Posted by: Graeme McMillan on January 20, 2008
I’m oddly upset that ’76 #1 didn’t work so well for me; I like the basic idea, and there’s nothing really wrong in the execution. It’s just that… it doesn’t gel for me, for maybe the stupidest reasons possible.
The writing is clearly influenced heavily by Quentin Tarantino’s movies – especially Cool (Jackie Karma is Tarantino by way of Power Man and Iron Fist, which is a fun enough idea, but there’s not enough in this first issue to get you completely involved in the story – The split book idea again seeming nice and retro, from Marvel’s playbook in ’76, but it works against both stories here, I think) – but the visuals don’t have the stylization or slickness that Tarantino’s movies have. There’s nothing bad about the art, but I can’t help but wonder whether something less scratchy and, well, rounder – think Byrne and Austin’s weirdly-disco Uncanny X-Men run – would’ve felt like a better fit. It also doesn’t help that both stories feel like pastiches instead of stories in their own right, ironically-distanced exercises in nostalgia that aren’t meant to evoke 1976 as much as the 2008 idea of 1976 as seen through the lens of the movies and comics of the period; you can’t get that into the stories because they have too much of a hipster feel without the substance or humor to back it up.
The strangest thing about the book, though, is that it’s the things other than the writing or art that let it down the worst. The lettering, for example, is stiff and inorganic both in terms of the typefaces and the balloons, drawing attention to itself instead of the sinking into the background, pulling you out of the story instead of letting you dig a character being called Cherry Baum that little bit longer. Likewise, the non-comic pages of the books are downright ugly, undesigned things that could’ve been used to evoke more of that ’70s comic aesthetic (Imagine a Bullpen Bulletins look, instead of the bell-bottomed headline being squished on the second page of the interview)… Maybe I’m just being a former art-student design snob – the covers, in contrast, are really nice, and makes me wonder what happened elsewhere – but, still.
(While I’m nitpicking; wouldn’t it have been great if this hadn’t had glossy heavy pages, but newsprint? Me and my tactile experience theorizing…)
It’s a frustrating book – too much focus on surface, and too little space to give us something more meaty, but not focusing on the incidental aesthetic details that can make and break the experience – because I want to like the book better than I actually do. I want it to be more than just Okay, but it’s not there yet. Maybe by 1977?