wit. The French/Belgian creators tell the story of the titular club, where true gentlemen meet to discuss matters of murder, confidence tricks and betrayal.

Each story features a completely different cast and each has its own little hook. There are stories of wronged women and zealous hunters and cold academics who dream of the ultimate homicide. There are perfect murders, without a victim or murderer, and senseless killings, motivated purely by whim and chance.

Monsieur Bodrat’s art compliments his collaborators work perfectly, with a very European line of scratchy goodness that still manages to serve up fine caricatures of the finest Victorian noble scum, with his art occasionally a dead ringer for the great Steve Parkhouse.

Charming little stories that come in, do their business and piss out without outstaying their welcome are always good. It’s just a shame there aren’t more good examples.

No comments: