Alberto Ponticelli, American Vampire, Andrea Sorrentino, Animal Man, Brian Bolland, China Mieville, Dan Green, DC Comics, Dial H, Essex County, Green Arrow, Jar Jar Binks, Jeff Lemire, New 52, Rotworld, Sarah Connor, Scott Snyder, Severed, Swamp Thing, Sweet Tooth, Terminator
Scott Carney: While never done in a ceremonial manner–certainly never hand to heart–I think it’s safe to say, as evidenced by my weekly What’s Up? posts, that I have publicly pledged allegiance–in a case or two, unabashedly blind allegiance–to an exclusive club of comic creators. Two fellas who fall into that illustrious legion of superscribes are Scott Snyder (Severed, American Vampire) and Jeff Lemire (Essex County, Sweet Tooth).
But I fear–as I do fondly while reading the best of Snyder–that I no longer hear the deliciously shuddersome voice that drew me to him in the first place. Certainly not in Swamp Thing #17.
And, I no longer hear Lemire’s refreshingly veracious voice, either, if I’m being honest–as heartwrenchingly honest as he is when he’s at his best. Certainly not in Animal Man #17.
It seems, here, in the two-book Rotworld finale, that each–a true master of his craft–has been thwarted by a wholly unexpected villain: the run-of-the-mill comic book hero. (Don’t get me wrong: on both fronts, the build up to the finale was just fine. If I’m being fair, however, Snyder’s work on Swamp Thing was more effective than Lemire’s on Animal Man–most assuredly because Snyder was living closer to home: the terrifying creatures littering the landscape of Rotworld are natural notes for him to play; and he played them well enough–again, until the end of this corrosive crossover.) What irony, eh? After laying a foundation–spanning several solid issues– upon which the defenders of fauna and flora fight alongside a surviving set of superbeings, what happens to Snyder’s signature horror? It’s foiled by the hero. What happens to Lemire’s signature honesty? It, too, is foiled by the hero. Foiled by the heroes’ hailstorm of shockingly silly lines–one more horrifically ridiculous than the next. Foiled by the heroes’ lack of believable layers, leaving them flat and cold, leaving them decidedly devoid of emotion; leaving them an unbridgeable distance from the ones they supposedly love–and from us.
So, as each creative team shoves its protagonist closer to the end–in this case, toward a portal to the past, which will allow the pair “to stop Arcane” from establishing Rotworld in the first place, kind of like a couple of Terminators after Sarah Connor–the cracks widen, deepen; and the finale collapses under the weight of the concept, resulting not in the presumably successful symphony for which we paid admission, but, instead, in a cacophony of defeat.
Derek Mainhart: I have to agree. What was so interesting about these two titles was each writer applying their own distinctive voice to the superhero trappings; Snyder’s almost clinical way with horror and Lemire’s naturalistic rendition of family dynamic amidst trying times. That they were able to do this while simultaneously working different sides of the same story was even more impressive. Now though, both of those strengths have been subsumed by the perceived requirements of epic storytelling: wooden dialogue, numbingly explosive action, and awful sidekicks (in particular, the character of Shepherd suggests Lemire is a part of that small, but distinctive demographic: the Jar Jar Binks fan). Yes, Animal Man has fared worse. As you say, Rotworld is more in Snyder’s wheelhouse; in fact, as I’ve said, the previous issue of Swamp Thing was quite good. And so, despite the unholy mess that was these two issues, I still have (some) faith that Snyder might be able to tie this all up with some sort of fitting coda, in what will be, after all, his last issue. Now that our heroes our back in the present, I hope that Lemire, who is continuing on Animal Man, will return to his strengths as well, tripping the light fantastic between the everyday and the extraordinary. Because the overweening superhero stuff is simply not him.
To wit: Green Arrow #17. This was billed as “jumping on point” due to the new creative team of Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino. And it delivers, in a ‘by the book’ (‘buy the book’?) sort of way: the hero’s status quo is violently dismantled by a new villain who seems to know everything about him. A new mystery is introduced regarding said hero’s past. Confidantes are killed, and cryptic utterances, uttered. All the notes are hit. And yet, to continue your musical metaphor, it doesn’t sing. It’s like a robot playing Beethoven; a rote exercise. Now I’m obviously not a regular reader of Green Arrow. Perhaps to fans of the emerald archer, this issue provided a new direction, a sense of excitement. But I picked it up because it was a Jeff Lemire book. Sadly there is nothing of his voice in this. Anyone could’ve written it.
SC: I hear you, sir! If anything, it’s a three chord ditty: it’s listenable, sure–likeable, even, for what it is; but in the end, what is it, really? One thing’s for sure, it’s not what we love from Lemire.
DM: What we love, indeed. But what’s all this talk of “voice” and “music”? In a superhero comic? We’re expecting too much you say? Shame on you, you should know better by now. Any genre can achieve stirring crescendo given the right creator.
I submit: Dial H #9. This issue, indeed the entire series, has served up an aria of imagination by writer China Mieville. His unending cavalcade of absurd, sublime heroes is itself worth the price of admission–not to mention this ridiculous cover by Brian Bolland:
Here, we are treated to the monstrous Minotaura, and her singular method of ensnaring her prey. (Kudos also to artists Alberto Ponticelli and Dan Green who are quickly finding their feet on this title.) And then there is The Glimpse, a hero whose inspired power is to stay forever at the periphery of your vision. You see a glove here, a boot there, but the hero himself is just beyond your reach, always teasing you with his promise, but ultimately leaving the panel empty. If there’s a better metaphor for the never-ending, epic-obsessed, hype machine that is the current state of the superhero industry, I’ve yet to find it. Want to say it together?
SC: Sure! Yeah! Let’s harmonize. Ready, on three. One…Two…
SC & DM: Book of the week!
Scott & Derek