Friday, December 07, 2007

Everything New is Old Again and Other Marvels

You might not have picked up The Twelve #0 or Omega the Unknown #3 this week. You're probably busy trying to follow the complex sophistication of the Countdown crossovers, the sensational return of The Ultimates, or the naked ladies in the most recent issue of Heavy Metal. Or, like most intelligent comic readers, you're probably just waiting for the fancy hardcover editions. But I just want to point out to you how weird and exciting these two issues were. You're missing out, honestly, and I know you don't want to do that. You HATE missing out.

I can understand why you'd pass up J.M. Straczynski and Chris Weston's The Twelve #0. Who would pay $3 for a few completely obscure Golden Age reprints plus a brief preview of the upcoming 12-issue series? I would, and it was worth it. Sure, the "preview" was just two out-of-context pages from issue #1, and the "extras" were just the same old character designs you can find for free on Chris Weston's blog, but those three glorious reprints, and everything they imply, more than make up for the weak bonus features.

One reprint features "Rockman," an underground emperor of a sort who also has really cool drilling vehicles and the ability to smash through walls with his head. Oh, he's also obsessed with protecting America from foreign threats, even though he's not, in any way, American (or human). Lucky us! It's an imaginative tale with artwork by the great Basil Wolverton. Wolverton's Spacehawk was one of the few reprint series I bought decades ago, and he is one of the not-so-secret-missing links between Golden Age weirdness and Mad Magazine.

The other great reprint in The Twelve #0 is the Laughing Mask, who devilishly creeps around and frightens gangsters by shooting at them. The reprint features a genius scene in which the Laughing Mask drops a glowing mask from the ceiling of a villain's lair, then, while it is falling, he runs down the fire escape, punches hole in the window, reaches in and turns off the light switch, ALL BEFORE THE MASK HITS THE GROUND. What skill. What elegance.

The collection of reprints sells the upcoming series more effectively than the Weston art preview (although Weston is a fantastic artist, surely), because these characters are absolute maniacs. Unlike other Golden Age Marvel characters we're more familiar with, these are the ones that never caught on--they were too odd, too brutal, too sociopathic, with their laughing masks and their wall-smashing head-butts. I have never been a Straczynski fan, but all signs point to The Twelve being one of the best comics of 2008. Check it out.

You're probably also waiting for the collected edition of Omega the Unknown, especially after that strange first issue, which was almost a beat-by-beat retelling of the Steve Gerber first issue from 1976. But this new incarnation of Omega has veered off in a different direction while still maintaining the off-beat quality of the original and establishing the same themes of displacement and alienation. The school scenes here, in issue #3, as written by Jonathan Lethem, are certainly more "realistic" than Gerber's, but they are still overly simplistic, showing the intellectually-bankrupt public education system run by thugs and drones.

The real draw in this series, though, is the Farel Dalrymple artwork, which violates almost every rule of Mighty Marvel Storytelling. Therefore, it is brilliant. It's unlike anything else on your mainstream superhero shelf, and yet it's a mainstream superhero book. Dalrymple crosses word balloon tails, uses a static camera again and again, lacks dynamic anatomy, and is all-around gorgeous and strange and ugly and beautiful. Omega the Unknown has a chance to be a major work of graphic fiction, believe it or not.

Both The Twelve and Omega the Unknown rely on retellings of past stories with a postmodern twist. I know it's nothing new. But, then again, everything I've loved in the comic medium has been the same type of thing. And that's okay with me.

At least it's not more attacking Amazons.


Marc Caputo said...

I'm always wary of anything where it's deviation from an accepted norm is the thing that makes it "brilliant".

Actually, the art on Omega #1 was one of the things that sent me into a 2 1/2 month non-blogging funk. The other was that same week's Howard the Duck #1. Which was weird - two works based on Steve Gerber's in the same week. What I didn't like about that book was that Templeton's broad side of the barn attempts at "satire" and Bobillo's decision to draw HTD as humanoid with a duck's head; I'm all for artistic license, but how do you set up the "trapped in a world he never made" if he doesn't look that different. But I digress...

I struggled with the art on OTU for a week or two. Even though I came back to comics in the "boobs and big guns" 90s, I also fell deeply and continue to have pleasant re-reading experiences with creators like Seth, Brown, Brubaker (whose "Lowlife" is getting the long-delayed once-over by me for Sequart - coming soon!), Clowes and Los Bros Hernandez. However, I wouldn't want to see any of them do a superhero book, mostly because of their (to varying degrees at the time of their peaks, 15 years ago) disdain for superhero books. I wouldn't want to see Ivan Reis or Ed McGuinness do "real-life" comics, either. I don't think juxtaposition works here. The art looks like it was made JUST to piss fanboys off. Well, sometimes and with some things, I remain a fanboy.

I also had a problem with the word balloons which had too much white space for the words, which were lettered larger than normal. Additionally, there was no credited letterer, which means one of the team was doing a job he wasn't good at. We're not working out of someone's garage, here. This is Marvel. You've actually got the big machine to let you Trojan Horse a "personal project" right next to the New Avengers - try to meet people halfway is all I'm saying.

Ultimately, I wasn't hooked enough to come back for another $27.00 - maybe I'll be down for the collection. Just who was the intended demo for this book, anyway.

BTW, see my blog - I'm back, too!

Timothy Callahan said...

It's isn't brilliant just because it's different, but anything that looks different than the norm is going to draw attention and end up being interesting at least. Dalrymple is brilliant because he captures the awkward moments of the story so well, and his style makes even the most traditional superhero moments seem unconventional (in that awkward way he has).

I don't care at all about the "intended market" for anything, although I would assume the intended market is anyone looking for something a bit different in the superhero realm.

And the lettering works perfectly in conjunction with the narrative. It's lack of slickness is just right.

Once the whole thing's completed, I think you might want to give it a second look.

Timothy Callahan said...

You know what could easily kick off an extended blogging funk for me, though? Ultimates3 #1. That was some bad, bad comics.

Marc Caputo said...

Tell me about it - I saw your comment over at Klock's. I put a comment in later. I'll say this - Ultimates 3 #1 could be the worst comic I've read this year. I've been a very vocal NON-fan of Miller/Lee's All-Star Batman, saying that Miller hates superheroes and his superhero-loving audience, but he's freakin' Santa Claus compared to Loeb here. Loeb is off the rails of late - I'd prefer to see a 6-issue mini of the Maximums over this.