Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 6, 2007

CR Review: Three Comics

imageTitle: Coyote Collection, Vol. 2
Creators: Steve Englehart, Butch Guice, Chas Troug, Bob Wiacek, Tom Orzechowski, Steve Leialoha, Steve Oliff, Christie Scheele, Bob Sharen, Alan Weiss
Publishing Information: Image, soft cover, 128 pages, 2005, $12.99
Ordering Numbers: 1582405131 (ISBN)

I'm not sure if Steve Englehart's Epic comic book series Coyote made enough of an impression to carve out more than a passing mention in anyone's history of mainstream American comics. If it slips in anywhere it might be into a paragraph about heroes motivated by sex. Set in Las Vegas and mixing Native American legend with a vaguely defined, controlling-the-world conspiracy feel, Coyote features a hero who is kind of a horndog, the type of person that uses their superpowers to ogle babes when he's invisible or to press his advantage with them one-on-one in a kind of super-cocky young celebrity at the nightclub manner. It's strange that for all of their desire to mimic the dramatic high points of the real world, the vast majority of superhero comics seems to feature gorgeous, powerful and famous characters who get about 1/10th the action enjoyed by Frankie Muniz. So on that level, Coyote makes a lot of sense, and feels a bit present-day.

It's still very much a creature of its time when it comes to getting past its one-sheet pitch, however. The stories here substitute a surfeit of soap opera style complications (including the old perfect-mate deal) for development of the personal story and trot out a series of pulp novel obstacles (leagues of assassins! monsters in fighting pits!) to drive the main narrative. Setting a fantasy adventure story in the real world with some semblance of motivation beyond altruism should expand the story possibilities, but here everything that should make Coyote more interesting never gets past the first gear represented by genre correction. This is one of the few comics that would probably benefit from today's slower-building storylines because the variety of ingredients on hand might have a chance to develop on separate tracks. Unfortunately, this is a collection rather than a series launch. Coyote remains a creature of his time, sex drive and all.

imageTitle:Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1
Creators: J Torres, Chynna Clugston, Guy Major, Rob Clark Jr., Steve Uy
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, May 2007, Free
Ordering Numbers:

I liked the relatively complicated presentational style DC presents young readers with this cartoon-related Free Comic Book Day giveaway. The jump cuts and multiple levels of narration and framing don't always come across to me as perfectly realized, but rather than spoon feeding its potential audience a straight-forward narrative the comic presses the notion that kids reading escapist literature may be more prepared to accept sophistication from story technique than from moral shadings and mature character motivations. That's an impulse that's driven a lot of kids to fantasy literature of all types, but rarely gets employed in comics because of the perceived difficulties the medium may present all on its strange, hybrid art-form own.

The story itself is predictably goofy, as it features the perpetually never-over Legion of Super-Heroes, who in superhero terms are like those actors that keep landing parts on prime time TV shows without ever quite being successful with one: the Paula Marshall or Dennis Boutsikaris of the comic book world. The Legion seems to maintain a measure of appeal on a variety of levels. I think the most important are its long and uniquely benign Silver Age history and its appeal on the basic conceptual level of futuristic teens with superpowers, although all the avenues by which the series is enjoyed likely contribute to its present-day fandom. Each re-launch or re-adjustment draws on one element more than the others, irritating that group of vocal fans that approaches the book from the other angle and freezing out most new readers who I think feel like they're getting the John Stamos-era Beach Boys instead of the real sauce.

This iteration seems more New Monkees than Monkees reunion special, and with sharp enough characterizations could get over with a kid audience, one supposes. The story deals with DC's lame Young Superman re-casting of the Superboy concept, and that character's role as a member of the teenaged super team ("to get us on TV" isn't mentioned), placing this book into the grand tradition of kids' comics with some of its content driven by a courtroom decision. Okay, I just made that last part up. I have no idea if there are others.

imageTitle: Countdown #51
Creators: Paul Dini, Jesus Saiz, Jimmy Palmiotti, Tom Chu, Travis Lanham
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 31 pages, May 2007, $2.99
Ordering Numbers:

I'm not the target audience for this book, and not just because I'm reading a weekly comic something like 21 days after it came out. It's more a content thing. In fact, I'm so not the target audience I could probably put myself to sleep 14 days in a row trying to imagine what such a person would be like: those who love the minute details of DC's accrued history and those who find the application of such details engaging and quirky instead of baffling and dull, I guess. In this kick-off issue to a series that is a sequel to a similar weekly and a prequel to the company's next mega-crossover, two characters with whom I'm completely unfamiliar conduct a mini-throwdown over custody of a Britney Spears-type semi washed-up pop singer when they're interrupted by a bad-ass super-meanie who ratchets up the violence and story significance of said encounter.

There are also a few two- or three-page presentations of different quandaries for characters with whom I'm slightly more familiar, such as DC's Nickelodeon TV series-ready Mary Marvel and various members of the Flash's please-kick-my-ass club or whatever they're supposed to be called. They feel more like actors happy to be given a plotline on a long-running TV show than larger than life good guys and bad guys. Remember that hopeful look on the affected actress' face when the early '90s Star Trek would feature one of its rare "Dr. Crusher" or "Counselor Troi" episodes? That's what the supporting cast folks look like here. It's hard to get into the adventures of characters that seem like they can't believe their name appeared on the call sheet.

All of this plot grind seems to be in service of cosmic shenanigans of the type where the big bads play chess with the heroes just to show how powerful they are (I myself have a chess set of comics industry people I pull out from time to time to play games with the ghost of Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson). Or, if you prefer, it's the kind of story where the signs and portents of the end-of-the-universe variety reveal the powers that be to be superhero continuity geeks. In the end, while it's fun to tweak the nose of this kind of stuff, I remain just as baffled about its intended audience now that I'm done with the comic as I was before taking in the first page. What this particular brand of sound and fury seems to signify is an abdication of smaller pleasures and a divorce from an ongoing relationship with individual comic book series for wall to wall, over-inflated, Armageddon-tinged, extended musings on the awesomeness of DC properties. I wish I were still young enough to feign interest. Wait, no I don't.
posted 9:00 pm PST | Permalink

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