High Concept Graphic Novel Reviews- The Damned, Dynamo 5, Fear Agent, Hack/Slash, and Whiteout
Where I lump a bunch of comics that have easily described hooks together for the puporse of getting some content out there again.
The Damned vol. 1
High Concept: Mix old school gangster fiction with horror. Bunn’s script mixes the horror elements with the gangster conventions (double crosses! Gang wars!) really well, and the plot really builds to the finale. Hurtt’s art is very attractive black and white work, as he does a great job mixing the potentially clashing elements he’s working with together. It’s a pretty mean feat that he can pull off monsters and mugs with equal aplomb.
That said, I’ve got to be honest with you; I read this a month ago and could barely remember anything that happened in it without flipping through it again for purposes of this write up. Also, I have to say that I enjoyed this comic in a similar vein much more. So, there’s that against it. But I do know I enjoyed reading this, and they built the world well enough here that I’m interested in seeing what volume 2 has to offer when it’s collected.
Dynamo 5 vol. 1: Post Nuclear Family
High Concept: What if Superman was a serial adulterer, each one of his bastard spawn gained one of his powers, and their widow drafted them to fill the void left by his death.
Jay Faerber sure can come up with a high concept. With Noble Causes, he took the idea of a superhero comic as a soap opera to its logical conclusion. In Dynamo 5, he’s in similar territory conceptually, tweaking the genre to come up with a fresh, interesting idea.
That said, it’s a different animal than what I’ve read of Faerber’s last superhero high concept series (which was only the first trade, admittedly). This isn’t a mash up of Dirty Sexy Money and superheroes or anything. It’s more of a traditional team book, really, aided by some very good characterization from Faerber to make some of the more stereotypical (at least on paper) characters at least 2-dimensional.
That said, there are some elements of the story that got on my nerves. Certain cliches, like the characters powers being activated by radiation, grated. But then I realized I accept that kind of thing with no qualm in other superhero comics (especially of the Marvel and DC variety), and I also remembered that I usually just gloss over that sort of thing if the rest of the story gives me enough reasons to.
Really, I’ll never be that critic, who throws a book against a wall out of frustration at some pet peeve. Well, I’m not a critic, for one thing, and I’ve also never understood why you’d throw a book. I’ve never been that angry about anything. That is if it isn’t hyperbole, or people who just really like riffing off Dorothy Parker. Which I can understand; she was pretty awesome. I’m just not that guy. Which is why I can read so many damn superhero comics; because I either accept the cliches or can eventually supress any resistance to them that rises up in my head.
Penciller Mahmud A. Asrar and Colorist Ron Riley provide some very slick art. I know Burgas is annoyed that Asrar is getting mainstream work. I don’t have any particular comment on that, but it does at least pad out this paragraph. I think I had a point there at some point, but I lost it.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable superhero comic. It’s not great or epic, but it moves at a very good clip and the characters are on the good side of being likable and interesting enough that I can see myself picking up future volumes of the series, even if it isn’t a huge prority right now.
Fear Agent vols. 3 and 4
High Concept: Attempt to give sci-fi its balls back by creating a comic that’s got EC and Vertigo in it.
Volume 3 serves as a good jumping on point, as it’s basically the secret history of the Fear Agents, and shows exactly why protagonist Heath Huston has such a heavy self loathing streak. It’s probably a good idea to go back and read the previous volumes before picking up four; some of the bigger moments didn’t resonate for me as much as I think they would have if I’d read previous volumes, although I could follow it well enough, and a plot thread set up in volume 3 starts to come to fruition in volume 4.
This a comic that’s not big on sentiment. Supporting characters die early and often. Huston makes some pretty terrible choices with equally terrible consequences. It’s pretty refreshing that Rick Remender isn’t afraid to go there. He’s like Degrassi, but with more genocide! This can be a pretty bleak comic at times, so if you’re the kind of person that thinks Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil is too downbeat (not that I can blame you, after reading the end of that Mr. Fear arc), this may not be for you.
Remender’s joined by Tony Moore and Jerome Opena, two guys who are very well suited to the material. They do a great job with the adventure comic elements while still nailing the occasional moment of abject horror or introspection, or whatever else the script calls for.
I’m a little put off by Remender’s Texas accents (I’ve never heard one like that, but to be fair, I’ve only seen like 15% of this huge state, and also, I was okay with them in Preacher), and have had other occasional quibble with what I’ve read of the series thus far, but I still think it’s worth a read. I mean, how many other lo-fi, post apocalyptic adventures with drunk
Hack/Slash vol. 4: Revenge of the Return Part 4
High Concept: What if the final girl from a slasher film grew up to become like a gothier, angrier Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and/or Tiffany Shepis.)
So, when Sims called this the most exploitative comic he’d ever had in his house, I’m guessing that means he didn’t buy the story arc about the self mutilating lesbian tub club/blood cult.
That said, I still like this comic. I like the way that Seeley balances slasher conventions, humor, and Buffy-esque girl on monster action. The Archie parody worked especially well.
Emily Stone does some good work on the pencils. At some points, I thought “Man, she should really be doing mainstream work”. That really shouldn’t be my standard for assessing the work of a comic book artist, but I did think it a lot. She does really slick work without being totally, soullessly airbrushed.
High Concept: A murder mystery fraught with international intrigue- in Antarctica.
Okay, this one goes back a ways compared to the rest of the books on this list, but it fits my theme, damn it!
That Rucka sure can write a taut murder mystery, can’t he? It’s like he has a background in them or something. Maybe he should pursue that in prose at some point.
Steve Leiber does a great job here. Maybe it was because I read his afterword talking about his process, but I was really impressed with how he rendered the Arctic wasteland here. It’s breathtaking what he was able to do with what could have been relentlessly repetitive scenery.
Really, if you only buy one of these vaguely high concept comic book collections, this should be the one. It’s excellent, and might even win over people who don’t care for Rucka’s superhero work.