Thursday, May 29, 2014


Sparks is one of those works that if I had just read the description for it in Previews without knowing the talent behind it, I probably would not have ordered it.  Writer Christopher Folino (one of the directors of the excellent movieadaptation of this) and artists JM Ringuet and Tyler Endicott created a superhero story that looks at the genre realistically and weaves a tale of intrigue, violence, backstabbing, lust and love against a 1940s noir backdrop.  How many times have you read of something similar?  How many times has it worked?  Exactly.  People do this sort of thing a lot.  It usually fails.  Not this time. 

The start of this tale, which was put out by Catastrophic Comics, opens with a serial killer operating in 1920.  As he makes a kill, a meteor hits the town he is in, and a lot of people die.  13 survivors, however, are irradiated and start to mutate to the point where they gain powers.  Later their children inherit those powers.  Enter Sparks, a young man who believes he has powers.  Things go horribly wrong when he tangles with a new serial killer 28 years after the meteor strike, and so begins his downward spiral in the public’s eye and in his mind.

This is an interesting and unusual take on the hero genre, and it works incredibly well.  The characters are handled so deftly and are so against the usual stereotypes that exist in the world of comics, that you can’t help but wonder just how Folino managed to pull this off the way he did.  If you read comics a lot, you know this type of story rarely works.  (Incidentally, the movie adaptation is something that must be seen, too.   See it after reading this, though.)  Why is that?  Because superhero fans and creators talk a big talk, but they don’t walk the walk.  They say they want something different and unusual, but when they get it, they shun it … if it’s any good in the first place, which it usually isn’t.  The work usually starts out flawed because the creators are steeped in the history of the genre and are not only far too familiar with its conventions and archetypes, but they are also too familiar with those tweaks other creators do in order to set their stories apart from the rest.  That causes the superhero genre to become an incestuous cesspool of stale ideas masked as groundbreaking entertainment and art.  It’s the equivalent of saying Terminator 2 was original where all it really did was tread the same ground as the first film with just a few eye candy differences.

When fans get something truly new and original, they stay away from it like the plague.  They can’t pin it down to something they recognize, so therefore it is wrong.  If that sort of “logic” is keeping you away from this project, shame on you, Jack.  You are missing out on something truly unique.  No, it’s not Wolverine in his 4,332 story, and nor should it be.  You’ve read all of those.  Try something different.

Admittedly, the art is sometimes a little hard to follow in places and there are few scenes that feel like they could have been strengthened by a bit more fleshing out, but overall it works with the story’s noir aspects.  This is just wonderful storytelling, and should be read by anyone who thinks he or she has seen it all when it comes to superheroes … but only if you really want something different and not just the same old tale dressed in some new tights.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this copy to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me some dough.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

They Shoot First Ladies, Don't They?

1988.  Action Comics #610.  The series was experimenting with a weekly format.  48 pages for just a buck fifty.  A bargain by today’s standards.  When the series was weekly it was a testing ground (or dumping ground, if you prefer) for second-string characters while the man who made the series famous (Superman) took a back seat.  In this issue he was relegated to a two page spread that did little more than tease the average fan.  Also filling its strange pages was a Black Canary story that made no sense unless you read the issues prior, a Secret Six story that ended with a man falling to his presumed doom while clinging to a butchered pig (I am not kidding), a Phantom Stranger piece with artist Kyle Baker that was just short of being utterly boring, a Green Lantern story that had its moments … and a chapter in an ongoing Deadman story written by none other than Mike Baron (Badger, ThePunisher).

Nancy Reagan's about to get blasted!
The Deadman chapter was called “Catfight,” and it featured the title hero possessing the body of Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa.  It opened at a black tie political function, and in attendance was Raisa’s husband, as well as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who was possessed by a devil claiming to be Satan.  Deadman, inhabiting the body of Raisa, wielded an alien gun that he was going to use against Nancy to kill the devil inside her, all while Ronnie was busy being his typical clueless self.  In addition to that insanity, there was also an appearance by someone who was mistaken for D.B. Cooper and a man who was turned into a Ken doll. 

I don’t think this was based on a true story.

I can’t say this chapter of Baron’s story was good storytelling.  It was, however, weird.  It was the high-end kind of weird that indie comics were known for, but this wasn’t an indie comic.  This was DC, the home of Batman.  This was Action Comics, the book that gave the world Superman and changed the comic book game completely.  The title was Americana at its finest, and here was First Lady Nancy Reagan possessed and being shot at with a gun obtained from an alien astronaut … a gun being used by the story’s hero.  The ‘80s were cynical, but they weren’t that cynical.

Baron has always been a solid writer.  I don’t enjoy all his work, but it contains a certain chaotic glee that I find missing from a lot of comic stories.  On the flip side of that, his work can sometimes feel a bit forced.  This chapter of the Deadman arc was neither of those things.  It was, if anything, probably influenced by some Hunter S. Thompson-like dream and liberal paranoia (often one in the same).  D.B. Cooper’s appearance felt right at home in it, and Nancy Reagan’s possession seemed proper.  It all made sense in its own strange way, and readers were better off for it.

The weekly experiment for the title didn’t last too long, which I found to be a relief.  It really wasn’t a good idea to begin with, as it gave readers an excuse to avoid buying the title.  If they hated the characters, there was no need to get it, and if they liked the characters, the stories weren’t long enough to satisfy.  It did, however, give artists and writers a chance to go a little nuts, and while that didn’t always work, they sometimes created something so bizarre that you can’t help but remember it decades later.  

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I bought this comic.  Clicking on a link may earn me some dough.