Two for #1: May 2013A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese, Danny Djeljosevic
"Every comic book is someone's first comic book."
-- The eighth of Chuck Dixon's Ten Commandments for comic book scriptwriting.
If you read comic books there's a very good chance you read a lot of #1s … a lot. On any given Wednesday there are about ten bazillion new series launched and in a highly competitive market it's tough to wade through them all.
That's where the team of Silva and Scalese come in. Every month Keith and Jamil will each pick a #1 issue from the previous month to review. Two writers, two number ones, hence the very clever title, "Two for #1." Or Twofers if we're feelin" lazy.
When it comes to comic book criticism the only thing more exciting than two nerds bullshitting about comics is when three nerds bullshit about comics, so each month a Mystery Date will select their own premiere issue, you know, to spice things up a bit.
The point is to tell you whether these new comics are worth a damn, and we'll give our suggestions on whether you should Get 2, Get It or Forget It altogether.
Oh, and I guess Danny Djeljosevic is subbing in for Silva this month.
The Movement #1
(Gail Simone, Freddie Williams II, Chris Sotomayor; DC)
Danny: The first of DC's duo of class-based superhero comics, The Movement focuses on the “99%,” as the publisher's marketing pitched it through teasers, while The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires (reviewed below) takes on the “1%.” The no-longer-trendy Occupy Wall Street references make it sound like DC's striking while the iron has long cooled, but the concept is strong enough to work regardless of the headlines you rip from: socially conscious misfit superheroes with oddball superpowers -- one controls rats, one “rides emotions” -- in a city of corruption that are part of an street-level movement called Channel M. Never mind that Channel M is very clearly an Anonymous-like group, that's just tangible window dressing. But if they used tweaked V for Vendetta masks for those guys DC would probably get a lot more attention and also a DOS attack on their web site.
It's a book that's hard not to root for; it's an original property in a mainstream flooded with countless spin-offs featuring characters with weird powers and a script by capital-F Fandom's favorite writer, Gail Simone. And, thankfully, some of her better work of recent years, probably because there's less of the bad editorial interference that's been pushing people off of DC books since the New 52 began.
As such, this is a comic book by the Gail Simone who did Secret Six as opposed to the one who does Batgirl -- it exists in that underbelly of the world where human ugliness festers, but it doesn't feel like a put-on. It feels as dark and gritty as it needs to be, and it does that thing I like where the protagonists stand up to the so-called lawful characters. Anytime the X-Men tell the Avengers to traipse the fuck back into their stupid plane and fly back to their mansion makes nice chemicals release into my brain, and I get a bit of the same effect when the Movement tell the cops to step off their territory. The idea being that there's this huge broken machine that doesn't allow for the gray-areas that our heroes inhabit.
What's your take, Jamil? Are you marching with this or do you just want to beat it with a night stick in front of dozens of camera phones? Did I do that clever transition thing correctly?
Jamil: You're no Keith Silva, but then again, who is?
It is possible to be naive about one's naivete? It think I got a case of that.
I was actually stupid enough to think that DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros Entertainment Inc, would publish a comic that focused on people rising up against corporations. When paired with Green Team this comic appears to be about the 99% but it's clear it's not. Gail Simone writes a story that's basically crust punks and troubled kids versus the cops, a message I'm not sure I'm vibing with.
Which is weird because I was just recently beat up by undercover detectives (true story) so you think this product would be perfectly suited for me. I'm feeling it and it's killing me because I understand the helplessness of living under a corrupt system, but the work isn't done to show me that Coast City sucks so much that a “movement” is necessary. We get two bad officers, an adulterous underling and an aggressive, but seemingly fair, police captain. Personally, the serial killer roaming the ‘Tweens crumpling bodies and ripping eyes out is the more pressing concern.
I love Simone, Secret Six is like a bible to me. As you mentioned, this functions on that street level so I think there are pieces that work here. I will admit, while I'm a fan of new title, characters and formula, more DCU elements might help acclimate me to whatever the hell is going on here.
It's not a intricate comic but it has a lot of infantile elements. All the new kids with funky powers, Channel M, a murder mystery and hellish possession leave me a little scrambled. So much so I'm not able to hit you with a sexy transition.
Um, the art looked okay, I guess? Freddie Williams II seemed to work better in the bigger panels.
Danny: First of all, regarding the undercover cops thing: yikes, I didn't know that, that's fucking awful. But I see your point -- if you want to see something that speaks to your experience or frustration or your sense of helplessness (or anybody's), I doubt The Movement or any other DC Comic would be able to fulfill that. They're just not equipped for that. Escapism sure, but speaking to specific real-life issues is not really superhero comics' strength.
The nature of the thing -- being published by a subsidiary of Warner Bros. that might actually finally be aware that they own a comics company compared to the days of publishing Preacher -- means that The Movement wouldn't be explicitly about fighting corporate evil or anything so incendiary (though again, it's absurd that they have the rights to V for Vendetta). Tapping into the zeitgeist and attempting to create something that speaks to that without being a 1:1 is maybe the best choice. It's a “have your cake and eat it too” moment as you can draw parallels with real-life events but also give yourself leeway to deviate from it.
I'm used to Freddie Williams II pretending that you didn't notice he's not Pascal Ferry in Seven Soldiers: Miracle Man, but this is a little sludgier than I'm used to from him. Funny you mention the big panels because that's where I start to get flashes of late-period Neal Adams from him, which I think is anything from Mr. T and the T-Force to Batman: Odyssey, a period during which Bryan Hitch sucked out his life force and put it to more popular use. Which is an apt choice for an artist, since the faux-social consciousness thing going on in The Movement is reminiscent of those goofy but evocative Neal Adams/Denny O'Neill Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics from the 1970s. People are always pointing and looking outraged or anguished about Indians or pollution or heroin or whatever Denny wanted to write about that month, and Adams' broad stage acting approach to sequential storytelling made everything seem so dire and important.
It's as good a choice as we could have hoped for from the average fringe DC book in 2013. Let's just be glad they didn't put Scott McDaniel on this.
So, this is “just” the first issue, but first issues are also everything. If this is a thing you're doing every month, your first issue should be a mission statement. Fear Agent #1 stands up as one of the best examples of this for me -- by the final panel it's clear what the book is about. The Movement #1 establishes a bunch of characters (or at least ideas for characters), situations (or at least ideas for situations) and an overall mood (street level, dark and violent), but it's hard to tell if this book is about what we think it's about. And I think it's about street-level vigilantes making their own rules while at odds with a broken, possibly corrupt system while organizing like-minded civilians who society has let fall through the cracks. Again, I think.
So, my questions are these: What needs to happen in future issues to keep you going? How likely is The Movement to keep going? I mean, if The Ravagers can't make it, what can?
Jamil: You brought up my first demand, open up the scope and attack some larger issues through real-life allegory. I refuse to believe that The Movement is merely about a group of big hearted teenagers fighting the police and solving murders. The camera mask thing has a little bit of depth, but then I question how the hell these kids could afford those.
One of my favorite aspects of fiction is how any narrative can grow more interesting as the lens pulls back. The creators could end up flipping this concept upside down in some unforeseen way or killing off the entire cast a la Millgan/Allred X-Force. I trust Simone to bring it all together in a satisfying way, even if it's standard coming of age adventure tale.
The art team does not have my trust yet. I won't say too much about Freddie Williams II as you sum up the work better than I can. I will reiterate the “sludge” assessment. That really bothered me. Murky and missing intricacy, I am not a fan of the art direction as a whole. While this title takes place on the mean back alleys of the DCU I'm typically a fan of clean, sharp looks for comics about young heroes.
Ultimately, it's about characters and these ones failed to grip me in the first issue. Power over rodents? Emotion surfing and a poor woman's Daisy Johnson? I dunno, Double Dee, there might not be enough there for me to come back.
If you write in The House Scilva Built you got to adhere to the grading system, and I'm going with Forget It. As a consolation I will check in on this comic about teens when the numbering is also within that numerical distinction.
Danny: For me the superpowers are weird enough to keep my interest -- I'll take strangeness in the mainstream where I can get it. Hopefully their personalities will catch up. As for the art, maybe Green Team will be more to your taste, since Ig Guara is generally a little cleaner than this particular iteration of Freddie Williams II (FIND OUT BELOW!!)
For me The Movement is a very light, cautiously optimistic Get It -- partially on principle because it's an original idea featuring brand new characters, and partially because it's weird enough to keep my interest and doesn't seem like it's being written for the imaginary dumb 12-year-old audience the majority of New 52 era DC books are trying to rope in. This one, I guess, is for the smarter 12-year-olds?
The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #1
(Superman Adventures Being Cancelled, Ig Guara; DC)
Jam: Channelling their inner Christopher Wallace, DC proclaims “More Money! More Problems!“ across the cover of The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #1. If that were the case why would they charge so damn much for their fluffy comics?
You were right about Ig Guara, his art is much applicable to my palate. While the first part of the issue is merely a bunch of teenagers in awkward poses and headshots of the main character looking sad, Guara more than delivers when things got lively and more fantastical toward the end. The thin lines feel fresh and full of possibilities, much like a crisp twenty dollar bill.
Being rich is certainly more fun than being poor (though only having experience on one side of that distinction doesn't make me expert), so I am not surprised I liked this issue a lot more than The Movement #1. Teen Trillionaires, a play off a Joe Simon comic from a time long ago, gathers together a ragtag of group kids who have never touched a rag in their life. Our point of perspective is Mohammed, the prince a filthy rich country, as he sets out to meet up with the rest of the #greenteam, the social club that includes a movie superstar, a pair of oil brats and blonde kid with a fetish for gadgets and new technologies. They're the coolest gang in town, and I want them to be my best friends. I assume you feel the same way, Danny D, and that's why I gave us cool nicknames to match Mo, Comm, J.P., Art, Franco, Ig and the rest.
Danny D: Before reading this book, I had no idea The Green Team was a previously established DC property, and I kind of love that -- both that there's a whole set of characters in mainstream comics I was unaware of and that somebody turned an obscure idea into something new. Occasionally you see talk of how there are few new ideas in superhero comics, but it makes sense as a creator to save all your original ideas for yourself and just relaunch old stuff that's been languishing for decades.
The Green Team is clearly going to be the fun, bright flipside to The Movement's dark grittiness, which is a pretty good idea. Yeah, being rich sounds like more fun, especially (one assumes) when you're young enough to do crazy shit with your money like these kids might be. Comics about young people are kind of my thing, even though I know DC's version of young folks will be pretty PG and feature the odd clunky bit of slang (in this issue it's “crunk”). But I'm willing to take an “epic fail” or two if it means me mildly enjoying something.
Ig Guara's art is a decent choice for this book -- it's expressive enough and it's not too much of a departure from Amanda Conner's covers. I think the best bits of this book are the crazy Pierce Brosnan-era Q Branch slapstick science inventions happening in the background of this entire secret inventors' convention where weird objects are floating around and guys and labcoats are obviously getting hurt. I wanted the volume on those turned up a tad, because they're relegated to the comic's uniformly gray backgrounds and a little more of that would have really made the comic pop as something more than a cash-in on political zeitgeist.
The book basically has all the right elements, but how does it work for you as a first issue?
Jamil: It's fine. Maybe a little stagnant, with the whole story set in the warehouse that houses POXPO, the secret science convention. The super tech they review makes up for that however.
Guara's backgrounds are the bow on the art that ties it all together and indicates the title can succeed. The attention to detail, and flair of silliness, are signs that the artist is invested. That quality is missing from Williams II stuff in The Movement. I hate to diss on guy's work but a lot of his backgrounds are plain and hurried-looking.
It's an average debut, though my main problem with it is much like my one with its poorman partner. Everything is fine and dandy when the rich kids are playing with their expensive toys, but when the prime antagonist, Riot Act, rolls in, things fall apart. The “cult” with uniforms reminiscent of the Klan spout off exclamations about how the wealthy “disgust” them and how the “rich dudes” are “blindsiding the middle class”. Only Frank Miller could warp the message more.
Aside from that The Green Team #1 also shares the problem of not having a strong enough DC flavor. If not for the seven separate Superman ads I could confuse this for an Image comic, which is a good thing in it's own right. I'm a little bummed Deathstroke didn't show up, as promised by promotional material. Slade is a perfect fit. The assassin loves trillions, but as a grumpy old man he's the foremost hater of teens.
It working but has work to do. Get It.
Danny: Did you ever read... I think it might have been the first issue of Kyle Higgins' Deathstroke series? Slade's on a mission with some really obnoxious young mercenaries and grows so annoyed with them by the end that he shoots them all up. Good times.
Huh, the Klansman thing didn't even occur to me. I actually liked the Riot Act costumes; they looked like they might have been something out of a Madhouse-produced anime or Cowboy Bebop. Maybe Speed Grapher? Either way, I'm with you on the muddled politics tip, it's something that comes up a lot in modern comics and I think it's often just employed as quick and lazily written character motivation (“We're mad at the rich! This rich superhero is punching me!”) that comes off as more insidious on the writer's part than it's meant to. WRITERS, BE BETTER.
Jamil: It's neat they pulled an old, but cool, Superman villain from the cupboard, but agreed, be better.
Danny: I mostly feel about The Green Team the same way I do about The Movement: It's a decent start and I don't want to completely savage an original idea in mainstream comics. It has a ways to go before it's highly recommended, but I think it's worth supporting until proven otherwise. So, yeah -- another extremely light Get It.
Thematically Appropriate Bonus Pick
Occupy Comics #1
(Charlie Adlard, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joseph Infurnari, Molly Crabapple, J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Cavallaro, Douglas Rushkoff, Dean Haspiel, Ales Kot, Tyler Crook, Jeromy Cox, Guy Denning, David Lloyd, Ben Templesmith, Ronald Wimberly, Joshua Dysart, Kelly Bruce, Allen Gladfelter, Matt Bors, Alan Moore, Matt Pizzolo, Ayhan Hayrula, Art Spiegelman, Mike Allred; Black Mask)
Danny: Okay, so, raise your hand if you're surprised that an “indie” publisher put out a more effective comic about the divide between the 99% and the 1% than a corporate content factory. Nobody? Great.
Occupy Comics was a successful Kickstarter headed by Matt Pizzolo, but when he couldn't get a satisfying distribution deal with a publisher he teamed up with horror comics auteur Steve Niles and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz to form a publisher and put the damn thing out themselves -- as well as a comic by Darick Robertson and one about Ghostface Killah, among others. It's an admirably DIY thing to do, and the fact that there was no editorial mandate or corporate attitude driving the thing is pretty clear in the now-serialized Occupy anthology.
Anthologies are pretty much always a mixed bag, even one featuring work from Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman -- even moreso in this particular anthology considering that all these works are united under a controversial political movement. Not every story will be to a reader's tastes, and each creator takes a different approach to the concept -- Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joseph Infurnari take a snapshot of a historical moment in the spirit of Occupy, J.M. Dematteis writes a talking head comic book essay, Ron Wimberly creates a striking one-pager with ninjas.
And that's just the purely comics content. The first issue of Occupy Comics also features Joshua Dysart and Kelly Bruce running down the obscenely wealthy men of finance who straight-up grifted the economy while Alan Moore recounts the history of comics as a medium of the “lower classes” as well as its use as a political tool, not to mention full-page illustrations from Charlie Adlard, David Lloyd and others.
This first issue contains voices as diverse as the Occupiers themselves, and it's a pretty goddamn strong collection of talent and a great way to start an anthology series.
I'll talk more about the execution of specific stories, what works and what doesn't after you say your bit, Jamil. So, HIT ME.
Jamil: Fuck this comic for being so good.
Whether or not you went to an institute of higher education I venture say that one's “college years” are some of the most important formative days in a person's life. I learned a lot from ages 18-22, and although I'm not even that far removed from that age range I am much more cognizant of the world and how it works. Luckily, I stumbled across a few classes, notably one cranky professor, that completely changed my world view. Words like laissez-faire, Trilateral Commision and DuPont meant nothing to me in high school but now invoke a highly emotional response. That's all part growing up and getting smarter, I guess.
I never thought something like the Occupy movement would ever mobilize. The knowledge of the systematic, intrusive influence of corporations and the upper class isn't widely broadcasted, for a myriad of reasons, and thus people are completely in the dark about the realities of the society we live in. Basically, if it ain't on cable people aren't going to pay it much mind.
That's why I think Occupy Comics #1 is a near-perfect vehicle to deliver an extremely important message to the people of the world. It's digestible, cheap(ish) and in anthology form it can represent the full spectrum of Occupy's constituents. After all, 99% is a huge group of human beings.
Yet, that is one of the inherent flaws of the movement, it's just too damn unwieldy and unfocused. Two years ago picketing in major cities was fine, but that only creates awareness, it doesn't win the hearts and minds, ya know? Education needs to be the next step.
We love comics because the medium allows words and pictures to combine in limitless ways and that's why it's perfect for Occupy. We get the DeMatteis' measured, and thought-out “be kind to thy neighbor” message right up next to the more pointed and aggressive pieces like Pizzolo and Ayhan Hayrula's absolutely delicious “Channel 1%”.
Let's dive into those specific shorts, Danno! I'll admit I didn't exactly get a couple of them (like the ninja one, I could barely read the text), but, for me, it started out really strong, and extremely close to home, with Infurnari and Fialkov's “Homestead”, a story that narrows the focus to one of America's most important worker's rights moments, the Homestead Strikes. The tale of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick's efforts to break up unionization attempts by steel workers demonstrate that these problems have roots going back a hundred years, and that we should be grateful that CEO's can't hire a private army like the Pinkertons to ambush and kill striking factory workers.
Danny: “Homestead” is a promising way to start off the anthology, giving us a historical context to jump off of before approaching the modern movement -- protests aren't some brand new phenomenon, and the working class fought hard to get what we take for granted today.
What follows, DeMatteis' “That Which is Most Needed,” is my least favorite entry in this issue because it reflects what I was afraid this project would turn out to be: a dude walking around explaining things to the reader, which -- okay, I love Understanding Comics, but it's outside of McCloud that kind of execution is boring as hell and turns the art into a second-class citizen in its own medium. I prefer the text pieces by Joshua Dysart/Kelly Bruce and Alan Moore -- at least the images in those stories add something.
Conversely, I really enjoyed “Channel 1%” even though that's mostly just the creators telling you stuff. But Pizzolo's words and Hayrula's art work in tandem as the narrative jumps from personal anecdotes to their account of how the cable news networks distort the intentions in an attempt to discredit populist movements. I think what separates it from DeMatteis' piece is that it doesn't feel like armchair observation -- Pizzolo opens with a personal anecdote of the early days of the Tea Party and the result is actually challenging if you're only aware of the later, more off-putting developments.
The broad macro perspective is essential, but the movement is also about the people on the ground who were doing the actual protesting. That's the key for me when it comes to the pieces that are about the actual Occupy protests -- I watched the livestreams of Occupy Wall Street religiously as people with video cameras traversed the masses of people, getting conflicting information about where to go and being hassled by cops, regular folk and even at times fellow protesters. Which can't recreate being there, but it does create a sense of what it was like in real-time.
That's why Ales Kot and Tyler Crook's “Citizen Journalist” hit hardest for me -- its detailed account of how one can use a cleverly concealed cell phone video camera to capture police brutality carries a thick streak of verisimilitude while Crook and colorist Jeromy Cox effectively capture the colors of the city and the confusion created by opposing masses of people. Kot's script even takes a moment to think about the cop's perspective, which is likely something nobody was thinking about at the time. I know I wasn't.
Jamil: You're completely right, the movement exists along a huge spectrum, from the people on the ground, to the bloggers, the letter-writers and every concerned party in between. The street element remains a crucial element even if I'd like to see it as more as tool rather than the entire arsenal. I love that Kot and Crook encourage those to be peacefully impactful as any act of aggression is blown so completely out of proportion by major news media that it “buries the lead”, concentrating on the violence only and not the impetus that created it. In that way “Channel 1%” makes for a very appropriate companion piece.
“That Which is Most Needed” is at the bottom of my list also, and I agree it's probably the form DeMatteis chose that makes it a hard swallow. Kudos to the editors for placing the piece early on in the book because it is an important message: no matter the passion and fervor in the social groundswell it is important to remain respectful. The theme behind the whole thing is fairness, and the basic idea behind fairness is that we are created equal and thus deserve equal treatment (read: not equal stuff. Don't even come at me with that socialist bullshit). DeMatteis talking to us like we're little kids is a little heavy handed, I would have prefered something with a narrative, especially considering he gets six pages.
Again, the delivery was botched on that one because the message is crucial to balance the aggressiveness of some of the other offerings. “Exploitation: Our Noble Tradition”, a one pager by Douglas Rushkoff and Dean Haspiel, details how those with clout have manipulated the masses since the dawn of civilization. Taking up a similar thread Ben Templesmith's “Clever” exposes the financial system as a convoluted set of rules designed to herd the underclass like cattle, squeezing them for every penny they can muster. Complex algorithms and long strings of code made to predict trends and maximize profit run the world. This isn't sci-fi! A rogue tweet crashed the stock market a couple months back. At first I thought Templesmith went a little overboard with all the skull and apocalyptic imagery, but when I consider the sinister tactics of high-level money-making I can't say I blame him for trying to relate the very true words to shocking visuals.
Occupy has continued to surprise me, from the first protests on Wall Street, to the similar gatherings that quickly popped up all over the world, and even this comic surprised me a lot. But I gotta say, I'm shocked by “Casino Nation” by Dysart and Bruce. You mentioned the content of this one -- a who's who of the some of the most influential unelected individuals on the planet. It's a cut and dry piece, it basically only states hard facts. It's not these relatively horrifying accounts that floor me, its the fact that they're named and the piece is accompanied with portrait images by Allen Gladfelter. This just simply does not happen. In all of the coverage, not only of Occupy but of bailouts, Tea Parties etc, you'll rarely hear a proper noun. The 1% is a placeholder term because the problem actually lies in maybe the %.3 percent of income earners who are very public figures that somehow don't get mentioned through any page, screen or speaker. It's a bold move, it puts you on a list somewhere, but fucking kudos, guys, seriously.
And then there's that huge write-up by Alan Moore. I honestly had to read it like two and half times, Danny. Not because I loved it, but because that sucker is dense. I wasn't even sure I was reading my native language for the first couple paragraphs.
It's plain-as-day obvious that I am enamoured by what's going on in Occupy Comics #1. I'll reiterate because I think it's crucially important: protests are fine, and they have a place in the grand scheme, but we need new ideas and new methods to get the word out. There are a huge group of people simply turned off by on-street demonstrations. This isn't a “you're either with us or against” type thing. They're just part of the 99% that haven't been convinced yet.
My recommendation is obvious, but sadly this comic is sold out. I'm crossing my fingers it gets a 2nd printing. However, don't fret, noble reader, in the fine print on the title page it says Black Mask “humbly put[s] this book at the disposal of those who, in good faith, might read, circulate, plagiarize, revise, and otherwise make use of in the course of making the world a better place”. What that means is find a way to Read It. I don't care how, just ingest this comic ASAP.
Danny: The Alan Moore essay was a really great read for me. His prose is always a bit difficult and nowhere near colloquial, but it's a must if you're interested in the pre-superhero history of comics, especially as it relates to social upheaval, subversion and the working class.
Occupy Comics was something I was mildly interested in, but after reading this first issue I'm excited to read the rest of the contributions to the anthology. You still might be able to find it in your local shop if it happens to be cool enough, but like Jamil said, Read It.