Posted by: Jeff Lester on June 20, 2012
I promised myself if I ever got caught up, I’d do one of these. The last couple of podcasts, we’ve wrapped up with a one or two books that I’d read still left unmentioned. Hmm, I thought to myself. If only there was a way I could actually share my thoughts on these books without ceaselessly cutting off Graeme just as he was saying something sensible and well-reasoned. Via some kind of…written medium, maybe…
After the jump: the miracle of the written word!
MIND MGMT #1: Did you pick this up? It’s an odd, paradoxical package: a $3.99 book without any real “hand” to it that is actually a full, satisfying read; a “by-the-numbers” plot that feels unique and idiosyncratic; art that straddles the line between off-putting and charming; a comic that all but screams “self-published labor of love” that comes with the Dark Horse stamp on it.
None of it should work. Almost all of it works. And it works because the creator Matt Kindt is the kind of guy who has ambition to burn and mad formalist chops. The best I can do to make my point is to point you to page 24 of the book, where the bottom six panels of the nine page grid are actually a single image just as the narrator explains the secret behind a psychic able to see the future by reading the minds of every living creature around him. You literally see “the big picture” at the same time as the revelation, which lets you experience how the psychic’s power works.
While I didn’t put down the book with any especially strong desire to see what happens next in the story, I can’t wait to see the next issue, to see what Kindt tries to pull off next, and to see if he can use those formalist skills to make me care about what’s happening. This is quite a GOOD book and worth your time.
MUD MAN #4: Mud Man is one of those books I soooo dearly want to love. Paul Grist is really working the Lee/Ditko vibe of Amazing Spider-Man, trying his damnedest to re-create that odd, off-kilter feeling of a teen superhero trying to get by without a rulebook to follow. Rather than follow the beats laid down by Lee and Ditko (and copied by generations of comic book creators since), Grist is using his own rhythms and ideas and the limitations he’s put on the title character. There’s a charming little essay on the inside cover about where the title should go in comic books, the last line of which is “Why Don’t People Do Comics The Way I Want?” and it’s pretty easy to see Mud Man as Grist doing the superhero comic he wants to read the way he wants. I feel like he should be lifted on the shoulders of the comics industry for it.
And yet, once you strip away some of the smart and dynamic page layouts, the masterful use of white space, and the charmingly low-stakes action (this is our first supervillain, and he’s a shirtless old guy), the book doesn’t really have that much different from it from what you’d see in, say, the Rogers/Giffen run of Blue Beetle: it’s very much the “young hero gets a cool, enigmatic mentor” turn with an additional four page action sequence that turns out to be a daydream.
I know, I know: that’s a lot of amazing stuff to put away to one side, like I decided to complain about a cake with the opening argument of “putting aside the amazing frosting and the amazingly rich texture of the cake itself…” But I think maybe there’s some validity to not being satisfied with a chocolate cake without any chocolate in it. In Mud Man, our hero makes a heroic choice to save the guy who bullies him in his secret identity, but he does it without any use of his superpowers. (And the best, most exciting example of his power ends up utilized in the four page daydream sequence.)
Lee and Ditko did an amazing job of making Peter Parker an object of pathos, in both his secret and public identity. But we also got to see Peter kick some ass in exactly the right proportion to all the superhero-deflating hijinks. I know it makes me a bad reviewer to judge this book on what I want rather than what Grist intends, but just a dash more superheroing in this superhero book would make it so much more than the OKAY read it is to me.
PLANETOID #1: Okay fine I admit it I am a stinking bourgeois pig who went out and got an iPhone 4S a few months ago when I came to the perfect intersection of necessity (we needed to change carriers) and culpability (as I recall, Apple had just opened Foxconn and their partner manufacturing plants to outside review) but you know what: don’t tell me you couldn’t give a shit about Siri because YOU ARE LYING.
I submit this sci-fi book by Ken Garing as Exhibit A, because no sooner than the protagonist crashes on a strange planet than he activates RICTER, his interactive analytical assistant. Yeah, that’s right, bitches: our indy comic protag only makes it four pages before he decides he needs a faceless servile voice to catalog his inventory.
So don’t tell me you don’t dig the idea of holding up your phone and giving it some numbers to calculate a percentage of, or what time sunset is set for, or to send a message to your wife telling her you’ve managed to lock your keys inside the car for the third time this month and could she please come downtown with the spare set. Because I’ve got HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Paul Bettany in all those Iron Man movies, and mother-fucking Ricter from mother-fucking Planetoid #1 to call you out on your shit.
As for the book itself, it’s a very generous 32 pages for $2.99, and although it’s about as by-the-numbers as you can get, it’s lovely to look at and is scratching that new, weird sci-fi comic itch recently brought about by Prophet, Saga, the first two years of Uncanny X-Force, and being able to buy issues of Matt Howarth’s Those Annoying Post Bros. and Savage Henry for ninety-nine cents a pop over on Comixology. It’s an OK book, the kind of thing that could be entirely disregarded if just one of the factors (price point, talent, individual interest, use in dumb pop-culture arguments) wasn’t met. But they were so, yes, OKAY, indeed.
POPEYE #2: Comes sooooo very close to being the absolute slice of licensed genius I want it to be: in fact, that Sappo story in the back by Langridge and Tom Neely is in fact something breathtakingly close to perfection. In the way it takes an goofy premise and logically makes it goofier and goofier while keeping it grounded by its characters (or character types, really), it reminds me of a lot of what I loved most about Segar’s work.
The Popeye story, however, doesn’t work quite as well despite having a classic premise–Popeye has to compete against the dastardly movie star Willy Wormwood for Olive’s affections. All of the pieces are in place and each character is recognizable and in character–Olive is fickle, Popeye is a sensitive roughneck, Wimpy is a smooth conniver–but for some reason nothing really quite lands. I don’t know if the licensor had problems with the script, or Langridge didn’t have time to finesse things or what, but when you’ve got a potentially genius set-up as Wimpy playing Cyrano and feeding lines for Popeye to say to Olive and you get rid of that idea in a quarter of a page, something has gone screwy.
I know Langridge and Co. don’t have the freedom to play a comic bit out for as long as they want the way Segar did with his strip, but, unlike with the Sappo piece, the main story felt overly full and oddly static at the same time.
Thanks to the Sappo story, I’m giving this issue an overall GOOD rating, but I’ d love to see it get even better next issue. It’s got more than enough potential to do so.