We'll get to those colorful Middle America superheroes in just a minute. But, first, Image fishes one out of the waters of a couple years ago:
James Robinson and J. Bone's Alien Invasion
"The Saviors" was a five issue mini-series that came out through Image Comics two years ago already. It's collected this week, at last, as a single trade paperback for $15. It's a stylish throwback to classic alien invasion movies that's a lot of fun, despite the occasional punctuations of traumatic violence.
The twist in the series (which you find out later in the book) is that the aliens are here to save us from ourselves. They're possibly the good guys. When dead end gas pumper Tomas Ramirez discovers that they exist, he quickly gets caught up into a world of shadowy resistance, conspiracy theories, and tin foil hat wearing thoughts. It is there he discovers his special gift that may help the fight. And there's no going back.
Also, he has to outrun a shape-shifting alien who is super fast and can fly.
The series never made it past the fifth issue, despite story plans to go much farther. Robinson describes what happened in his honest introduction. In it, he takes the blame for putting out a "bare bones" book. He didn't engage the readership in any way other that just putting the book out. It never had a chance.
He leaves the door open to go back to the series someday. I hope that happens. There's enough in this slim volume to recommend it.
In these five issues, you get both the paranoia and the danger along with some of the best action scenes I think Robinson has ever written. It helps to have someone as good as J. Bone as your artist. Bone's style is very animated. His character designs are graphic, and they all act out well.
His page layouts start out as a fairly strict grid with occasional two page layouts, but get slightly more adventurous as the book goes on, using more tricks to create interesting pages that still never lose the reader.
Bone worked in the past with Darwyn Cooke, and I think the similarities in styles has never been more obvious than in this book. Look past the occasionally overly-talkative pages and follow Bone's storytelling as he finds new ways to tantalize the readers with little clues of impending danger, and then the reader's thrill of a character running for his life. The stakes are pretty high in this book, and Robinson never lets up.
The book is black and white plus one color, which shifts depending on the location. It's an effective technique -- again, one that Cooke used in the "Parker" books.
About the only fault in the story I can find is the reset button Robinson hits with only a couple pages left in the last issue. It undermines some of the desperation and seriousness of events earlier in the issue and the previous one. It also feels quick and cheap, like a writer who either changed his mind at the last minute, or ran out of space to plot it out properly. It gives him more options in the future, I suppose, so it must have been worth -- had the series gone on further.
Yes, this is an unfinished series, but as a stand along one-off, it works. It sets up a larger series that you can imagine in your mind. But, still, this book stands on its own. It will only leave you wanting more.
The bonus material in the back contains lots of stuff from Bone's sketchbook: character designs, page layouts, and even logo roughs. It's a real treat to have at the end. Bone's style works even in the roughest stages, particularly with the geometric way he designs characters. They stand out.
The Only Comic Grizzlier Than The Walking Dead: GLA
Dan Slott is a good guy. He loves his job. He's the funny Spider-Man writer who'll be there until the day Disney cancels Marvel publishing, or Marvel pulls a move like DC did with the Superman and Batman titles and fired everyone by fax and -- well, that was ugly.
In any case, he's written plenty of one-liners for Peter Parker. He started his career at Marvel writing "Ren and Stimpy." He's done fun "The Thing" and "She Hulk" series that were smart and goofy all at the same time. He's a joy to listen to on any panel at a convention or in any interview on a podcast.
He also wrote "GLA" in 2005. Whoa, boy.
With a new "GLA" mini-series coming up in a month or two, I thought I'd go back to this four issue mini-series. Turns out, it's a dark and gut-wrenching a story with a very morbid sense of humor.
From Dan "Silver Surfer" Slott.
It's a book where a man repeatedly kills himself to end his immortality while flashing back on a horrible childhood that included the deaths of his parents, an abusive adopted father, and a girlfriend who -- well, that was another gut-wrenching twist in the issue.
It gets so crazy that by the time a member of the GLA dies less than six seconds into their membership in the group in the second issue, I found myself laughing out loud.
Congratulations, Dan Slott. You beat me. Your darkly maniacal sense of humor was so unrelenting that you sold me on it. I might be a bad person for that, but --
--I love this book. It's like nothing else Marvel's done. It's like "Nextwave", but with even lower-grade stars in it.
Some of you will find it a little bleak, even with all the humor. I can understand that, but I appreciate the lengths Slott goes through here to make this work. There are self-referential moments, acknowledgments that this is a comic book, apologies for the content and content warnings for the kids, and Squirrel Girl's squirrel sidekick, Monkey Joe, as the occasional narrator of related facts, explanations, and apologies.
He's the true star of the book. More than anyone, he's the root-able interest character. So, of course, Slott squeezes him to death. (Sorry: SPOILERS!)
Brutal book. Puts "The Walking Dead" to shame. (If you haven't heard of that show before, you clearly haven't visited the front page of this website this week…)
The GLA isn't just a hapless group of wannabe-superheroes. They're a hopeless group, doomed to be turned away at every possible chance of adventure and excitement. When the Avengers disassemble, the GLA try to move in and get rejected by dozens of Marvel characters, including one or two who might be familiar to you "She Hulk" fans of the time.
I do wonder, though, if this book could be made today. Monkey Joe is used to defuse criticism before it can happen by acknowledging the craziness of the situation, but those are still jokes about suicide and bulimia, amongst other things. I can't imagine those getting through today, just a decade later. Shame, because they're funny.
And as crazy as I've just made this all sound, the crazier thing is that there really is an honest-to-goodness strong story behind it all. Slott isn't just throwing crazy stuff at the reader. He's got a point to it all.
Paul Pelletier's art is beautiful, and I think a big chunk of the credit for that has to go to inker Rick Magyar. He matches Pelletier's art perfectly. He's not afraid to use a chunky ink line and lots of heavy black shadows to complement the round lines and smooth brush strokes. Pelletier gets called on to draw a lot of nutty things in this book, and handles it like a pro.
A trade paperback did collect all the issues once upon a time, but it's long out of print now. The good news is, it's available digitally and as part of a larger Squirrel Girl collection released this past summer.
A new GLA series starts in December, though neither Slott nor Pelletier are involved. We'll have to wait and see how that one goes.