Friday pull: Electric Boogaloo edition

Second chapters are important. First chapters are usually home to a lot of expostion and introduction, and, if you’re lucky, maybe the initiation of some kind of conflict. But Chapter Two is where things go down.

To that end, this week is (mostly) all about part two of several stories. Some are the second chapter of a new book; some are conclusions (of a story or a section); some are the second part of an interlude in a larger story; and one is The Goon (whoops, that’s for later). I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.

The Stuff of Legend – Vol. I: The Dark, Book II ($4.99 shelf grab): Stuff of Legend is kind of like Lord of the Rings played by the cast of Toy Story. In brief: Against the backdrop of World War II, a boy gets stolen by the Boogeyman in his closet, and his favorite toys head into “The Dark” to get him back. It’s darker than it sounds. I read the first book of this series before I had started blogging, and liked it pretty well.

In this edition, the crew (now without their leader, The Colonel), finds themselves in the village of Hopscotch. Everyone in Hopscotch plays The Game, the rules of which only the Mayor seems to know. In short order, Jester (the hatchet-wielding jack-in-the-box) gets himself and a local sent to prison, Percy (the piggy bank) gets a second offer to join the dark side, and Maxwell (the teddy bear/surly grizzly) is condemned to die at dawn.

There have been a number of fantasy books on the shelves in the last year – maybe the trend is partly an outcome of our fantasizing about Obama – but TSoL is a good read with interesting characters and some lavish art. Too bad the next issue doesn’t show up until Spring 2010.

Invincible presents Atom Eve & Rex Splode #2 of 3 ($2.99 shelf grab): We continue Eve and Rex’s meet-violent from last issue directly into … another fight. That dealt with, the majority of the story here is Rex figuring out just what his superpowered life is going to be. The story continues to be well-told, and writer Benito Cereno shows he’s not afraid to step back from words (and explosions) and let the visuals tell the story. Plus, this issue once again serves as a reminder why Invincible is the book of choice for lavishly rendered exploding heads.

Beautiful Creatures #2 of 2 ($4.95 shelf grab): After discovering their spirit-granted powers last issue, the girls set to taking down the Big Bad. We (and they) learn via flashbacks that he’s been beating the piss out of their inhabiting spirits every thousand years in order to steal their power, so this time the spirits are trying out human hosts (our four heroines). Last stands are mounted, evil appears triumphant, and subterfuge is engaged in, after which everyone has a beer and the story offers up a tag for future installments; as with last issue, all of this is done with repeated and awkward moments of fanservice.

I like the ideas behind much of Red 5 Comics’ work. Its flagship is Brian Clevinger‘s always-excellent Atomic Robo, which gives me some additional goodwill toward the company but also is kind of a tough act to follow. The stories spawned by these great ideas seem too often to need better stitching together, similar to the lack of connective tissue I’ve been complaining about in Jack of Fables. I’ll always pick up a neat-looking idea when I see it, and I think Red 5 is trying some cool stuff. I’d just like to see a little more attention to the pacing and structure that make books like Robo work.

I know these are limited runs, but so much gets jammed in that the characters and stories don’t get much chance to develop. I wound up giving up on another Red 5 title, We Kill Monsters, in spite of generally liking what was going on, because there was so little to hang on to from breathless moment to breathless moment. Beautiful Creatures kinda lost me for a similar reason: There’s a lot of “Wouldn’t it be neat if …” to the story, but with too much telling and not enough showing why I should care. Also, the repeated, lovingly crafted angles of sexy women’s asses got just a little creepy after a while, but your mileage may vary on that one.

Transformers #2 ($3.99 shelf grab). Last issue, Optimus Prime walked out of Autobot central and gave himself up to the humans. This issue, the Autobots need to figure out who, if anyone, is in charge; what’s more, they and the Decepticons are faced with the question of whether to keep fighting now that their war seems to be over. The choice they make will either surprise the hell out of you or won’t surprise you at all (spoiler: it’s not Cliffjumper, who I really enjoy as the Human Torch of this book).

I missed writing up issue #1 of this (Transformers is now an ongoing series), but maybe it’s for the best. Still not sure whether to add it to my pull list, but the story got me interested for at least one more issue. What I like is how the writers have fairly effectively taken out not only the all-defining war but the characters of Prime and Megatron – I used to love seeing these guys fight, but it’s lost some resonance after happening most every story arc. In the face of these losses, the question of whether to keep fighting is a good one, and it makes me want to find out what happens next.

Here’s what I don’t like: The art. I’m not referring to the quality – Don Figueroa‘s clearly a talent – but rather the decision to hybridize the design with the nuts-and-bolts collages of the movies. I am full aware this is the gripe of most every fanboy out there, but that’s not what I’m saying – while I don’t like Optimus Prime having lips, visual tradition isn’t a sticking point for me here, and in fact, the new design is fairly faithful in this respect

What I AM concerned with is the readability of a character. The Michael Bay design of wires and rivets and cables does not make for a face you can easily make out. As Scott McCloud argues in Understanding Comics, part of the appeal of comics is characters we can see ourselves in, or at least recognize as subjects of empathy. I don’t get that with the new art, mainly because I have to spend so much time figuring out how a single face fits together that I can’t read who that character is.

I hope the creative team comes around on this. I can understand this style in the movies, where the intention was seemingly to have the audience empathize with the humans, not the robots. Here, however, the robots are the characters. I know they’re aliens, but that doesn’t mean they have to feel so alien that I don’t care about them.

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