Friday, January 12, 2007

Comics Rambling: Penance, Deadbeat, & Head

The novel's finished (albeit in need of revision) and I've got more than a few items to cover. The comics world moves on a weekly basis, which isn't easy to keep up with. So, here are three recent-ish developments which I found of interest.

First, there's CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #10. As a result of being kicked around for allegedly causing the deaths of hundreds of people, mostly children (and probably several puppies) at Stamford, the hero once known as Speedball has finally snapped. Donning a suit of armor with spikes on the inside and outside (partly as self-punishment, partly because he now has to be in pain to use his powers, partly because he seems to kind of like it), he is now calling himself Penance, and, well, just look.

Needless to say, this is a spectacularly bad idea. Fortunately, it is also a hilariously bad one. That a previously lighthearted hero has been gritted up is nothing unusual for modern comics, but that he's been turned into a throwback from 1993 comes as a surprise. And what's more, in this issue at least, it's played completely straight, with some of the most hilariously grim narration I have ever read. Even the expression of the "tailor" in the last panel has a certain "oh, jeez" quality. Now, Penance is scheduled to appear in THUNDERBOLTS, written by Warren Ellis, who fortunately for us has a solid sense of irony; if anyone can make this emo antihero work, it'll be him. In the meantime, I'm finding this strangely satisfying- it renews my faith that in the midst of all-too-carefully calculated market-driven "events" and the respectable-but-joyless introspective arcs that epitomize superhero funny books, writers and editors can still give us spectacularly bad and ludicrous ideas. Penance is the modern Hypno Hustler, and it's good to know that things haven't changed that much. There's also the fun of wondering how he'll arrive at a crime scene without dying from blood loss or tetanus (unforunately, Marvel already has a character called Lockjaw.) To say nothing of how he goes to the bathroom.

From fictional absurdity we move to the real kind. There's a guy called Rick Olney who, in the midst of running conventions and trying to publish comics, has developed a habit of not paying anyone. In fact, nobody can confirm that anyone who did work for this man in any respect has been compensated. This has attracted the attention of several comics pros, from Gail Simone, who has started a thread on her discussion forum over at Comic Book Resources (the related threads are worth looking at, too), to Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Scott Shaw!, and others as this scandal develops. What makes this funny instead of just horrible is that Olney himself showed up on the main thread to try and defend himself- I've summarized his attempts over at Fandom Wank, suffice it to say, it's plainly obvious we're not dealing with a pro here. It's hard to say how this will turn out, since it seems like the man is in a position where he couldn't pay if forced, but at the very least his reputation is ruined.

And back to fun stuff. Comics from the "Big Two" don't often feature brand new super-characters- they're hard to sell, the companies prefer to focus on developing existing IP, and creators nowadays know that what they create won't be theirs, so the impetus is to save their good ideas for indie comics where they can more often claim ownership. But occasionally a good new concept shows up from a daring writer, and Gail Simone and THE ALL-NEW ATOM #7 is no exception. I give you the sensational new character find of '07- Head.

Head is the genius oracle of a microscopic alien race called "The Waiting", who have a lateral relationship to time and manifest this mostly by talking strangely. In his most recent escapade, Ryan Choi, the titular Atom, captured their oversized-to-them intellectual guru, who now lives with him and roommate Panda. Between his affection for television and his cries of "ORANGE SODA OR DEATH!" and "QQQQQQ!", Head is a fun and vaguely endearing figure who, while seemingly limited in his uses, may yet surprise us. Simone has a knack for exploring neat, weird ideas. Not enough people are reading the new ATOM, which needs to change swiftly- it's a solid dose of goofy fun and neat ideas, evoking a bit of the sense of wonder that comics used to go for more often. If that ever comes back into style, I'll definitely have more reason to keep up with the industry.

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