Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 04: Happy! and Godland: Hello, Cosmic!


Published by Image and created by a superstar creative team of Grant Morrison (writer) and Darick Robertson (artist), Happy! in an exercise in juxtaposition, a genre mash-up comic and like all other mash-ups, it succeeds not based on the genres it’s playing with but on how good the story is. I would characterize Happy! as a mash-up failure and here’s why. Morrison takes a crime story and mixes it with, um, something. That’s the first problem. If you’re going to mix two things together, you have to be able to clearly identify what’s being mixed. This comic is clearly a mash-up of something but Morrison never clarifies both components of what’s being combined. One side, the crime comic, is pretty clear but what’s the deal with Happy the Horse? What kind of story is it and how do you categorize that? I can easily picture a crime story because millions of them exist, some great and some terrible but I’m not able to come to terms with Happy (the horse, not the comic - well the comic, too).

The other reason why Happy! doesn’t work is that the recognizable part of the comic is a boring rehash of other stories. Most notably, it reminds me of the basic plot of The Hard Goodbye, the first Sin City story by Frank Miller. I’m not saying Morrison is taking his plot points form another writer, I’m pointing out that nobody seems to have noticed the pretty strong similarities between both stories. As for the parts that make this story different from The Hard Goodbye, they’re trite and predictable. Mash-ups aren’t very convincing when the basic story stems mostly from one of the two genres and uses a well-known story in the same medium as its plot.  My third problem is that Morrison’s unique authorial voice is completely lost. It’s hard to tell it’s actually written by Morrison. The reason could be that he’s unfamiliar with crime stories. The dialogue also suffers because I got a sense that Morrison was trying too hard. Most of the characters use fuck as punctuation and while that in itself isn’t necessarily what makes the dialogue terrible, it certainly doesn’t help.

I don’t even have anything particularly nice to say about the art. Robertson does a good job drawing things that are gross. He’s really good at capturing images and characters that show the dirtier parts of life, particularly life in the city. I think Robertson is a good fit for this kind of story but there was something different with the inking. The lines were thinner than what I’m used to seeing with his art. At the end known of that really matters because the colouring was too dark to let any of the line work to really shine through. What could have been a really interesting mini-series by two well-known and applauded creators in modern comics, Happy! will undoubtedly be relegated to a mere footnote in the story of these creators contribution to the medium. 

Gødland: Hello, Cosmic!:

Gødland is a superhero and cosmic comic pastiche. Specifically, it riffs on the works of Jack Kirby, both his art and a bit of the writing, and on the family dynamic of the Fantastic Four. It’s co-created by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli and they’re not just making use of some of the great comics of their youths, they’re also using what is known in the industry as the “Marvel style” of creating comics. Casey writes out a plot and hands it over to Scioli who draws out an entire issue and hands it back to Casey who writes in the caption boxes and dialogue. It’s a different form of collaboration than what we usually see in comics today but it seems to work pretty well for these two.

I’ve regularly read good things about Gødland online, particularly by people whose taste often matches up with me. I’ve also read other comics by Casey that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit (but he also has some terrible stuff). It was just a matter of time until I read Gødland and now that I finally have, I’m a bit disappointed. Part of my disappointment is related to my expectations. I wanted more science fiction, more things cosmic. The first volume of Gødland focuses as much on the Archer family and their relationship with the universal cosmology than it did on supervillainy with characters such as Basil Cronus (love the name), Discordia and her father. I like it but I don’t love it. I feel like Casey and Scioli are getting their footing but it’s still impressive what they accomplish. You can tell that they have a good idea where they want the story to go but it’s not minutely planned out.

The first volume of Gødland leaves me wanting more. It kind of felt like a tease even though Casey and Scioli introduce a lot of characters, some important backstory all while setting up the larger story still to come. I want to know more about the space foetus Adam meets on Mars, I want to know more about Maxim the armoured spaced dog and Iboga the mysterious space god. I also want to know more about the Archer sisters, Stella, Neela and Angie. I feel like the book will focus primarily on the Archer sisters and their relationship (or lack of) with Adam but also because family is an important theme in Casey’s body of work. Gødland is simultaneously impressive and underwhelming. I know, it’s a strange combination, but I’ve responded to a comic like this before. It makes me feel like I did when reading Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles which is one of his best comics. I’m hoping that’s an indication that Gødland will also be a great comic but the only way to find out for certain is to keep on reading.

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