Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pamphleteering

Here are some recently-read pamphlet-format comics; I seem to mostly talk about collections or graphic novels these days, so how about something different?  Thanks to Oni Press for sending them my way.  And now, from worst to best:

Uncle Slam Fights Back
Written by Ande Parks
Art by T.J. Kirsch



It might just be because this book seems irrelevant after November 4, but reading it was a chore, even though I do generally agree with the writer Ande Parks' politics.  This is meant to be satire, with the titular Captain America-esque superhero going senile and supporting the Republican right, prompting his sidekicks, a robotic dalmation named Fire Dog and a sexy FBI agent, to try to snap him out of it by taking him to the Republican National Convention.  Cue lots of "jokes" about the country going to hell; people being blinded by fear; rampant, mindless patriotism; John McCain being really old; and the manipulative jingoism and faux-religiosity of the right wing.  A lot of this definitely comes out of anger toward the people perpetrating this kind of divisiveness on the country, but while I respect that feeling, it comes off here as just as hateful as the those Parks is condemning.  At the end of the day, all that has been accomplished is Uncle Slam has regained his mental faculties, through the process of beating the snot out of those he disagrees with.  That seems like an enjoyable exercise, and it was probably pretty cathartic for the creators, but you know what's even better?  Uniting the country and electing a candidate who can change things and bring an end to this sort of obnoxious fearmongering.

So, I dunno, maybe if I had read this when the Republican convention was going on, I might have enjoyed it, but after several more months of ugly campaigning and a victory for good, this book ends up being out of date and kind of sad.  Maybe if it was actually funnier (it's mostly just angry) it would be an interesting time capsule or something.  And I don't want to complain about the art, because it generally accomplishes its goal of rendering the action in an expressive, cartoony manner, but there are times when it's hard to follow what's going on, especially in the opening flashback.  Overall, it's not worth reading.

Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen #3 (of 5)
Written by John Layman, Tom Peyer, and Jim Massey
Art by Robbi Rodriguez



Well, this series has either suffered some unfortunate delays and setbacks, or wasn't really all that well-conceived in the first place.  While the series was already on a pretty slow schedule, the TV writers' strike certainly didn't help it; with the myriad delays, the last few issues are showing up well after The Colbert Report abandoned the joke.  Even fans of the show probably aren't going to be too interested in seeking out the series.  

That might not be an issue if the series was really funny and enjoyable, but something was lost in the transition between TV and comics.  While the original animated shorts mined humor out of throwing a lot of silliness on the screen for a couple minutes at a time, the comic isn't paced nearly as well and ends up being fairly boring and unfunny.  The loss of Colbert's voice acting (and the proximity to his on-screen image) hurts; while he brings his own arrogant persona to the cartoon, the character in the comic comes off as an obnoxious idiot.  It just doesn't really work, maybe because it's trying to tell an episodic serialized story about an alien invasion that Tek must fight rather than a short one-off involving some goofy alien encounter or something.  Of course, the Jim Massey-written backup story tries to do exactly that, but other than some humor involving Tek's nudity, it doesn't pack enough jokes into its length to capture the energy of the source material.

Robbi Rodriguez's art does a pretty good job of detailing the strange alien world of the series, but he doesn't quite make it as funny as it could be.  His Tek is more of a dumb-but-capable action hero, rather than an inept doofus.  He does manage to fit in some funny sight gags, like Tek disguising himself to look like the many-eyed bad guys by drawing a bunch of circles on his face, but the story would benefit from a lot more in the way of funny details worked into the corners of the drawings, Mad Magazine-style.  Darwyn Cooke's cover does a much better job of capturing the humor of the concept, but there was probably no way he was going to illustrate the whole series.

It's too bad; I like Massey and Rodriguez's Maintenance quite a bit, but this just doesn't really measure up to either that series or the original Colbert TV show.  It's something I want to like, but secondhand affection for the man whose name in the title isn't enough.

Wasteland #20
Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten and Chuck BB



I greatly enjoy this post-apocalyptic series, so it's no surprise that this issue would get a thumbs-up from me.  But it's notable for being one of those one-shot issues that falls between story arcs.  These don't get included in the trade collections, so you have to pick up the issue if you want to read the entirety of the series.  And while this one isn't necessarily essential, it's one of those that does a good job of filling in the details around the edges of the main story.

The story here (which is illustrated by regular artist Christopher Mitten, which is a first for one of these one-offs) sees some kids in the city of Newbegin hear a street storyteller tell the tale of the founding of the city by Marcus, a villain in the main story of the series.  The kids don't really believe him though, and they offer their own versions of the story to each other, each believing theirs is what actually happened.  It's a nice look at the way legends grow over time and when developed by somewhat isolated societies (one of the versions came from somebody in a traveling caravan).  And while the "official" version from the storyteller is very mythic and sanitized, the other ones reflect their tellers, with a young boy spinning a story of violence and conquest, and the caravan-originating story reflecting mistrust of the powerful.  It's very interesting stuff, and who knows which one comes closest to the "truth".

But most interestingly, the stories themselves are presented as pages from a storybook, with text on one page and an illustration on the facing page.  Chuck BB, of Black Metal fame, provides these illustrations, which adds to their storybook quality, since his style is so different from Mitten's.  It's a striking contrast to the regular look of the series, and it definitely makes the tales seem more like legends than something that actually happened.  I especially liked this illustration:



That sword is gigantic!  It's a good issue, and I'm quite psyched for the next story arc.  Also of not here is the text piece at the back; it discusses dog tribes, which look to be featured in that upcoming arc.  So that's another reason to pick it up.  I do really dig this series.  Check it out if you haven't before.

The Damned: Prodigal Sons #3 (of 3)
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brain Hurtt



I'm on the record as loving the original miniseries to which this is a sequel (here are some of my reviews of the individual issues), so it's not too surprising that I would really like this follow-up as well.  It's a shorter story (with another three-issue series slated to follow soon), but it definitely packs a punch, introducing Eddie's brother Morgan and setting up dual storylines, with Eddie exploring the land of the dead while Morgan tries to keep some demon gangsters from destroying Eddie's body so he can't come back to life.  This leads to some crazy scenes in which Eddie's corpse gets pummeled and shot in a grotesquely humorous manner, along with some real menace from the demons and creepiness from the ghouls that haunt the afterlife.  There are some mysteries that continue to deepen, as Eddie learns about the curse that his father brought upon the family and the extent to which he is tangled up in demonic rivalries.  It's excellently done, as always, with some exquisite artwork by Brian Hurtt.  I really can't recommend this series enough; it's got a great combination of nice writing, excellent art, and compelling plot.  I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Also of note is this post by Cullen Bunn, in which he talks about the process of adopting a child and how that affects his writing of the series.  Interesting stuff. (hat tip: Scott Cederlund).
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And that's everything for today.  More content tomorrow!