…comics bought and read on Saturday the 12th of April 2008

I’m getting really bored of superhero comics at the moment. Perfect timing it turns out, as three high profile creators best known for their non-men-in-pants-and-booties output have recently got going on a bunch of brand spanking new projects. Yayness. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that all of ’em owe at least a couple of quid to the genre I’m trying to escape.

Cover to Echo #2Echo #1-2
Written and drawn by Terry Moore
Published by Abstract Studio

Take Echo, it starts with a woman in a nuclear powered supersuit being pursued by a fighter jet. When the suit explodes and rains down on hapless artist Julie, there’s no doubt we’re in Secret Origin territory. Crikey, there’s even a bit of weird underwear (perhaps not as weird as the pants over tights, but, you know, weird!) in the form of a special nanotech bra.

Ummm… so not what I was expecting from Terry Moore the creator of a sometime fantastical soap opera. Perhaps if I’d stuck with Strangers in Paradise I would’ve seen Echo lurking on the horizon, but last time I checked it was more toothbrushes at dawn than supersuits vs sidewinders.

Happily, shock of the not-so-new aside, this is a pleasantly entertaining read. Moore is a guy who likes to cram his stories with the kind of telling details that most mainstream creative teams singularly fail to imagine let alone set down in ink. Case in point, Julie finishes the first issue a well-rounded, and highly sympathetic character despite only uttering 2 complete sentences. Granted, the luckless soon to be superhuman is a well worn cliche, but Moore doesn’t rely on easy recognition, rather he lets the background do a whole lot of talking.

The pleasure here is in the fine print: the raw humanity of the characters, and articulacy the art. As for where it’s going, I’ve got my shiny pound coins on the suit carrying with it the ghost of its previous owner – an echo, if you like. Cue identity crisis shenanigans and wotnot, and, knowing Moore, probably some kind of three way romance.

Reminds me of another comic… wossit called?

Ah yeah. Firestorm. ‘Slike Firestorm.

Cover to RASL #1RASL #1
Written and drawn by Jeff Smith
Published by Cartoon Books

You know, when I read the description ‘dimension hopping art thief’ my brain started to retch. Help! Not more sickly sweet whimsy-chunks. See, I’m the guy who doesn’t dig Casanova. I’m that guy. The one who needs a bit more than a strong visual aesthetic and a bunch of really, really super exciting ideas to hold my interest. Grant Morrison can make that shit work because his shit has poetry, Matt Fraction’s good but he’s not that good.

And he has a terrible name. Which he chose.

But I’m not here to talk about Casanova or Mr Fraction, I’m here to talk about RASL, which is actually very good indeed. So good is it that after flipping the last page I was almost forced to initiate the SEXY DANCE.

Thankfully I stayed strong.

What’s so good about it? Nnnnh… well not the plot especially, seeing as what little there is is robotically predictable. Dimension hopping art thief steals art, gets chased, and finds himself lost in the multiverse, [sliders]doesn’t sound that exciting[/sliders], but, as with Echo, it all in the execution. For a start this book is absolutely overflowing with exquisite design. I mean, look, LOOK, at that fucking cover. That, my friends, is iconic, and that’s not the end of it, not by a long shot. RASL’s dimension jumping suit is probably the most brilliant thing I’ve seen since brilliance was invented. It’s just soooo spooky and haunting. And that bounty hunter, the last time I was that weirded out I was watching a David Lynch movie.

Of course, so far so Matt Fraction. Except not. The craft and attention to detail alone sets it above the bulk of his output. When RASL loses his way it’s scary. He’s not Sliders lost. He’s lost in the deep dark wood lost. That’s because at its heart lies a great central conceit which elevates the protagonist above a straight forward super art-thief (a dull variation on the superspy): Barrelling through dimensions really fucking hurts. When lightening arcs across RASL’s back seconds after his last jump I could feel the heat and the agony. And later, the hideous tension when he realizes that he’s not, in fact, home, and in order to do that he’s got to get all zen and find some inner peace. Inner peace? When your body is begging you to stop, when you’ve dulled the pain with a bottle of whisky, when reptoid private investigators are on your arse!

What Smith’s done here is ground the narrative not just in character, but in the body of the protagonist. That’s some juicy, juicy earth, from which just about anything can grow. Unless this book suddenly switches it’s premise and RASL retires to a life of interior decorating, we know, with absolute certainty, that whatever happens it’s gonna have tangible consequences, and that’s something I’m just not used to anymore. A diet of superhero books and ongoing continuity had pretty much wiped that possibility from my mind. Afterall Spider Man can’t really get hurt, RASL, on the other hand, every bruise counts on his face.

That’s it, I can resist no longer. Don’t watch…

Cover to Young Liars #1Young Liars #1-2
Written and drawn by David Lapham
Published by Vertigo

We’ve already done this ‘un, so I won’t drone on too much. It’s about a boy who meets a girl who’s tough as nails and supersexy and everyone think so, and their adventures in the big city. All to a supercool soundtrack of thrilling tunes (suggested by the author). Oh, and the girl might well be bullet proof. Like Luke Cage.

So far so snorage. The comics world ain’t exactly short of supercool, tough as nails chicks, but, like The Beast Must Die! says below, it’s not that straightforward. This is a David Lapham book, for fucksake, unreliable narrators and characters who aren’t what they seem are par for the course. A point he he starts to make clear by the second issue. That said, YL didn’t exactly shake my booty. Had I just read issue 1 in isolation I probably wouldn’t have bothered with issue 2. This is familar territory, and thus far most of the characters do have that off the shelf feel, but it’s early days and on the strength of the second installment I’m willing to give the creator of Stray Bullets the benefit of the doubt.

As an aside, I’ve noticed a number of commentators have made negative remarks about Lapham’s use of a cassette tape silhouette to house the credits. The complaint seems to be that it’s hopelessly anchronistic. Er, guys, you are aware that we’re in the middle of an 80s fashion revival, right? That the cassette tape is a style icon in its own right?

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