Thursday, April 15, 2010


ITEM! This new Achewood storyline with Philippe is just about the most depressing thing ever. I guess I was wrong earlier when I wondered aloud if the strip had fallen off - it hasn't, not really, it's just entered a very weird and deep section of hardcore melancholy, like if Sparky had decided to spend the last ten years of the strip focusing solely on Spike talking to his saguaro cactus pal. (People always deride Spike, but the Spike-focused strips from the strip's last years are some of the bleakest - and focused - bits in the whole Peanuts corpus.)

ITEM! Now that the first storyline is over, it's maybe easier to get a better grasp on what's going on with Bad Machinery, and what makes it stand out from its predecessor Scary Go Round. As someone who's read every strip John Allison has ever drawn (and posted, that is, I'm hardly rooting around his studio foir unpublished drafts), I can say the first thing that jumps out at me is how dry is is, positively arid compared to the very warm and chummy SGR. It also seems slightly premeditated in a way that SGR never did: Allison made a point of saying how his new storylines were planned out in advance and paced accordingly, and unfortunately they feel very methodical. Perhaps this is simply a consequence of artistic "maturity" - there's no doubt that Allison is one hell of a cartoonist, his skill is unimpeachable. I'd read anything he put his hand to at this point. But I won't beat around the bush here: I think his newest work lacks most of the energy of his best SGR or Bobbins sequences.

Now, of course, this is only the first storyline in a new strip, so it's impossible to pass final judgment yet. It's obviously a work in progress - Allison quit SGR and started Bad Machinery specifically because he felt stifled by the format of the latter and needed the change. So I'm not giving up on the strip - I think it's safe to say that I'd stick around whatever Allison did next. I'm along for the duration at this point. I'm just not feeling it right now. Whatever it is that a really great strip needs to propel it forward - however you quantify that oomph - it's not quite gelling for me. There's a rhythm missing, and unfortunately the series of scribble strips he produced over a recent week-long break put the current mode into sharper relief: this week of tossed-off scribbles filled with webcomics in-jokes seemed more lively than the whole first storyline of Bad Machinery. Let's hope we can look back in six months and chalk the whole thing up to growing pains.

ITEM! I don't do much linkblogging but I would like to point out this post by Johanna Draper Carlson reviewing a new "behind the scenes" book focused on the Kick-Ass movie. I think she does a great job of pointing out precisely why Millar's work leaves a vocal minority of fans feeling alienated and mystified at his enduring popularity. He's basically Stan Lee without much of the imagination, all huckster and no charm. He's smart enough to ingratiate himself with some really good artists by writing to their strengths, and his commercial track record is such that I am certain he's got prospective artists lined up around the block. I'd bet John Romita Jr. makes more money off Kick-Ass than any other project in his entire career.

But I can't fault Millar for being dumb, just damned cynical: he's essentially figured out exactly what fans want, which is high, unironic "momentism" served up without so much as a hint of the condescension that some fans perceive in the work of folks like Morrison or Ellis (to say nothing of Moore). The reason why Nemesis reads exactly like a movie pitch is because Millar knows - not merely that the format will make movie rights that much easier to sell - but that the format will itself sell the idea to even the most unsophisticated reader.

The problem is that I find myself unable to ever fully dismiss Millar. For every five crappy and cynical cash-cows he produces, something slips out that seems just slightly more genuine, if only by a tiny bit - enough, however to reinforce the nagging suspicion that he might just be smarter than he lets on, and is fully aware of what he's doing. 1985 was predictable and formulaic but at its core there was a pretty good story about fathers and sons and nostalgia. Similarly, he seemed to "get" the most basic, unironic ideas at the heart of the Fantastic Four, ideas about family and loyalty that surpass individual problems or imperfections.

And, for me at least, there's always his run on Swamp Thing on which to look backk and marvel. It's so very different from everything else he's ever written, so subtle and well-constructed and downright profound in moments, that it almost makes you think it was written by a different person. Sure, he's writing a fairly transparent Moore pastiche, but he actually pulls it off (not an easy trick!), with a strong batch of good ideas and a solid grasp on his characters. The finale to his run - also, incidentally, the series finally for Swamp Thing and the end of Vertigo's first "flagship" title (long before there even was a Vertigo) - is simply phenomenal. It makes me wonder - what the hell happened? Will he ever write anything that good again? Does he even have it in him to do so?

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