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Sunday Slugfest: Jonathan Mostow's The Megas #1

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

John Harrison and Jonathan Mostow
Peter Rubin
Virgin Comics
Editor’s Note: The first issue of The Megas arrives in stores this Wednesday, February 27.

Steven Bari: 1 Bullet
Matthew J. Brady: 3 Bullets
Vincent Buckley: 2.5 Bullets
Bruce Logan: 4 Bullets
Paul Brian McCoy: 2 Bullets




Steven Bari 1 Bullet

Plot: Two hundred and thirty years ago, our forefathers decided on a course for our nation’s independence and, instead of the democracy, formed a monarchy. Enter a world of the aristocracy and commoners, royal scandals and cover-ups, right and wrong: The Megas!

Commentary: The introduction by creator Jonathan Mostow states that the story of The Megas is more than a cool “what if”; it’s a metaphor of our times. As a former Washington D.C. intern, I was never privy to events like the one this book explores. Yet that is not to say it does not happen.

Politicians and their families have political scandals; and yes, there are cover-ups, slaps on the wrist, and bending of the law. One need only take a look at the Kennedy family or the Bushes to see how far “who you know” can get you. This is a tremendously important and compelling subject matter, which, had it been done skillfully, thoughtfully, and with some credible research, would be a significant book.

Instead, The Megas is lame political thriller that fails to generate even the remotest interest from its subject matter or characters. The story begins with the murder-suicide of the prince Ellington Bouddreux, a member of the Mega aristocracy, along with three prostitutes. Using the Bureau of Royal Investigation (BRI), the Megas have the power to cover up the incident from the public; and with the king on his deathbed, this is a political imperative. James Madison, the BRI agent assigned to the case, must choose to do what is right or what is politically necessary.

There are a number of points where this plot could take off and confront a specific political issue: ideological hypocrisy or use of law enforcement to serve political interests. Or even the veiled vestiges of power. The Megas doesn’t take advantage of any these, opting for contrived dramatic thrill. Madison is an addled cop with a headache who scores drugs to kill the pain. Is Tylenol banned in this outlandish parallel world? There is no explained reason and, furthermore, no originality to his characterization, or for that matter, anyone else’s.

Moreover, Jonathan Harrison’s dialogue is so trite, clichéd, and snore inducing, it is actually challenging to continue reading past page one. In the night-club scene, DJ Snarly pecks Jack for information: “Word on the street is some Mega perv slipped into never-never land with a couple of commoner cuties.” I have nothing against alliteration, for which I fondly fancy, but the hackneyed verbiage detracts from the reality of the world and the characters that occupy it.

Although Peter Rubin is a capable artist, he similarly paints a lackluster world for The Megas. Page two is a splash page of this world’s Lincoln Memorial: a Mega king sitting on a throne. I stared at this picture for about five minutes trying to figure out why Lincoln had a mullet. The art was so hard to follow that I couldn’t understand what was going on at times.

Similarly, his characters are less than inventive. Everyone in this book is a stereotype. The king has a great white beard; the hip Chief Justice has a goatee; Jack Madison is a “John-Bland-Everyman.” The only racially distinct character, the Caribbean DJ Snarly, looks like some late 1980s throwback!

I cannot believe this book made it to print. It makes you wonder how many trees die each year on crappy books like this. For goodness sake, think of the trees!

Final Word: You’ll find more political poignancy on a Bazooka Joe wrapper. And you get gum!




Matthew J. Brady 3 Bullets

The books in Virgin Comics’ “Director’s Cut” line capture the attention of readers by splashing the name of famous filmmakers like John Woo, Guy Ritchie, or Nicholas Cage across the covers, but the comics themselves often seem pretty uneven, since the featured names are usually only involved on the concept level, providing an idea and leaving the heavy lifting up to others. This means the quality of the comic can vary depending on the talent involved; if Garth Ennis or Mike Carey is doing the writing, the book will probably have a decent chance of being good, but a no-name creator has a steeper hill to climb. In the case of The Megas, director Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) ends up paired with writer Jonathan Harris (who co-wrote the story and provided the script), a television writer for projects like the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune miniseries, and Peter Rubin, a conceptual artist at Industrial Light and Magic who hasn’t previously worked in comics. With this crew (and considering that Mostow’s name-recognition is fairly low anyway), it’ll be impressive if anybody reads this comic at all.

But that would be a shame, because it’s an interesting premise: what if the United States was founded as a monarchy rather than a democracy? In this alternate history, the U.S. is run by a royal family, with a class of nobility knows as “Megas” running the show. Mostow presents the idea as a parallel to our current celebrity-obsessed culture, since the super-rich and anyone beautiful enough to be famous are treated differently than us commoners anyway.

But as interesting a hook as that is, the book needs a compelling story, or it won’t be worth reading. Well, we get a sort of introduction here, but it remains to be seen how good the story will actually be. It appears the series will mostly follow Jack Madison, an agent of the B.R.I. (Bureau of Royal Investigation, I think; the full title of the agency is never given), as he investigates a murder involving a prominent Mega. There’s also an impending change in power, since the current king is on his deathbed, and there are hints of a possible rebellion. It’s hard to tell where the series will go from this point, but there are a number of intriguing ideas raised, so it should be interesting to see what happens next.

Rubin’s art does a decent job, although it’s nothing to write home about. The characters seem kind of roughly-defined (and, oddly, kind of British), and while there’s not much action at this point, the movements of some characters seem a bit stiff and awkward. But the backgrounds are quite interesting, full of architectural details and artwork that demonstrates the subtle differences in this world. One technique that stands out is the depiction of the Megas: they all have bright white hair, which, along with the superhero-sounding term “Mega,” leads me to think that there will be some sort of revelation about their origins or abilities. But that’s just speculation; for now, the art is nice enough, if not anything to get excited about.

So while it’s not a home run, it does have potential to be a worthwhile comic. I can’t really recommend a book on potential, so it might be better to wait for a collection, but if you’re a fan of Mostow and the premise seems like something you would want to read, go for it. But otherwise, you would be better off waiting to see how it ends up.




Vincent Buckley 2.5 Bullets

Plot: The Megas, a special breed of humans, rule America and intend to keep it that way. Respected regular human, Agent Madison, investigates a murder/suicide by a high-ranking Prince Mega.

My Take: The start of a new series in Virgin’s line of “Director’s Cut” comics starts off shaky, but has potential. Trying to attract a wider audience by bringing in famous folk (as in, not comic book creators) to craft new series, Virgin this time taps writer/director/executive producer Jonathan Mostow. He is most known for his solid and controversial (as in, not historically accurate) U-571 and the Terminator movie whose continuity wasn’t deemed worthy for “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” Currently, Mr. Mostow is an executive producer on the Will Smith superhero vehicle Hancock, which is in post production (its hilarious trailer is available).

Mostow brought Paul Rubin onto the book to do illustrations, something Rubin has never done before in comics. Mr. Rubin worked as art director at Industrial Light & Magic, something I didn’t learn until after reading the issue (who reads the introductions first anyways?). This clarified why the art is clean and solid, the sets well lived-in and beautiful, and the storytelling often jerky and amateurish. On page 8 we see Agent Madison’s shocked reaction before we read the shocking news that has him so, uh, shocked. This is one among many other stumbles throughout the book. Mr. Rubin clearly shows great talent, and I hope his storytelling will catch-up in the coming issues.

The writing isn’t overly wordy except for page one in which not only are the first words “as we discussed in class,” but it’s also from a character that we never see again spewing exposition. Sigh.

The story certainly brings up an interesting and timely point about a government considering itself better than the rest of the world, and being above its own laws. Though this series really feels like it belongs to Agent Madison, a chunk of the point-of-view comes from the Megas. This works against the story by slowing it down and revealing secrets of the Megas that the audience should have discovered with Agent Madison. Hopefully writers John Harrison and Jonathan Mostow will focus in on their protagonist in their coming tales.

Is It Worthy?: If parallels to America’s government pique your interest, than yes. If not, wait and see if the creators and this book reach their full potential in the coming issues.

Visit Vincent: www.BuckleyBrothersProductions.com




Bruce Logan: 4 Bullets

Exclamation: “Whoa! Talk about bleached white hair!!”

Examination (Story): The U.S.A. is ruled by a Monarchy!

Some might say that given the “families” that have resided at the White House, this is already the case with the self appointed “Largest Democracy of the World,” even more so with the current regime/government. From the Roosevelts to the Kennedys to the Bushes, quite a few of the U.S. Presidents and power-brokers have shared familial bonds. There are similar cases in other areas: business, media, etc. The term “celebrity” has never been this big in Ol’ U.S. of A.

So, it isn’t too much a flight-of-fantasy to consider a case where these select few, these celebrities are members of a singular ruling class, Mega Class if you will, with the rest of us being, well, serfs.

The first issue doesn’t give a clear picture of just how far “The Megas U.S.A.” differs from its real-world counterpart, but it does give enough for the reader to know that things are not quite the same. For one we don’t have policemen and federal agents bowing to greet the Chief Justice, at least not in public anyways. Still, as much as it differs in the broad strokes at its nitty-gritty The Megas is quite similar to the real-world. Sure Lincoln might have been king (at least it seems to be him) but that doesn’t mean that the youth of today don’t line up for entry into swanky Night Clubs or that once there (as outside) they don’t partake in one or more of the hundreds of available street drugs. It even has its share of the discontented, people who aren’t fans of the establishment.

The Megas is NOT a cynical, jaded and (possibly) semi-hateful comic. Nor is it, as creator/writer Jonathan Mostow puts it, just a cool “What if” scenario. Sure it has the writers’ views reflected in the story and characters but then again given its political setting that is something that is expected and more importantly acceptable.

At the end of the day The Megas #1 left me a bit confused about its direction. Worried would be a better word. I like the writers’ vision of this alternate reality and hope that the story doesn’t lead (at least too soon) to the rebels winning and the dismantling of the monarchy. Even though the concept of democracy is admirable, it just sit well in this situation, especially given the entrenched two century plus modern monarchy. It doesn’t for me at least.

Examination (Art): Peter Rubin and S. Periaswamy give The Megas a somewhat larger than life look, one required by the story premise. This doesn’t mean out-of-whack panels or double page spreads. The visuals of The Megas #1 are detailed both in the fore- and backgrounds, with adequate attention paid to character expressions. The only complaint I would make involves the inking. From the rather rough, semi-finished lines of the characters, to the complete absence of any in the hair of the Megas, inks are something that could definitely use some attention.

Proclamation: Even with its Law & Order meets The Royals (that a show?) starting The Megas #1 irrigates the field of the basic story premise enough to get me to return next month to see it grow.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net




Paul Brian McCoy: 2 Bullets

Since I've started reviewing comics again 8 months ago, I've read and written about a lot of books. Sometimes it's been as few as four per month, sometimes it's been as many as ten. This month is my banner month, though, as so far I've reviewed twelve books, not counting this review and the reviews to come later this week. That's not a lot, compared to some of the reviewers on this site, but it's good for me. I've read some brilliant, and some almost brilliant, comics. I've read some crap, and things that while not awful, really aren't worth anyone's time. But this is one of those rare times when a book makes no impression on me at all.

I didn't dislike this book. But I didn't like it either. I really didn't care about it one way or the other.

The initial concept is interesting, I guess: What if America was governed by a monarchy of (apparently) superior beings. I added that parenthetical 'apparently' because although it is said that "many of the great leaps in the arts, sciences, technology and philosophy originated with the Megas," there isn't any indication in this first issue of just what any of these leaps are. There doesn't appear to be any greatly different technologies or philosophies at work in the story, nor is there anything to indicate any genetic or intellectual superiority of the Megas over the Commoners. Except for the Megas' luxurious white hair, that is.

What we do get, on the other hand, is a murder mystery. Sort of. A fairly run-of-the-mill sex crime scenario, that is supposed to lead our main character, the Commoner Jack Madson, special agent with the BRI (the Bureau of Royal Investigations), to a plot's worth of secrets and danger. He has ties to the Megas and suffers from serious headaches. Oh, and most people don't take the Bureau seriously. There's also a bit of political intrigue building with a prankster group called the Dadas (which I like in theory, being an admirer of Tristan Tzara, Marcel Duchamp, and the variety of Dadaist anti-art statements, philosophies, and anti-philosophies of the early 20th Century).

But it's all very by-the-numbers and boring. It's not poorly done, by any means. There's just no real flair here either.

The art is good, but not outstanding. Rubin tells the story clearly without doing too much to attract the readers' attention and distract from the words. Harrison's words are all right, but nothing special, doing nothing to distract the readers' attention from the art. But in the end, it's kind of like a TV show you put on while you're running the vacuum, or music you put on at a party. If you have to read it, it's not a horrible experience, but it's just white noise at this point.

The bad part is that there's nothing here to make me the least bit interested in picking up, or even reading, future issues. And that's no good at all. So instead of the 'average' score of 3 bullets, I have to drop it one, from sheer lack of interest.








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