Monday, 8 July 2013

Less Than Heroes review

I appreciated Less Than Heroes more than I liked it. It is very good though. It’s unfortunate but my lack of enjoyment can be largely attributed to my distaste for the art. I’ll get to that later though. Yurkovich mentions in an essay collected in the back of the trade paperback that he’s a fan of superhero comics of the Silver and Bronze age. That’s were a lot of the inspiration came from. When reading the comic I also got the sense that Watchmen was also an inspiration and that was partially confirmed in the essay. I think there is also a hint of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol (I later discovered that this was indeed and inspiration by reading an interesting article on CBR). Not necessarily that things are overtly weird, but there is a sense of quirky oddball superheroics present throughout the story. That could also be the Silver age influence on Yurkovich’s writing though.

Yurkovich’s Less Than Heroes is another comic in the superheroes-done-realistically genre of comics. Unlike other comics that have tried this approach, Yurkovich heroes are not government registered vigilantes. Instead, they’re (often) unionized work for hire vigilante working in syndicates that offer their services to large cities that have problems with supervillainy. The biggest and most well-known group is the New York Superhero Syndicate (NYSS). They’re the biggest because New York also happens to have the highest concentration of supervillains. Hiring a group of heroes can be very complicated and extremely expensive. In a scene during the last chapter, we see the mayor of Philadelphia trying to hire the NYSS’s Delta Squad to help save his city. The leader of Delta Squad presents multiple contracts and other legal documents to be signed before any of her team members go and do anything for the city. I thought it was very interesting that the NYSS aren’t paid. Instead, the city of New York has agreed to provide them with health care and life benefits. It’s a great little scene and Yurkovich pulls it off rather well.

Unlike many of the larger cities, Philadelphia didn’t want to pay the exorbitant price of hiring a superhero syndicate. Instead, they choose to hire an independent non-unionized team called Threshold. For the team it’s a great opportunity to work as a hired superhero without needing to be affiliated with the larger teams. For Philadelphia, Threshold presents a team of heroes that’s probably not worth the money the city is paying. They have a lot of recreational time in no small part because the city is populated with freelance superheroes and because there aren’t a whole lot of villains in Philadelphia. By the end of the comic, Yurkovich will have forced Threshold to prove themselves as a team after the arrival of the Stamp Collector and several other villains from New York. Whether they succeed or not is partially up to the reader’s interpretation. What’s clear though is that the NYSS’s price may have been far too high for Philadelphia. Perhaps Threshold isn’t so bad after all. Either that or they’re a useless bunch of posers.

As I mentioned earlier, the most disappointing thing for me was the art. Yurkovich has a very blocky style. The characters look stalky and stiff. Yurkovich also uses shadows and shading rather liberally and it doesn’t really mesh well with his square lined figure work. I did, reluctantly, get used to it. By the end of the comic I even began to accept the art’s intentional irregularities in figure and form. Despite not liking the art, it did fit well with the story’s tone. The story, much like the art, is quirky and angular, this story is the result of careful thought and planning on Yurkovich’s part as opposed to a story that flourished naturally on the page. From what I could gather from Yurkovich’s essay, he’s been thinking about his own universe of superheroes for quite some time. Despite all this, the unappealing art makes it difficult for me to truly like Less Than Heroes past my appreciation for this interesting take on the superhero genre. There are even things about the art that I appreciate, the lack of overly rendered musculature and artificial looking anatomy, but then other things like the 3D art and computer graphics, take me right out of the story.

I have to conclude that Less Than Heroes isn’t for everybody. There is equal part worship and disdain for superheroes and it takes a particular type of reader to be able to appreciate that. Readers who are more open to varied styles might even enjoy Yurkovich’s art much more than I did. I’d rather see Yurkovich develop his writing and work in conjunction with another artist. That sounds mean but heck, I had a hard time with it. I’ll end things by encouraging you to check out this interesting article about the origin and production of Less Than Heroes. You can find the article on CBR here.

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