There’s a method to Marvel’s madness when it comes to their choice of characters to give miniseries to (lots of alliteration there, eh?). Generally speaking, it seems that minis are given out based on who has an upcoming movie. For example, immediately prior to and during the Spider-Man movie hype, Marvel flooded the market with Spidey minis, one after another. Recently they pulled a no-brainer and started releasing issues of Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours, a series that kills two birds with one stone, tying both the X-Men sequel and The Incredible Hulk flick together so that a timely trade paperback version can be stocked on bookstore shelves for the release of both movies.
As well, it would appear that, at least for the moment, Bruce Jones is the go-to guy as far as writers are concerned for these thinly veiled movie tie-ins. He’s currently doing the Hulk / Wolverine story, plus at least one of the upcoming Tsunami Wolverine books (possibly both, I don’t recall).
The problem I’m having here is that there isn’t, to my knowledge, a Captain America movie in the works. And since that’s the case, I can’t fathom why Marvel would see fit to put what is so clearly a rush job on the shelves when they could have just as easily taken their time, since there’s no Hollywood release date to match.
So, to be perfectly honest, the story is just lousy. Bruce Jones has already begun making a real name for himself amongst mainstream fans for his work on Incredible Hulk, and that fame is based in no small portion on his ability to write realistic dialogue. That is to say, he doesn’t script scenes that feel like what non-comics readers expect to read.
Well, that’s completely absent here. Jones writes Steve Rogers like it’s 1942 (which I actually thought WWII the time period for the story, until I realized that it was set in the present day): stiff and naïve, full of expository internal monologues.
Our story, such as it is, is this: Rogers’ friend Sal is a paraplegic, shot in the back during the Gulf War (the only reference that assures the reader that, yes, this story is in fact set during the present day) by his commanding officer, a man that Sal had thought was his friend (an event that we’re left clueless about throughout the entire issue). Both before Sal’s birthday party and afterwards, Cap encounters suspicious behavior at a local bakery, behavior that he thinks (read: is quite clearly) evidence of mob racketeering. The second time around, Rogers convinces the baker to give him a description of his assailant’s car, which leads to some old school Captain America ass-whipping. Then, however, Cap decides to go to the aid of another, seemingly unrelated, gangster, to hear of the plight of his daughter. The crime lord’s daughter, it seems, has been seduced and stolen away by a rival miscreant and, as she is “all he has,” he begs Steve Rogers to track her down and ensure that no harm has been done to her. A matter that Rogers immediately agrees to undertake because “an innocent woman might be in danger.” And that’s the issue.
The problem with all of it is that, once again, Jones treats the book like it’s a Silver Age story. The characters all speak in plot exposition and very little, if any, of the dialogue flows naturally. Steve Rude, apparently in on the Silver Age conspiracy, does his best Jack Kirby impression on pencils.
I guess what I’m getting at is that if this book were intended to be a comedy or a parody of some sorts, I would consider it a success. There are more unintentional (well, to the best of my knowledge, they’re unintentional) laughs here than there were intended laughs in the first issue of Rawhide Kid, that’s for sure. I mean, Captain America, for the purposes of this story, is an idiot. But, as far as I know, the book is supposed to be serious. And I suppose the cover imagery is supposed to inspire people living in a pre-war environment to pick up the book out of some sort of patriotic fervor, but even a Republican kind of guy like myself is finding it hard to swallow.
So, what price glory? I have no idea. But I know what the price on mediocrity is: $2.99.
Oh, doomed relationships. I’ve had more than one of those (though, if Bill Jemas’ press releases are to be believed, a good portion of comic readers have not).
Clumsy is the debut graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown, a creator that I’d heard absolutely nothing about until now. My initial impression of the product was that for a measly ten bucks, I was getting an awful lot of story in a fairly economically sized package (the novel is about the dimensions of your average manga trade paperback, only considerably thicker and on higher quality paper). The cover design is simple, almost monochromatic, with a hand-printed sort of look; in a lot of ways, the exterior of the book reminds me of a miniature version of the recent graphic novel Subway Series.
Flipping through the pages, I was struck by one simple fact. And I’m going to be really, really honest about that fact:
Mr. Brown is probably not going to win any awards because of his art. A closer look revealed that he probably isn’t going to take home any trophies for Best Letterer either.
It’s a harsh thing to say, but it’s true. Brown has a very amateurish style, scratchy and crude. His figures serve their purpose, conveying the action (though saying that a book about relationships has “action” is probably not entirely accurate) adequately. And while Brown has about three different facial expressions in his arsenal, they also get the job done. In addition, there are more than a few instances where his hand-lettered bubbles either are unclearly printed or have words so crammed together so as to force the reader to squint to make out what’s being said.
However, after all those uncomplimentary things are said, there’s another simple fact to be addressed:
The style just starts to grow on you after a while. And then you stop noticing that he isn’t exactly a master draftsman and just follow his story.
The story itself is predictable, but that’s sort of the point. It’s about Jeff, a fairly conservative (or so it seemed to me) guy and his one-time love, Theresa, a girl that he once assesses to himself as a “dirty hippie.” That’s the long and short of it.
From the beginning, it’s pretty clear to the reader that the pair will not last (and it’s even clearer if you read the dedications on the first page, where he refers to her in the past tense), even aside from the fact that they are conducting a very long distance relationship. Over the course of a story that is told as a series of roughly one-page vignettes, it becomes increasingly obvious that the type of relationship that Jeff needs to be truly happy is hard to find and even harder to give. The author is a needy, clingy, dependent guy. That’s the only way to put it. And Theresa, as hippies are wont to be, tends to be a bit more on the free-spirited side.
Her smoking, drinking and history of drug use turn him off. When she mentions, during a conversation about who they’d sleep with if they could sleep with anyone, that she would sleep with a woman (albeit a woman from a comic book, so to her, it doesn’t count), Jeff is simply speechless, reacting with all the subtlety of a pole-axed cow and sitting straight up in stunned disbelief (though I gotta tell you, if my fiancée told me that, my reaction would be decidedly different and I think a lot of guys out there know what I’m talking about). Throughout it all, however, Jeff stays the course and tries to make it work. And you can see that he honestly believes that it will.
As the story unfolds, however, it becomes apparent that Jeff is not the only person with insecurities to work out. Theresa still lives with her parents, a fact that puts a noticeable crimp in their style whenever he makes the flight up to visit her. On holidays or special occasions, his presents to her leave her feeling inadequate in regards to the gifts that she gave him. They’re little insecurities, but ones that are obviously going to grow into something greater, particularly when a reader can see reflections of his own past relationships in them.
In the end, the lynchpin that holds the graphic novel together is the blunt honesty that Brown displays in telling the story of their relationship, seemingly never flinching away from showing his own foibles and emotions. The story is notably one-sided, but that’s OK; it’s his story.
If I had to complain about one thing, it’s the manner in which the story is laid out. In a very Pulp Fiction style, Brown jumbles the sequence of events up, an effect that is disconcerting initially, as he doesn’t explicitly state dates and locations on each page. Rather, the reader is left to figure out on his own how things all fit together. Again, it’s a little complaint. It’s made even littler by the fact that Clumsy could not conclude with such poignancy if it were not for the contrast of the final three scenes, “The End,” “First Time” and “You Can Ask Me.” That effect is made possible solely by the mixing up of the story’s timeline.
In the end, Clumsy is aptly named, at least in regards to the art. However, in terms of his ability to relate a touching, painful and honest story, Brown is anything but.
I once read a review of Channel Zero that described the story as “going from point A to point A” over the course of the series. And while it was a snide comment, it’s both amusingly clever and exceedingly accurate, as the book promised a lot in terms of story movement and delivered very little. Wood’s spin-off graphic novel, Jennie Zero, didn’t really do a whole lot better. However, I thought Couscous Express, his first work for Larry Young’s AiT/PlanetLar that didn’t involve the near-future Channel Zero world, was quite a lot of fun, though Brett Weldele’s abstract artwork was a poor match for such a fast-paced story. So, given that The Couriers is essentially the sequel to Couscous Express, I had high hopes.
Before I go further, let it be said that many attempt to translate the action flick from the silver screen to the printed page, but few do so successfully.
Brian Wood and Rob G, after producing The Couriers, can safely be said to have joined the ranks of the few.
The book has a pair of rapid-fire prologue scenes, one establishing the unhappy relationship between the story’s villain and victim, The General and The Girl. The other is a chase scene/gunfight between the protagonists, Moustafa and Special, and their competition in the Russian mob.
Wood’s scripting never allows the heroes or the reader to catch their breath, moving as fast as he can from one sequence to the next, each filled with high adrenaline car chases and firefights, always over the edge of what is strictly legal. To be blunt, it reads like Pulp Fiction on speed.
The plot itself revolves around a job gone wrong, the pick-up by Moustafa and Special of a certain girl (The Girl, to be exact) at a certain airport. The heroes can’t seem to catch a break, hounded at every turn by rogue agents from the Chinese military, but sheer skill and more than a little bit of luck manages to pull them through every scenario. Wood follows Couscous Express‘ theme of sticking by your friends and defending what’s yours once again, as the over-the-top reprisal by The General is met with equal vigor by the residents of Moustafa’s borough. Rob G, of Teenagers from Mars fame, turns in a stellar performance, carrying Wood’s adrenaline rush of a story along on the back of his fluid, kinetic pencils.
In the end, it’s hard to summarize a book like The Couriers, because there’s not exactly a real depth of plot. I hesitate to say that it’s the comic book equivalent of a good action flick, because I’m not sure that there’s enough material here to fill an hour and a half of screen time. However, what you see is definitely what you get from it, and that is a friggin’ blast.
Interestingly enough, while reading the book, I laughed that I had clearly been playing too much GTA: Vice City lately, as I found myself frequently drawing parallels between the game and the book’s plot (I mean, the final panel with the Russian mobster feels like it was taken directly from the part in Vice City where you take over the local crime scene). So I was amused to read the creator’s credits and see that Wood actually does work with Rockstar Games on the Grand Theft Auto series.
And that’s as good of a recommendation as it needs, for me. Fans of GTA, Brian Wood or simply action stories that don’t insult your intelligence need look no further than The Couriers.