Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Comic Book Carnage 005: Xombi and Venom!

It's time for another edition of Comic Book Carnage, in which Mike (from It's a Bit of a Shame) and I geek out over a couple of books for your entertainment and enlightenment. 

Yan: What are we reviewing?

Mike: Xombi and Venom.

Yan: Okay, good. 'Cause the less said about Batman Inc., the better, probably.

Mike: Such a shame about that book.

Written by John Rozum; art by Frazer Irving.

Yan: I thought this was fantastic! It's an instant hit for me. I guess I should mention that I did not read the original series, since I wasn't reading comics in the 1990s. But jumping in with this #1 issue was not a problem. I'd read a few things about the character before reading the issue, so I knew what his deal was, and it was mentioned briefly in the book, just to confirm his back story but without dwelling on it. I also got a real sense of the character's personality and was immediately drawn to him. Credit for that goes to John Rozum's script and Frazer Irving's art, both of which are great. Being familiar with Irving's art, I expected as much, so the real revelation for me was how clever and funny Rozum's writing was.

Mike: I agree. Xombi was a surprise for me. I only picked up the book for Irving's artwork, but yeah, Rozum's writing was equally enjoyable. If I had to describe the feel of Xombi, I would say it reminded me significantly of Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol. There's all these bizarre, vaguely disturbing details getting tossed around, but it's never in danger of being too weird, due to its strong cast.

Yan: Yeah, I haven't read Morrison's Doom Patrol, but that sounds like a fair comparison. Although I think this is better than Morrison's more recent output. I like that Rozum doesn't dwell on explanations or overexposition, but at the same time the story never feels confusing. There are a lot of ideas introduced in 20 pages, and most of them are not fully unexplained, but reading it, I wasn't lost or frustrated.

And some of it is very cleverly handled, like the thing with the coins. When Julian grabs the change from his pocket at the beginning and the faces on the coins are talking to him, you assume it's just another crazy unexplained phenomenon, but then several pages later, when David Kim asks "What's with all the coins" and one of the sisters says they were Julian's idea, that's all it takes. You make the connection and fill in the blanks.

Also, I think one of the biggest surprises for me was just how funny this was. Because of the art and subject matter, I was expecting a really dark and serious tone. But there were several welcome laugh-out-loud moments, from the tuna sandwich in the opening sequence to the explanation of how "Nun the Less" got her powers, which would've been hilarious by itself, but was made even better by David Kim's subtle wordless reaction.

Despite how little I knew of the series going in, by the time I was finished with this first issue I felt like I really needed to track down the original series.

Now, I do have one complaint that really isn't the fault of the book at all. It's just that as I was reading this I kept thinking, "This is really good, but it's totally going to get canceled."

Yan: Aw, don't say that, man! I mean, you're probably right, and it's depressing as hell. But I really hope that Frazer Irving's still riding the wave of popularity from those Batman and Robin issues and that this is going to encourage people to pick this up. I've seen it discussed on a few message boards and the responses are overwhelmingly positive. But... it doesn't star any Bat character, so nobody's really going to be paying attention. In a way, I kind of wish this was on Vertigo. Maybe it would have a better chance of finding an audience there.

It says a lot about today's market that a book can't survive based solely on being good.

Yan: Yeah, it's really sad. I'd like to think that as long as Irving stays on the book, it has a good chance of finding an audience. But maybe I'm overestimating his popularity. Besides, the question is how much of a commitment has he made to it, and would the book be as good if he left after a few issues. But, whatever, for now, this is about as great as comics can get for me, so I'm supporting it and I hope others do as well. We'll see what happens.

Mike: Yeah, I agree. Irving may be the only reason people will read this book, but considering how often his projects get delayed I'm assuming he's not the fastest artist in the world, so there's a chance he's only doing the first few of issues. Again, real shame this book doesn't stand a chance, as this is probably the best first issue I've read all year.

Yan: I'd like to think it does stand a chance. Let's not be too defeatist. At the very least, we can enjoy it while it lasts. I mean, I don't want the main thing people take away from this review to be: "Great book doomed to failure." So let's end on a positive note. In case it wasn't already clear, I'm rating this one AWESOME. So everyone reading this: Go buy this now.

Mike: I will also give this the coveted rating of AWESOME, because it is the only book you will read this year to feature a shrinking nun.

Yan: Called Nun the Less!!!

Mike: Ha, yes, so brilliant!

VENOM #1 (Marvel)
Written by Rick Remender; art by Tony Moore, Danny Miki and others.

Mike: I tell everyone that I picked up Venom because of the creative team of Rick Remender and Tony Moore, but I actually picked it up because I'm secretly a huge fan of Venom, the character.

Yan: I like Venom, although Spider-Man 3 almost ruined the character forever.

Mike: Thankfully this book is free of any jazz club scenes.

But anyway, this really isn't a Venom book. He's there and all, but this is definitely Flash Thompson's book. At the beginning of the story, Flash really isn't the most intriguing of main characters. Like, there's that scene where he's talking about how much he loves his country and it's just the most cliché representation of a soldier. However, Remender sold me on the character as soon as he's out of the costume. The scene with him in his wheelchair debating whether or not he should go to a bar or an AA meeting at church, only to discover that the bar has a wheelchair ramp and not the church, is genius. It makes all the heroic posturing from earlier in the story seem pathetic when compared to how the rest of his life is.

Yan: Yeah, I had a pretty similar reaction while reading it. The patriotic internal monologue at the beginning was a bit of a turn-off for me, although I'm used to a lot of that in comics, so I can tune it out fairly easily. The character became interesting at the end of the book, but even earlier than the scene you mention. The discussion with his boss (or whatever) near the end really causes you to reinterpret everything that's happened up to that point. You realize that what seemed like a messed-up but not disastrous mission was actually more complicated than that.

I wasn't too thrilled when his girlfriend accuses him of secretly drinking, because it seems a bit weird that he wouldn't have a better excuse for his absences. I mean, I realize he's part of a top-secret military project, but she knows he's in the military so it shouldn't be too hard to just say: "I was on a top-secret mission." I don't understand why he has to make up some lame excuse. But then the last scene was pretty moving, yes.

Mike: I guess the mission was so top-secret he couldn't even acknowledge it existed. Or something.

Yan: I just think people who have military in their family should be used to that sort of thing. Then again I don't really know their history that well.

Mike: Yeah, she just sort of shows up to play the role of irrational, bitchy girlfriend, and that's about it.

Yan: And that's part of why I have a problem with it. She's not much of a character at all. She's just there to create additional problems for the (male) main character. And considering there are barely any other females in the book, I find that kind of irritating. I mean, there's Katherine, but so far there's not much to go on with her character either, though at least there's a bit of potential for her to get more interesting.

Mike: Okay, so the writing had some rough spots, but I think we can agree that Tony Moore does an amazing job on this book.

Yan: Well... Yes and no. I mean, yes, he draws the shit out of this book. But I don't know if it's the inking or what, but I feel like something doesn't do his pencils justice. It may just be a personal preference. I like really clean lines, and this all looks a bit muddy. But it's not just a stylistic thing. Some of it almost looks blurry.

I suppose having three different inkers on this issue didn't help matters.

Yan: Yeah. I feel like I don't have the expertise to really say what exactly is wrong, but I don't like the look of this book at all, even though I think Tony Moore is an amazing artist. His faces are expressive, the action is dynamic, the backgrounds are detailed - all of that is great. But the end result is so cluttered and drab. Some of it is the colouring, too. That combination of deep yellow-oranges and mouldy grey-greens doesn't do anything for me.

Mike: I just flipped through my copy to see what you were talking about, and yeah, there's this weird blurring effect throughout the issue that really muddies the details.

Yan: It almost looks like a bad printing job to me. Like the whole thing is printed from a low-resolution jpeg. I see a lot of that in otherwise very professional-looking comics and I really hate it.

Mike: Yeah, not the kind of thing that should be said about a $3.99 book.

Yan: So, this is a bit of a tough sell for me. I think the creative team of Remender/Moore is a strong one, but I didn't love this. The military setting, while an interesting take on the Venom concept, doesn't appeal to me that much, and there were enough things wrong with the look of the book that I have to think twice before adding this to my already massive pull list. I think I'm going to drop this. But I still think it's GOOD. Just not right for me. If I had an unlimited budget, I would probably keep reading.

Mike: I'm going to keep reading this, just because I'm not reading enough Marvel. But I also like this book for being a unique take on typically one-dimensional character (Venom, not Flash Thompson). But I agree with the complaints about the writing, and now that I've taken note of them, the problems with the art too. So I'd rate this book as GOOD.


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