Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Few Books I Wanted To Like, But Couldn't

Unlike some in online comics discussion, I don't buy books that I'm not looking forward to in some way. I don't expect everything will be high art, but I'm at least interested in the story or characters. I don't consider the purchase price of a comic to be an all-ages pass to Snarkland: The Amusement Park. I also don't generally write up books I don't like. I'd just rather not spend more time on them.

This past week, though, I picked up a few books that ... stung. Books that I eagerly anticipated, but that left me cold for one reason or another.

  • The Book Of Lost Souls #1
    What did not leave me cold was the gorgeous work of Colleen Doran. It's stunning and tells the story better than it deserves. I suppose I've been mistaken about J. Michael Straczynski all these years, as I frankly has no idea he was 17 year old goth who writes bad poetry and worse songs. He tricked me by producing the best Sci-Fi show ever to hit the airwaves in Babylon 5, but reveals his true smudged-black-mascara self in The Book Of Lost Souls. Troubled, Byronic Jonathan is persecuted by the world for being too smart and too sensitive and is handed a magical book that saves him from suicide by sending him through time. The script is filled out by cryptic speech, cat-fancy, and biblical reference. It's straight from the notebook scribblings of a Robert Smith wannabe, and has all the narrative drive of a dirge. It's nonsense .... but it is beautiful nonsense.

  • Loveless #1
    I love me a good Western: Deadwood, Unforgiven, Blood Meridian. I've missed out on 100 Bullets, and really wanted to fall in love with Loveless: to get in on the ground floor of a new Western renaissance and a new Azzarello comic in one fell swoop. That was surely hampered by this mess of a first issue where I really had a hard time puzzling out what was going on. Frusin is using such seep shadow and mystery in each panel that the atmosphere is great, but we can't see enough of the similar character faces to get the cast straight. It's a minor problem, though, compared to Azzarello's impenetrable exposition. One major problem, to me, is that I don't know where we are. The town's called Blackwater, that much is made clear ... but in a story set just after the Civil War, it's vitally important that we know it's geography. It appears set in some vague, mythical "West", but that's impossible to pull off when also trying to deal with the political realities of the Reconstruction. There is an interlude with unsavory Union soldiers looking for a "Boyd Johnson" that appears completely unrelated to the events of the rest of the story. Finally, there is a "twist" ending that strains credulity as it tries too hard to set you up for the shocker.

  • Solo #7
    I am a big fan of Mike Allred's work on Madman and Red Rocket 7. I love the energy and vibrancy that he (and wife/colorist Laura Allred) bring to the page. I love the kitsch and the joy and the fun. So why wouldn't I love his issue of Solo? The problem is that while his love for DC's Silver Age is open and honest, it grows tiresome quickly. In the "fun" pieces, there's none of the subversiveness that made Madman so appealing, and his "message" piece ("Batman A-Go-Go") is mawkish and repetitive. I understand the sentiment that the DCU (and Batman in particular) has gotten too dark, but unremitting camp and sunshine isn't the answer, either. As serious artistic statements go, "everything was so much better back then" is not something I can take seriously. The whole book was one-note and very strident in it's obsessive focus on the single kinds of DCU that Allred wants to see. It's gorgeous art, but the heavy-handed message overwhelmed the fun in this one.

  • Jack Cross #3
    It's like some intricate thought experiment or Zen koan: Is it possible that Warren Ellis could write a book so bad, so unspeakably boring, that even I would give up on it? The answer of course is Jack Cross. The nice thing is that I'm in good company, as it appears Ellis himself has given up on Jack Cross. It has absolutely none of the crispness of Ellis, none of the crackle. It's lifeless, and Gary Erskine's stiff pencils sure don't help matters. I don't really know what the "hook" of the book is, and I still am baffled by its placement in the mainstream DCU.



tangognat said...

I didn't mind Book of Lost Souls but I was reading it for the art, not the story. I do agree that the plot was rather thin, but I'll buy the book just for Doran's art for now.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I agree with you on Loveless. I was very much looking forward to it, and it left me cold.

Vaklam said...

I completely, utterly agree with you about Jack Cross. Man, how I wanted to like that book. I heard Ellis mention that he was only using his back brain for one of the Marvel books he was writing. Cross is even worse. And the art! Well, I go on about the art in this post

At least Desolation Jones is good.

Mark Fossen said...

Wonderful - someone agrees with me on everything.

I'll buy the book just for Doran's art for now
So will I, tangognat. And I was mainly buying it for Doran, as well. But if it continues to be this kind of vague poetical dribble, I won;t buy it indefinitely.

I agree with you on Loveless.
Maybe I just too desparately wanted Deadwood: The Comic. And maybe it will become that - I'll give it another issue. My main problem was the godawful setup storytelling, and once that's past it might improve.

At least Desolation Jones is good.
Very true. As is his JLA Classified run right now, and even the Ultimate Galactus stuff is better than Cross. At least there you hace the bare minimum of Ellis: great lines of dialogue. There's none of that in Cross.

Mark Fossen said...

Well, I go on about the art in this post
I had skipped your post going through my bloglines last week, as I hadn't picked up the book yet.

You are spot on with the art. Ellis is usually good at writing for the artisis' strength, but it's like he's writing for someone else. Erskine just can't pull off the energy needed.

joncormier said...

"I don't consider the purchase price of a comic to be an all-ages pass to Snarkland: The Amusement Park."

This is by far my favourite quotation this week. Completely in tune with you on Loveless. I hate figuring out the big reveal well before it happens. I was kind of hoping the nameless rider would be Death or the devil or something.

Mark Fossen said...

I hate figuring out the big reveal well before it happens.
I didn't see it coming. What I really objected to was pulling and cocking the gun on the nameless rider. Seemed to be going a long way to set us up, when the action itself didn't make much sense.

... It's tough discussing the execution of something that you're trying to spoiler-protect. :)

Shane Bailey said...

I dropped Jack Cross, didn't pick up Book of Lost Souls, but I'm willing to give Loveless a chance since Azzarello's writing always seems to be a slow burn.

Spencer Carnage said...

Allred's Solo works as an interesting, fun, and beautifully drawn conversation about today's comics and how they relate to yesterday's comics. What it doesn't do is show how comics should go forward. It hangs out, shows your something that was cool back then, then ends with everything going "weee!". It works in Solo because it ends in Solo. Would it work on weekly basis like most comics? Only in the way that 70s shows work because it makes fun of the 70s instead of being a show that was made in the 70s.

Mark Fossen said...

Allred's Solo works as an interesting, fun, and beautifully drawn conversation about today's comics and how they relate to yesterday's comics.
Which would have been fine ... but I'm not sure the Batman Centerpiece qualifies as anything but "beautifully drawn".