So it was kind of a short funnybook week for me last week. But I think I might be able to turn that into a column anyway…
by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren
This is one of those issues that makes things come into focus.
Redneck has, to a large extent, been about an intense blood feud between our hero– actually, let’s say protagonist— vampire clan and the Landry family. It’s a long-standing issue, and I’ve understood it as I’ve read along, but the intensity of the hatred suddenly makes more sense. Lots of stuff makes more sense now, actually. Stuff I didn’t even know had more to it than I understood. Stuff like certain tensions among the vampires, for instance, and maybe why Grandpa was locked in the attic.
The problem, of course, is that I don’t want to spoil any of those things, even a week after the book’s release. So instead, let me just praise Donny Cates for good long-range planning. Or, at the very least, for coming up with something that SEEMS like long-range planning, even if he did just come up with it on the spur of the moment. Because there’s a skill to that, too, and on the reader’s end… They’re pretty much the same thing.
Such is the magic of writing.
I’m less impressed with this issue’s last-page reveal (which I’m also not going to spoil). It’s a great moment, don’t get me wrong. But Cates telegraphed it pretty hard last issue, and when it didn’t happen then, I just assumed it was going to happen now. So my reaction was less “Holy crap!” than “It’s about time!”
But again, I’m speaking vaguely, and possibly not making much sense. So let me wrap this up. Redneck continues to be a fun read (if your idea of fun includes, you know, lots of carnage). And this issue, it’s also proven itself to be well-constructed. While I still wouldn’t call Cates an incredibly deep writer, he knows how to put together a rip-snorting bit of pulp, and how to develop plot and character without hitting you over the head. And those are two things we value quite a bit here on the nerd farm.
The Terrifics 2
by Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, Jose Luis, Vicente Cifuentes, and Jordi Tarragona
Fair warning: this review is going to get fairly technical. I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about pacing and storytelling technique, and why those things are important. If that’s not your bag, you might want to just stop reading here…
So I’m still not clear on how the work’s being divided up on this book, but I’m beginning to suspect that they’re working “Marvel Style.” Which would mean that Jeff Lemire provides the plots, from which Ivan Reis draws the comic, figuring out the pacing of everything and tossing in details as he goes, with Lemire coming back to write the dialogue after the art is done. I don’t know that for sure. I haven’t heard anybody say. But if I had to hazard a guess, that’s what it would be. Especially after this issue, which…
Which reads like it was put together by someone who doesn’t have the best grasp of how to tell a story. And since Lemire generally has pretty good instincts when it comes to that sort of thing, I have to think it’s Reis. The story moves from one big thing to another, with nothing to set up the next scene. Sometimes, this is just slightly disorienting, like when Phantom Girl (who’s been stuck in phantom form since childhood) suddenly realizes that she can become solid again. That happens on a page flip, so here’s both pages for your perusal:
What the hell? There is literally zero transition there. One second, Plastic Man’s talking about how he’s not an egg, and the next she’s having an unexplained epiphany. How does she know that? What the hell’s happening to her that she can tell? Hell if I know! It just kind of happens, in as undramatic a manner as possible. The dialogue kind of tells us what’s going on, but it’s clumsy. This is a simple moment that I should grasp as much from the pictures as the words, and that doesn’t happen. That’s not a crippling flaw, but it’s also not the kind of storytelling that makes me want to read more.
Much worse is an earlier scene which is staged in such a way that Mr. Terrific comes off like a moron. Last issue, he activated a mysterious alien machine. This issue, he decides to take the machine with him for later study, because he’s finally remembered that they need to get the hell out of the “Dark Multiverse” as quickly as possible. Now, he can only take part of the thing with him, because it’s evidently too big to carry (though no one actually says this, and Reis has done a poor enough job establishing the machine visually that I can’t tell for sure).
So you’d think Mr. Terrific (SUPER Genius!) might take a minute to examine the thing and figure out if they could remove a piece of it without breaking it. I mean, maybe the thing’s put together using some kind of non-standard Evil Universe measuring system, so he doesn’t have a wrench that’ll work. I dunno. But at the very least, you’d expect a panel or two where he ponders all that, then decides that he has to make a snap decision because of the urgency of their situation.
But, no. He just grabs the antenna and starts yanking on it.
For a guy who’s gone out of his way, more than once, to point out how smart he is, Mr. Terrific is acting like a real dumb-ass. Something that’s brought home on the next page, when the thing blows up in Our Heroes’ faces:
Now. It could be argued that Reis left enough space over on the far left of that first panel up there for Lemire to have squeezed in another word balloon to better-explain Mr. Terrific’s thought process. And I think that’s very true. But that would still leave the moment dramatically flat, because Reis didn’t give the scene room to breathe. Regardless of what Lemire wrote, it would still feel rushed, and Mr. Terrific would still look like the dumb-ass who, faced with an unfamiliar alien technology, decided to just grab onto the pointy bit and start yanking.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s look at Mr. Terrific’s epic blunder in comparison to the one it’s probably supposed to mirror: Reed Richards’ decision to take the Fantastic Four’s rocket up without proper shielding against cosmic rays. At the end of this issue, we discover that the Terrifics are bound together, unable to get very far away from each other without being painfully wracked by strange energies. And the only thing I can think of that could have possibly caused that was the explosion. So this is Mr. Terrific’s fatal error, the one that makes Our Heroes into a team. That’s pretty much what Reed’s bad decision did for the FF, too, so I don’t think this comparison is (no pun intended) too much of a stretch.
The difference is, the Fantastic Four origin is well-paced. The desperation behind Reed’s fatal error is established by a debate about the dangers of cosmic rays. Ben almost refuses to fly the mission because of it. But it’s the space race, and they’re in danger of losing it. So up they go. And because Lee and Kirby take the time to establish all of that, we understand why Reed made the wrong decision. And how much space does this masterpiece of storytelling take up? THREE. FREAKING. PANELS.
Seriously. That’s all it takes. Three panels, and we know exactly why this is a bad idea. Surely there was room for that here. But that room was not taken. And because of it, Mr. Terrific looks like a dumb-ass.
That doesn’t kill the book for me, but it’s a symptom of the thing that does: the story is just poorly-told. It reads like it was put together by someone who was so interested in the big moments that he didn’t leave room for anything else. Who wants to draw Mr. Terrific thinking for a couple of panels, after all, when you can draw Plastic Man giving himself giant muscles? Which is not to knock Plastic Man giving himself giant muscles. That’s fun stuff. But a story can’t be all fun stuff. You’ve got to build to the fun, or at least not rush through everything so quickly that nothing has resonance.
In the final analysis, this comic annoyed me. And no matter how much I may have enjoyed parts of it, I don’t really want to come back for more. Not right now, at least. Maybe, once Reis is off the book and Doc Shaner takes over the art, I’ll give it another shot. Perhaps his storytelling will be more to my taste.