Four Colors to Infinity: Lunar Pinball Edition

Welcome back to Four Colors to Infinity, where I visit my local comics shop, randomly pick out six titles that have the words “NEW THIS WEEK” written on pieces of cardboard underneath them, and then give the guy at the counter some of what should be my retirement money.  This was a particularly grim week, as almost nothing released on Wednesday — with the exception of one book I was practically guaranteed to like and one book I was practically guaranteed to hate — caught my fancy.  However, as you will see, fate intervened to make this a real boffo time for people like me who have come to hate comic books and everything they stand for.

Rather than our normal six titles, this column will feature seven, because one of the guys who works at the Comic Stop was trying to unload some inventory.  This is a win-win, because he gets to make his shop less of a fire hazard, get to have one more comic book that I will be forced to eat when I’m 70 instead of buying food, and you get to read about one more crummy title!  Let’s get right to it.

MICHAEL TURNER’S FATHOM #3:  “Joker”.  Here’s what happened when I was at the register with my other six lousy comics.  The head nerd called to me from the back:  “Hey!”

I looked around just to make sure he wasn’t yelling at some deranged shoplifter with a anti-gravity tit fetish, and said “Yeah?”

“Do you remember,” came the menacing query, “the ’90s?”

“Uh, sort of,” I responded truthfully.  I mean, I was drunk for about half of them, but I’m cognizant that there was a period between the ’80s and the 2000s.

“Do you remember,” he further goaded me, “Jim Lee clones?”

Did I ever!  They were one of the reasons I stopped reading comics in the first place.  So before I could defend myself, this brazen ruffian inserted into my purchases a free copy of the Top Cow/Image title from 1998.  It was free, but a free Michael Turner book is equivalent in its generosity to receiving a free rhino turd.

Look, folks, Michael Turner died of cancer, and that’s pretty sad.  I don’t mean to crap on the guy’s legacy or anything.  But this is far and away the most unreadable mess I’ve run into since starting this project.  The story (by Bill O’Neil) is overlong, and somehow manages to be jam-packed with narration without ever actually cluing you in to what’s going on, which is kind of impressive when you think about it; it’s 22 pages long, and I couldn’t tell from one page to another — practically from one panel to another — what was going on, who anyone was, what they were doing, or where this all took place within any greater narrative.  Turner’s art is just wretched, the overblown ’90s style of thin lines, harsh edges, pointless close-ups, and the most absurd human figure drawing imaginable; the visual storytelling is almost nonexistent, with figures eating up the foreground for no discernible reason and the action forgetfully marked out.  Plenty of the problems he had were common to other artists (an inability to draw age-appropriate features, women with waists to inches across and shoulders and breasts two feet in diameter), while others were unique to him (hair that looks like it’s made out of shredded tape, huge mouths and tiny eyes), but the whole thing is a screaming visual nightmare.  The only good thing I can say about it is that it stood zero chance of leaving any kind of lasting impression on me.  It gets, out of pure respect for the dead, 0.3 Mooncrest the Dragons.

MULTIVERSITY:  MASTERMEN #1:  “Splendour Falls”.  I was actually pretty worried about this one, despite how strong I think Grant Morrison’s Multiversity work has been thus far, because if there’s one thing worse than a Jim Lee clone, it’s actual Jim Lee.  This also starts off with a splash page of Hitler on the shitter, so right away there’s the possibility of Garth Ennis-style shenanigans.

(A brief aside:  I appreciate the argument, made by a lot of comics fans who defend the likes of Jim Lee and the way Phantom Lady looks on page 28, that superhero comics are about, well, superheroes, and that even if you don’t fetishize Steve Rude and the realistic-anatomy thing the way I do, there’s nothing wrong with making their physiques look over the top.  I get it, I really do.  But I also get that operas and stage plays are supposed to be overprojected and bombastic.  And they get that there need to be that distance for the overblown quality to bridge.  If you had the lead actor in a play nasally bellowing right in your face, or the mezzo-soprano hollering two centimeters from your ear, it would be so distracting that you wouldn’t be able to appreciate, or even pay attention, to anything else.  That’s the problem with this nonsense:  it’s so vividly barfed up on the page, so over the top with not even an attempt at subtlety, that it’s often all you can see.)

But I actually think Morrison, as Morrison does far more than he’s given credit for, pulls this one out of the fire quite nicely.  It’s easy enough to tell a story, as this book does, of what might have happened had the Axis won the Second World War; plenty of people have done it with varying degrees of success.  But what happens here is that we’re allowed to look a little bit further, to see what happens when a Nazi government has become normalized to its citizens, who now begin to question the morality of their predecessors the way we are beginning to assess the legacies of slavery or the treatment of the American Indians.  Morrison is obviously trying to make us think about our own perception of terrorism, and he could just have easily gone a lazy “GASP WHAT IF THE REAL TERRORISTS ARE US” route, but again, it’s deeper than that.  He asks us to consider not only what good an oppressive regime is capable of, and what moral compromises well-meaning resistance movements can and do make, but how the role of good guy and bad guy changes with such alacrity that it’s almost impossible to assign to anyone in such scenarios.  This was good enough to overcome being drawn by Jim Lee, so it gets 7.3 Jorrk the Crocodile-Mans.

NEW SUICIDE SQUAD #5:  “Defective″.  Speaking of Grant Morrison, didn’t he already do the thing where China is mass-breeding superheroes like, ten years ago?  Well, I guess it’s still a problem, because that’s what the Suicide Squad is haplessly flailing around about this issue.  I’d heard that the DC editors had turned Amanda Waller, one of the few fat women in comics, into a supermodel, but they apparently decided to shave 20 or 30 years off of her age, too, because it makes perfect sense for a 26-year-0ld woman to be in charge of America’s deadliest covert operatives.  She has an assistant named Bonnie who, in what is perhaps a misguided attempt to be ‘fair’, might possibly be fat, but it’s hard to tell because Tom Derenick and Rob Hunter’s art is so incompetent.  Honestly, the second panel on page 8 looks like it was drawn by a 15-year-old tweaker in detention.  I also don’t understand Sean Ryan’s dull characterization of Harley Quinn (‘crazy’ = “just says and does a bunch of random shit”), nor why anyone who wanted a spy mission to succeed would send Harley Quinn on it.  This comic is bad.  Bonus:  the person, entity, or device that colored this comic is just called “Blond”.  It gets 1.4 Mindbogglers.

SECRET IDENTITIES #1:  “No Title”.  The new super-team title from Image has promise, but the way it gets in its own way is kind of a bummer.  The central idea is that Crosswind, an armored hero, has helped out the super-team known as the Front Line often enough that they ask him to join — when, in fact, he’s a mole who hopes to destroy them from the inside.  As the issue advances, we see how he might be able to do this, as almost everyone on the team has some dark secret or another (with the exception of team leader Luminary, whose only secret is that her dad appears to be both President of the United States and Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel Air.)  That’s all well and good; writers Jay Faerber and Brian Jones claim they’re not “resorting to a deconstruction of the genre”, which is strange, because that’s pretty much exactly what this is, but of course, I don’t mind deconstructions of the genre.  There’s a solid hook of a reveal at the end, and the art by Ilias Kyriazis is generally pretty good, too, but the script has a few problems.  For one thing, some of the heroes have absurdly problematic names — a white-skinned alien with with samurai moves is literally called Gaijin, and there is a black man named Helot; additionally, some of the dark secrets seem a little too dark, though that could be mitigated once we know the characters better.  The main problem, though, is a tonal one; Secret Identities starts out like a light, breezy, fun superhero romp, and then turns to a grim ‘everybody’s hiding something’ narrative so quickly in makes your neck hurt.  But it did make me curious to see where it’s going, and that’s something, so it’s gonna get 5.7 John Ritter as Captain Avenger in Hero at Larges.

SHE-HULK #12:  “Final Verdict”.  Boy, I just don’t know what to think about this thing.  On the one hand, it’s the last issue from writer Charles Soule, who got me interested enough to make me somewhat regret I couldn’t expect any more of it.  There were some funny moments, a few decent action scenes, and a really solid ending.   On the other hand, there were holes all over the place, it’s not made clear what actually happens to the main bad guy at the end, and there’s a ton of padding in the storytelling, which starts out snappy but then just gets stuck in a rut.  Kevin Wada’s cover is stunning, which is why Javier Pulido’s interior art seems even more disappointing than usual — I see the appeal, and he at least knows how to lay out action and give characters good facial expressions, but the guy’s stuff just isn’t to my taste.  So, I dunno.  It was okay, I guess?  I had to look up a lot of these people.  I might as well just split the middle and give it 5.5 Awesome Andys.

SILVER SURFER #9:  “Slingshot”.  Speaking of She-Hulk, Dan Slott wrote her series when it was at its best, and here he’s teamed up with Mike Allred, a creative team that I’m pretty much destined to love no matter what they do.  The plot involves the Surfer, who is cruising around the universe with a hotel clerk for no reason I can figure, finding a planet of refugees from other planets eaten by his old boss, Galactus.  (The mid-book recap of the Surfer’s origin is unnecessary for geeks like me, but it’s one of the only books I’ve seen that actually makes an effort to inform those much-desired new readers just what the hell is going on, and it does it with style, so kudos for that.)  Unfortunately, by merely arriving there, he has futzed up the cloaking device that hid these poor souls from the Devourer of Worlds, and sure enough, like clockwork, here comes the G-Man himself, like a fat guy who has just been told that there’s one McNugget left in the box of 50 he just tossed in the trash.  The Surfer tries throwing a moon at him, which, come on, that’s not going to work, but it’s an enjoyable visual sequence.  This was good — nothing groundbreaking, but a fun and fitting cosmic joyride from two talented folks.  I’m looking forward to the next issue, and giving this one 7.2 Pastor Mikes.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS:  SPARKS NEVADA, MARSHAL ON MARS #1:  “The Sad, Sad Song of Widow Johnson, Part One”.  You know what?  I have a feeling that if I say anything bad about this comic, the nerd community will rise as one and choke the life out of me.  I am sure you will like it.  It wins the rating of 6.4 Colonel Tick-Tocks., or, 4.6 Sadie Doyles.

Join me again next week, when there will be more comics cluttering up my living room, long-term memory, and ability to pay my electric bill!

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