Welcome to the year’s final installment of New Comics Day. I’ll be taking off for a couple of weeks to recover from the annual post-Christmas, post-Day After Christmas, post-New Year’s Eve hangovers. NCD should be back up and running in the first week or two of January.
Hype in comics is ubiquitous. It’s like Republicans at the Fox News Christmas Party. Or assholes at the Fox News Christmas Party, for that matter. Certainly hype isn’t exclusive to the comics industry. The movie and music industry seem at times to consist of nothing but hype, the difference being: the movie and music industries are successful.
Not creatively, of course. They suck. But it’s hard to deny the power of their hype when people like Jessica Simpson and Ashton Kutcher ride around in limos and get to fuck any guy they want.
Comics hype, on the other hand, is like a little kid trying to lift a heavy box — sort of cute and endearing because he’s trying so hard, but annoying because he’s in your goddamn way. I’m hard pressed to think of a more miniscule industry with such a tiny fan following that generates so much hot air.
Which brings me to two masters of comics hype, Brian Wood and Mark Millar. These two creators are at least as famous for their digital swagger and binary bravado as they are for actual comics. Their online presence is, well, omnipresent. At some point in the near future I imagine people trying to look up porn and getting frustrated at all the Mark Millar and Brian Wood pop-up promos.
Wood’s most recent and most heavily hyped book is Demo, or, as I like to call it, Rejected X-Men Stories. Thanks to all that online palaver, We the Readers were fortunate enough to witness the online slapfight between Wood and Marvel after he wrote a treatment for a series about put-upon young mutants on the streets of New York. The series, intended to be called NYX, was scrapped, and Wood raged when The Brotherhood was launched. The latter series was allegedly quite similar to NYX; it was cancelled immediately. (Marvel has since launched a book actually titled NYX. Cancellation pending.)
Wood then took his toys out of the Marvel sandbox and went to Larry Young’s house where he began publishing them as Demo. Before the first issue could even hit stands, the book caused a stir when Larry “I Have A Unique Vision Because I Only Publish Trades Because Floppies Suck” Young decided that the book would only be published in floppy form and that anyone who suggested that one should only publish trades because floppies suck was indeed a jackass and a moron who had no unique vision.
And thus the double-edged sword of hype. It was difficult for the comics reader not to know about Demo, and yet it was also difficult not to be tired of Demo before it hit stands.
Which explains why I didn’t review Demo #1. Perhaps, I thought after reading it, I’m not giving the book a fair shake because I’m jaded by the hype.
But alas, Demo #2 doesn’t improve much over one. The basic premise of the second issue seems to be that being a mutant is really lonely because the world hates and fears you. You might be saying to yourself right now, “Hey, man, the world does hate and fear those who are unique, and this story, using mutant talents as an allegory for other talents or cultural / lifestyle differences, highlights and illuminates this problem.” If, however, you aren’t living in a glue factory and munching on LEAD paint chips you’re probably saying, “Hey, isn’t that what X-Men has basically been doing for a few decades, and doesn’t X-Men suck nine times out of ten?”
The difference between Demo and X-Men is that X-Men is occasionally (see below) fun.
It’s not that Demo is a bad book, per se. Wood is a competent-ish writer who tells a reasonably interesting story that is paced fairly well. Nothing about the book is glaringly bad, although Becky Cloonan’s too-sketchy manga-influenced art does defy you to actually finish the book. The problem with Demo is that it’s nothing new, nor is it anything fun. If Wood were to spin the story of the girl from the second issue into a series and develop her as a character, it might be interesting. But (just as was the problem of the first issue), he’s only able to give us a bare-bones sketch of his characters that is a little dull and all-too-familiar. Who wants to read something somber and humorless if it hasn’t anything new to offer?
(If somebody asks about Demo, just grin and say you’re waiting for the trade.)
Mark Millar’s much-hyped Wanted also treads familiar ground, although it has enough style and humor to justify its own existence.
Wanted is the story of a loser who discovers that he is related to one of the world’s greatest super villains. These super villains are so good, they’ve actually managed to kill off all the heroes and now seem to run the world. In this first issue, our hapless hero (er, villain) discovers his own paranormal talent and is inducted into the nefarious club of evildoers.
Wanted feels lazy. Millar, rather than risk writing an interesting character we might dislike a little, opts for the easy way out and gives readers a pathetic loser who is so consistently tread upon that presumably we’re supposed to be happy when he’s able to get his revenge by becoming a super villain. Millar pretty much swipes the Narrator character from Fight Club, even cribbing some of Palahniuk’s distinctive (and, at this point, almost self-parody) narrative style.
The hype doesn’t help. Despite being, like Demo, absolutely nothing new, Wanted is a somewhat enjoyable book. It’s flashy and fun and the action sequences are fairly nifty. But Millar spent the past six months on the Internet hyping this thing as “Watchmen for Super villains.” (He later tried to deny ever saying this, I guess assuming that nobody would possibly be smart enough to find a two-month old interview online and point out that exact quote.) After hearing about a project endlessly, much less hearing it compared to such a seminal work, its tricky not to expect more. If Wanted is Watchmen for Super villains, then Bruce Willis’ Armageddon is Revelation for oil rig workers.
All of the above commentary is also ignoring the obnoxious reference to Watchmen (the quote about all the superheroes being dead since 1986), the cloying reference to another one of Millar’s new creator-owned books (the quote about the shadow government suppressing the coming of Christ) and the bizarre pseudo-racist tone of the book in which the Poor, Put Upon White Guy is harassed by the boss he constantly describes as “my African-American books.”
See what fun hype can be?
Meanwhile, fairly quietly, several excellent comics came out — and from mainstream publishers nonetheless. Rather than focus on lengthy PR campaigns, their writers and artists seem to have focused on (get this) THE ACTUAL COMICS.
Caper #2 is exceptional. Writer Judd Winick has crafted two fantastic characters in Jacob and Izzy, his brother hitmen protagonists. Jacob and Izzy have spent most of their lives with crime boss Cohen as their surrogate father, but a twist at the end of this issue may see them turn the tables on their adopted papa.
The twist at the end of Caper #2 is the kind of thing I would expect further down the line, maybe in issue 8 or 9. Winick is wasting no time here, cutting to the chase and telling a fast-paced story without sacrificing character development and subplots. This book has it all — great characters, an interesting setting and an intriguing plot. Farel Dalrymple provides some nifty art, too, although his talking head scenes are too stiff and static. Overall, though, he’s doing an excellent job and renders subtle emotion as well as he does blood and death.
Speaking of blood and death, or perhaps blood and undeath, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead just gets better and better. The first issue read like a too-familiar zombie tale (and I’m talking Romero here, not that 28 Days Later shit), but he has quickly developed characters and subplots that promise to be appealing for many, many issues to come.
In the latest issue (#3, an excellent jumping-on point for any who missed the first two), ex-cop Rick, finally returned to his family, discovers that his former partner Shane has helped them making the journey to safety. What’s more, he’s been taking care of them all this time. It becomes quickly apparent that Shane had more than just their well-being in mind, and he’s not entirely happy to see Rick alive and well. The zombie threat is ever-present, and Rick’s attempt to help establish a new routine and a comfortable life with his friends and family already shows signs of unraveling.
One of the great things about Romero’s Dead films is that, even when confined to a farmhouse or a shopping mall, you could imagine the grand scale of the macabre situation. The horror was both immediate and global and thus worked as a monster movie and a disaster film. Kirkman is playing that same card for all it’s worth. The difference here is that, while Romero was confined to a budget and a few hours of film, Kirkman’s playground is limitless. These are the moments that make me love comics. Your zombie movie can have unlimited characters, a hundred different sets and a budget that would bankrupt every studio in Tinseltown. Any project this big in Hollywood would be bound to suck, but Kirkman is turning it into one of the best new comics of the year.
His collaborator Tony Moore is the ideal choice for the project. His work is similar to that of Steve Dillon, only a little more detailed (and, thankfully, with a little more variation in the facial features). He managed to draw zombie gore at least as well as Rob G. of Teenagers From Mars fame, which is an accomplishment, and he also handles the quiet moments with great skill. (The page-long scene where Rick wakes up and looks at his sleeping wife and child is particularly touching and effective.)
Caper still seems to be a too-well kept secret and The Walking Dead is garnering some buzz, but few mainstream projects have been as talked about as Grant Morrison’s take on Marvel’s ever-bankable mutants in New X-Men.
Reviewing New X-Men #150 is almost pointless since a) you probably already know about it and b) Morrison’s run is done in four issues. The book still deserves a mention, though, as this issue is really the last of Morrison’s regular run (the next four issue arc will be set 150 years in the future and will be not only his epilogue, but his version of the last X-Men story).
The latest New X-Men caps off his long story arc that has run, really, since his first issue onboard. It’s basically a big-ass graphic novel, and this is the climax. And it’s a good climax, although not a terribly original one. Like Demo and Wanted, it’s nothing terribly new, but it’s stylish and fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s why Morrison, even working within the confines of one of the most absolutely mainstream comics in the industry, is still a better writer than Wood and Millar. To a much greater degree, Alan Moore is similar. Moore can write brainy and obtuse, but he’s not so wrapped up in his own hipness that he can’t write a fun story, too. Morrison, although no Moore, is damn good, and he also knows that hip and edgy and somber do not necessarily a good comic make.
So that’s it for 2003. Thanks to Matt and Julian for getting this thing off the ground and thanks Alan David Doane (www.addblog.com) for the plugs. And thank you for reading, you silly drunk bastard. Shouldn’t you be looking for 13 year-old Canadian girls to cyberharass? Off with you — and see you in 2004.