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Brit, Vol. 3
posted August 25, 2009
 

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Creators: Bruce Brown, Nate Bellegarde, Andy Kuhn, Robert Kirkman
Publishing Information: Image, softcover, 144 pages, September 2009, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781607060611 (ISBN13)

The latest trade paperback featuring the Robert Kirkman-created superhero Brit collects the last six issues (for now) of the discontinued comics series. Although it may feel quite a bit different than its modern superhero cousins if that's your only point of comparison, in the context of wider pop culture the Brit comics are fairly straight-forward. Brit is an indestructible government operative surrounded by a mostly oddball supporting cast of loved ones and fellow employees. His stories blend the action-adventure angle with elements of workplace comedy and domestic drama. The whole thing is set in Kirkman's surprisingly sturdy Invincible universe, and doesn't take itself all that seriously except in those rare moments when it takes full advantage of being otherwise restrained.

The running joke for earlier issues in the series was how Brit's being invulnerable without being stronger than his impressive body type led him to unique solutions to whatever problem he was facing. In the comics collected here, even that kind of low-level genre commentary has become more or less folded into standard superhero action, with the humor pushed to the fringes of dialogue and physical comedy. The centerpiece story in this third collection is one of those "horrible alternative future" comics in which the world is skewed in a specific way because of choices the main character could have made but didn't (at least I think so; it's a little unclear). You've probably read ten stories like this one; you may even know how you'd take out Evil Emperor You. That said, that story and the ones on either side in this volume are appealingly colorful, generally well-drawn according to modern standards for superhero books, and feature snappy dialogue from the mouths of likable characters. The book trots along at an admirable pace, and the writer doesn't telegraph plot points. I even liked Brit Vol. 3 better than the individual comics.

It also doesn't really gel, both in terms of my own kindest reading of it and in its ability to connect to a wider audience. A book like Brit shows just how difficult it's become to sustain new superhero comics in the current market. As a series, Brit came out on a terrible schedule, and was trying to make a name for itself on obviously crowded shelves. Yet it also failed to offer anything to anchor readers beyond its surface qualities, qualities that were hardly medium-changing. It lacks the thematic underpinnings, counter-intuitive pacing and attention to narrative detail that distinguishes its creator's most successful work. If Brit were a television show, you might watch it having dinner with your Mom, but you probably wouldn't even remember what time it's on.

For decades this kind of solid, unspectacular effort could thrive in comics, but that was when the medium routinely brought in new readers who had never seen plot points X, Y, and Z before, let alone a dozen times. The current readership has been brightly burnished to the point where it seems something special --or the illusion of same applied to first loves, not new ones -- is required to win their attention. Brit may be a lot of things, but it's hard to say that "special" is one of them. Despite their frequent protests to the contrary, most of the fans that remain seem to want something more than a pleasantly executed comic book. By that standard, Brit suddenly becomes vulnerable.