Four Colors to Infinity: Brains in Alabama Edition
It seems like forever since I’ve done Four Colors to Infinity, the inexplicable semi-weekly feature where I spend a bunch of money on randomly selected comic books and read them even though I hate them. Maybe this is because I’ve been busy hanging out with actual people in the real world who don’t care about sneak previews of costumes that will be worn in a movie that won’t be released until 2021, or maybe time just flies blissfully by when you don’t have to pretend to care about these costumed assholes shooting each other with super beams. Whatever the case, I dragged myself to the local funnybook dispensary yesterday for one last moment of sanity before Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day, the industry’s festive salute to the principle that you get what you pay for.
I faced a bit of an existential crisis this week. As you know if you’re a Patreon subscriber, I’ve been facing some self-loathing around the fact that I spend a lot of bread every week on these four-color disasters even though comics are dumber and more alienating now than they have been since I quit reading them in the early 1990s. If it wasn’t for the fact that people pay me to review them, I’d save that money and spend it on, I don’t know, fancy teacups or cop-killer ammunition or something. Anyway, when I went into the shop today, some dude was lamenting that since he hates DC’s Convergence event (brother, I can relate), then “What am I supposed to spend my money on this month?” I was just about to say “Uh, pretty much anything?” when I remembered that there I was, about to drop at least ten bucks on Convergence books I also hate, all to amuse an audience of Internet ghosts. Now who’s the asshole? Don’t answer that — let’s just get to it.
CONVERGENCE: CRIME SYNDICATE #1: “No Title”. Here we go again with the no title business. This takes about 30 seconds of extra work, guys, try to put in a little extra effort. The problem with Convergence, as with all these stick-your-action-figures-in-a-shoe-box-and-make-them-fight adventures, is that none of the character development, or even the characters, matters; it’s all just padding to get to some dumb fight. This one has some promise; I like Phil Winslade’s simple ’80s throwback style, and the cover is a real Golden Age callback. But the story goes nowhere. Having Superwoman remorsefully record the Crime Syndicate’s origins in her prison diary is a nice idea, but it leads to zero payoff as the rest of the CS storms the joint with M-16s and it all turns into a shoot-’em-up with the Suicide Squad and then EVERYONE FIGHT FOR THE FATE OF THIS CITY OR ELSE WHO CARES. Also, why are they executing Superwoman in her costume? That can’t be legal. It’s not a good sign when the text-feature backup telling the origin of the group is way more interesting than the comic that precedes it. Just for good intentions, and the insane line “This is a war against the greatest evil since the Fourth Reich! Lincoln Luther must die!”, let’s give this one 3.4 Abradolf Linclers.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR #645: “…The Fantastic Four!”. Oh yeah, I forgot, Marvel is also making it pointless to read any of their books by doing this thing where everything gets canceled and they reboot the whole continuity from scratch, starting with the FF. That should be fun, it worked out sowell for DC the last six times they did it. This is a double-sized issue which establishes this week’s theme of charging me two bucks extra for comics I didn’t want to read at regular price, or free for that matter. James Robinson gets the special privilege of burying the series that has had so many great creators behind it, and he’s done some fine work; artist Leonard Kirk is pretty generic, though. This is a whole bunch of fight scenes mostly involving some dink called the Quiet Man, who is an evil scientist and not John Wayne doing a ridiculous Irish accent, and it’s packed with a lot of FF greatest-hits bits: Psycho-Man belittling Sue Storm, flaming on, clobbering time, and yet another adorable deus ex machina ending courtesy of Franklin Richards and his sister, Girl Franklin Richards. Inconsequential and pointless! What a great way to see off the title that kickstarted the whole Marvel Era! At least there’s a few charming backup stories, and comics pros picking their favorite FF covers from the days when there was a reason to give a shit. So long, one of my favorite comics of all time — you deserved better than 4.1 Aunt Petunias.
MULTIVERSITY #2: “Superjudge″. This one cost two bucks more as well, but Grant Morrison can at least be relied on to cram twelve bucks worth of story into a six-buck comic. This thing has been consistently the best title I’ve bought since starting this project, and at least half the comics readers in existence spend their time hating on it, because, well, let’s not have this debate again. Anyway, this one can’t help but disappoint in comparison to the Ultra issue, but that’s like saying steak is pedestrian when compared to lobster; there’s still a hell of a lot going on here to like. Morrison carries on the metafictional experiment of the last issue while easing back into a more traditional narrative, and since this one happens to focus on the Demon, one of my favorite character especially when handled by a clever writer. Which Morrison is, because come on, who else is capable of sticking a subtle Angel and the Ape joke inside a story? So I’m happy. It’s still unclear how, if at all, this is going to fit into the re-revised DCU, but as long as it’s going to leave behind stories like this, I’m satisfied. For the vampire Batman and Bizarro Adam Strange jokes alone, this gets, 8.8 Pig Irons.
OUTCAST #8: “A Vast and Unending Ruin”. I have to admit, this might be the book where my determination to only read books at random and know as little about them as possible beforehand may have finally bit me on my big fat ass. This book, the latest project by Robert Kirkman after he made all the money in North America on The Walking Dead, looks pretty terrific — a moody, paranoid tale of demonic possession with some very natural dialogue, perfect settings, and absolutely terrific artwork by Paul Azaceta. Unfortunately, the plot is a bit hard to follow, making what otherwise looks like a really gripping ending pretty ineffectual. And for once, that’s my fault, not the book’s fault. I don’t say this often, but this looks good enough to go back and start from the beginning on, so take it with a grain of hellfire-infused salt when I rate it with 7.6 Daimon Hellstroms.
RED ONE #2: “Welcome to America, Part 2”. This, on the other hand, is just a big sloppy mess. It’s the story of what appears to be a Russian secret agent, who talks like a valley girl and poses as poor white trash from Alabama, and it’s the ’70s, and she, I don’t know, fights some kind of neo-fascist right-wing religious fanatics and enjoys capitalism even though she is devoted to the Soviet cause. This is by Xavier Dorison and Terry & Rachel Dodson, who are all apparently distinct individuals and not just another name for Frank Cho, but regardless, this is pretty awful at every level: politically incoherent, sexually exploitative, narratively meandering, and with characters who come and go without ever making much sense. Even stranger, it ends with a cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until the new story arc begins, which won’t be until 2016. I think any theoretical reader’s chances of remembering it for that long are absolute zero. The art is decent in a derivative, cheesecakey way, but that’s about it, so it earns 3.9 Dr. Tania Belinskys.
CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM! #1: “Return of the Thunder”. In case I haven’t made myself clear here already, let me be perfectly honest: I’ve sat through a bunch of superhero comics ‘events’ in my day, ranging from the good (the first 52) to the unspeakable (the second Secret Wars). And Convergence is far and away the stupidest. Not the worst (Civil War still exists, after all) or the most pointless (so does Hypertime). Just the dumbest in conception and the most haphazard in execution, not to mention the most inconsequential — was anyone clamoring for a series pitting one city against another in a multiverse beat-’em-up, and does anyone give a shit who wins? That said, this book — written with verve by Jeff Parker and beautifully drawn by the talented Doc Shaner — is proof that good work can be produced within the framework of even the dumbest concept. It’s got some fine characterization, a couple of great reveals, plenty of fun cameos, and that real sense of enjoyment without which no Captain Marvel story can thrive. It’s hard to hold against it the fact that it’s part of an utter throwaway of a storyline, but then again, when you get to the last page, you immediately stop caring what happens in the next issue, and that can’t be good for any book. Let’s split it down the middle and hand this one 5.0 Stinky Printwhistles.
See you again with more Four Colors to Infinity next week, when I pretend that Free Comic Book Day never happened! Excelsior!