Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Irredeemable #1...and its lame afterword

Okay, get this: What if Superman—and stay with me now—wasn’t the prefect good guy, but was, instead—and now brace yourself, because I know this is going to totally blow your mind—evil? Huh? What if that?

That seems to be the pitch of writer Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable #1 (Boom Studios). The title apparently refers to the actions of the flying, invulnerable, heat vision-having Superman stand-in The Plutonian, but it could just as easily apply to the comic itself.

At $3.99 for just 22 decompressed, not-even-enough-to-go-on pages and bearing three different covers, Irredeemable is, as a package, a distillation of pretty much everything wrong with comics.

The story inside is full of so many clich├ęs that I can’t even properly source where I’ve seen many of them before, as I’ve seen them in so many places (Miracle Man, The Sentry, Superboy-Prime, Hyperion, The Authority, Invincible, The American Spirit, a half-dozen of DC’s own Elseworlds stories…).

We open with The Plutonian—who is blonde and shoots orange eyebeams, so as to let us know that he’s not actually Superman—attacking the home of a superhero and his family, ultimately skeletonizing them all. Including a baby. (Ha ha, Geoff Johns! Waid beat you to that punch!).

After the tense opening scene, we jump to a panel that says “One Week Later,” even though it’s actually a flashback to years earlier, in which The Plutonian saves a ball field from a nuclear robot, and meets the Justice League stand-ins (Waid does a less lazy route and eschews stocking the team with a speedster, a woman warrior, an alien, a water-based hero, choosing more original superhero types. Unlike a lot of analogue-based comics, one can’t assign each and every one to a DC or Marvel forebear).

Back in the present, we learn that The Plutonian’s then allies are now all on the run from him, and are plotting to get him before he gets them. Then he shows up and they run away, and he sneers “Perfect” while a “Continued…” appears below that last panel.

Perhaps there’s a lot more going on with the story—there must be—but as for characterizations or motivations or even a solid premise, none of that’s here. Maybe Waid will get to it in #2 or #3, but he just asked for $4 for this, why would anyone want to give him $4 to $8 more to decide if they want to read the damn comic or not?

Perhaps because Grant Morrison vouches for it. The book contains a two-page afterword by Morrison, whose name appears just as big as Waid or artist Peter Krause’s on the cover/s (if not bigger than).

“It’s a simple, elegant and terrifying concept and better yet, it’s in the hands of someone who knows exactly how to make the most of it,” Morrison writes, along with another half-page or so of effusive praise. It sounds like Morrison and I read a different comic, and, in fact, I think we did—Morrison seems to have read at least the first few issues, where all I’ve got to go on is these 22 pages, and there’s nothing in them that I haven’t seen in dozens of other evil and/or crazy Superman stories over the past twenty-some years.

The Morrison afterword is, by the way, perhaps the most annoying piece of writing I’ve ever seen from Morrison. It starts out discussing an article that he and Waid discussed, about the phenomenon of “patterning,” in which people make up their mind about a person and then, no matter what that particular person may do to the contrary, the person in question will always be seen according to the pattern.

For Morrison, this means he’s stuck with being “the madcap purveyor of free-form gibberish” and “incomprehensible.” He is regarded as such, perhaps because he’s written some actual free-form gibberish and some incomprehensible stuff, but anyone who’s actually read more than a few of his comics knows he’s a lot more than that.

For Waid, well, here’s how Morrison puts it:

For some reason, towards the end of the last decade, Mark Waid was saddled with an inexplicable reputation as the Sterling Sentinel of Silver Age Nostalgia comics. Curiously misrepresented as defender of Kenney-era values, the exemplar of the devoted fan-turned-pro, Waid became the go-to geek as the vogue in funnybooks turned briefly to unironically old-fashioned, Julius Schwartz-style sci-fi dad fests.


Why, wherever did this miscategorization of the writer responsible for 1998’s 12-part series about the Silver Age Justice League, and for co-writing its 1999 six-part semi-sequel and for spearheading a 2000 suite of stories about the Silver Age which was fucking named The Silver Age come from?

How dare fans think of the writer of a bunch of high profile, best-selling, well-regarded comics set in The Silver Age as someone into Silver Age Nostalgia comics! (And that’s not mentioning Waid’s runs on The Flash and Fantastic Four ongoings, the two most quintessential comics of the Silver Age, or his most popular work, Kingdom Come, which Morrison calls a “state-of-the-art farewell to the old guard.” Morrison obviously read Kingdom Come differently than I did, because I thought of it as a rebuke of 1980’s superhero deconstruction and early ‘90s industry excess and the reassertion of the Silver Age icons of Ross and Waid’s childhood. Silly me).

The point is that Waid argued against the patterning theory, pointing to Elvis as an example, but Morrison remained unconvinced until he read Irredeemable (which I think weakens Morrison argument that Waid has always defied categorization, if Morrison himself can point to a point at which Waid obliterates the category he was trapped in, but whatever).

Before getting to that though, Morrison shares his and Waid’s distaste for the Internet which, okay, fair enough, the Internet is an awful, awful place, but fuck man, what do you expect? It’s basically a pornography delivery system that has some beneficial side benefits, like instantaneous worldwide communication.

Here’s Morrison again:

Those…conversations developed out of a brief discussion on the corrosive effects of relentless Internet criticism on human self-esteem. Waid had jokingly referred to the Internet as the “Zone-O-Phone” and it seemed to me a chillingly-apt comparison. The Zone-O-hone was Superman’s window onto the Phantom Zone,

Oh hey, a comparison of an everyday fact of life for modern human beings to an obscure gadget from Silver Age Superman comics! God it’s unfair how the Silver Age haunts Waid!

A twilight world of bodiless murderers, serial killers, war criminals and madmen, where the greatest criminals of the planet Krypton endured permanent exile in a disembodied hell. The Zone-O-Phone was Superman’s hot line to a jeering crowd of phantoms with nothing better to do than to insult, taunt and threaten the Man of Steel for all eternity.


If Morrison were joking, that’s actually a pretty amusing way to describe the Internet…at least the first part of it. But he sure seems serious, and he’s complained in recent interviews about being bullied by the Internet, and the Us vs. Them, Waid and Morrison vs. The Internet conflict he sets up is pretty irritating.

Morrison’s a smart guy. He reads New Scientist. He’s written some of the most brilliant superhero comics anyone’s ever written, as well as some damn good not-superhero comics. But Jesus, does he not realize that the Internet is comics at this point? Ninety-five percent of all comics criticism occurs online, and ninety-nine percent of the good comics criticism occurs there.

Where would Morrison and Waid—and you know, all comics professionals everywherebe right now without all those jeering phantoms? Are two-sentence reviews of All-Star Superman in Entertainment Weekly and whatever Wizard magazine can think to say about it (they do still publish Wizard, right?) really all he needs to promote the singles until a collection rolls out two years later and then maybe a half-dozen newspapers write reviews of it? Are comics conventions and word-of-mouth in the comics shops all it would take to get people to give a shit about Final Crisis?

Good God, the direct market is—no offense, direct market—a withering, anemic husk trembling under the shadow of a constant existential threat, something so fragile that three or four shortsighted, stupid and/or greedy decisions by the folks that run two goddam companies could end it.

Sure, Morrison’s popular enough that he could quit the direct market and try to get a deal for original graphic novels from a book-book publisher instead of cashing checks for working on Superman, Batman and X-Men comics and rely on non-electronic media to interview him, annotate him and argue over whether he’s a genius or an obtuse hack, but come the fuck on man, who reads newspapers and magazines any more? Who will read them in five years?

Anyway, what was I reviewing here? (Of course, if this were an article in a print publication, my editor would have kept me on topic, and certainly not allowed me to spend twice as long arguing with an afterword then I spent on actually reviewing the comic it followed. But then, if this were a print publication, they wouldn’t want to run an article about Irredeemable #1 at all).

Irredeemable #1 is an over-priced mediocre, unoriginal comic book completely lacking in anything you haven’t seen before which just so happens to be written by a pretty great super-comic writer. It features pretty decent artwork and a depressing woe-are-us afterword by a guy who makes one of the smartest writers in superheroes look like a complete putz.

It might still turn out to be a pretty great superhero comic, I suppose, but anyone who doesn’t wait for the trade on this is a sucker. And/or wealthy.

12 comments:

LurkerWithout said...

Oh good. Thanks for confirming my general thoughts as to what this book would be. Now I can spend that 4 or 5 bucks or whatever it was on that Assistant Editors book from Marvel...

plok said...

Is this an April Fool's joke?

It is, isn't it.

rjt said...

Now, since it is 8:30 on Wednesday morning, I have not had a chance to purchase and read Irredeemable yet, so I really can't speak to the quality of the book. And I really enjoy your site and I find your contributions to Blog@newsarama to be one of the few bright spots over there, but I thought I should comment on this review. Because this "review" really didn't tell me very much about it other than that you seem to have a very big chip on your shoulder about creators who dismiss internet fandom, which I suppose you might, as internet fandom is how you make your bread and butter. But Morrison and Waid are correct that "internet consensus" about things like Final Crisis are not reflected in sales, and that a minority of comics readers are part of the online comics community.I don't know why this stings you so, but it really colored your review to the extent that I have no idea what you're actual thoughts on the book are, as it is easy enough for me to confuse your terse criticisms of the book itself (it's decompressed and unoriginal) with your vitriolic reaction to Morrison's afterword. It just comes across as really small and petty, which means it's par for the course for most comics internet writing, but I've just found your work to usually be an exception.
That's all.

Will said...

I thought Caleb made his points about the book fairly succinctly before he moved onto his problems with Morrison's afterward.

1) The premise of the book is unoriginal and has been covered before.

2) Almost nothing happens in the book (with the implication that this kind of decompression is a really poor way to hook readers at the start of the series).

3) It's $4, a price that Caleb never fails to mention that he despises, especially considering points 1 and 2.

I did find it odd that there was no real mention of the book's writing style and especially the art, since the latter is something he usually at least comments on.

The Internet: Not just for analyzing comics! Also for analyzing analysis of comics!

John Foley said...

The Internet: Not just for analyzing comics! Also for analyzing analysis of comics!

And for the reaction to the analysis of the analysis!
Guess this is why I don't start my own blog.

snell said...

What never fails to amuse me are those creators who complain loudly about that "the internet" (yes, apparently it's one hugungous hive mind) is unrepresentative, it's a minority, it's vile--but then they continue spend an inordinate amount of time seemingly reading every single word written about them on said internet, and whining that they're not universally loved.

I mean, if the internet fandom is so evil, maybe they could just, I don't know, ignore it? Nope--apparently their distaste for the medium is overcome by their ego's need to absorb every word written about them. Then, after comparing bloggers to serial killers and war criminals, they're shocked--shocked!! to find that some of those same people don't fall down and worship them.

Caleb said...

that Assistant Editors book from Marvel...

Hey, how was that?


Is this an April Fool's joke?

Nuh-uh.


And I really enjoy your site and I find your contributions to Blog@newsarama to be one of the few bright spots over there, but I thought I should comment on this review. Because this "review" really didn't tell me very much about it other than that you seem to have a very big chip on your shoulder about creators who dismiss internet fandom, which I suppose you might, as internet fandom is how you make your bread and butter.

First, thanks for the kind words, and for disagreeing in a reasonable fashion, without bringing up my mother. That is always appreciated.

As for the review, it's the first 500 words, which is then followed by a 1,000 word tangent/rant (or a "rangent").

I do make my bread and butter (well, my Earth Balance brand natural buttery spread), as well as my broccoli, pasta and coffee from the Internet, but that's about all I make. I make the rest of my meager wages working a non-writing related day job.

So I don't feel, like, an existential threat from Morrison and/or Waid dismissing the Internet.

I probably did take it personally, but moreso out of disappointment in Morrison than being offended that he said I smelled bad or anything. He's generally such a forward-thinking guy that it seems weird for him to be dismissing the Internet. I didn't get into this in the piece proper, but there's really no such thing as non-Internet media anymore. Print and TV also have Internet presences.


But Morrison and Waid are correct that "internet consensus" about things like Final Crisis are not reflected in sales, and that a minority of comics readers are part of the online comics community.

I personally disagree. There are only about 100,000 people who read Final Crisis, which makes it a best-selling comic, and is probably good numbers for, say, a poetry collection, but compared to other forms of media? That's a tiny, tiny number. Did all 100,000 people talk about it on the Internet, either at dccomics.com's message boards or at CBR or Newsarama, or in their personal blogs or on their Facebooks and Myspaces and Twitters? Maybe not. But I'd bet way more than enough of them did to be able to extract a statistic from.

Like, a tiny fraction of the couple hundred million Americans eligible to vote ever get polled, and yet political polls often reflect the way folks end up voting enough for that to be valuable, you know?

And besides, sales and whether people like a comic or not have nothing to do with each other. If the Internet half likes and half dislikes Final Crisis all those folks still bought it and read it.


I did find it odd that there was no real mention of the book's writing style and especially the art, since the latter is something he usually at least comments on.

I read a PDF file of it, so I was uncomfortable talking about the art, as I wasn't getting a great picture of it.

I flipped through it in the shop today, and I think Krause did a pretty good job. The storytelling is clear, and there were some panels that struck me as kind of Perez-y. The costume design was pretty uninspired, but then it can't be easy to come up with Alternate Superman #5,678,980 and make it really pop.


and for the reaction to the analysis of the analysis!

And reactions to the reactions to the reaction of the analysis of the...Aaaa!


I mean, if the internet fandom is so evil, maybe they could just, I don't know, ignore it?

Yeah, Morrison's never been shy about giving interviews to Internet comics news outlets. Dude's got a right be pretty cranky—DC hasn't done him any favors with assigning him artists or staying out of his way on his recent titles—but the tone of his piece was Why isn't our genius appreciated?. Which is pretty infuriating coming from someone whose genius is always, like, 75%-99% of the time totally appreciated.

Halloween Jack said...

Great review/rant. I was actually thinking about making a special cross-town trip to see if my LCS still had a copy. Not so much now.

LurkerWithout said...

The Assistant Editor book was..ok. A D-Man Serving in Iraq story by Brian Pratchett, an American Eagle Tracks Some Snake Guy on the Rez story by Jason Aaron (not up to his normal standard really but again, ok) and a Mini-Marvels story about Hawkeye that was funny like always, but not Giarruso's best work either...

Really nothing amazing or terrible. *shrugs*

Andrew Hickey said...

It's entirely possible that Morrison's experience of 'the internet' as it relates to comics is limited for the most part to the big sites he's given interviews to, in which case his dismissal would probably be correct (were my knowledge of the comics internet limited to Newsarama I'd probably say much the same thing). He has been less dismissive about individuals in the past (he spoke very highly of the Mindless Ones on his website a while ago)...

Lucamang said...

Funny how Waid of all people would complain about the internet comic fans since you really can't go on Newsarama or CBR without seeing him do an interview at least 3 times a months.

Miguel Rosa said...

Excellent article, Caleb! More than the anti-internet diatribe, what I find fascinating is Morrison's vouching for the comic book itself.

I just read a long book called Supergods in which Morrison complains on and on about grim-and-gritty, "realistic" superheroes and the evil Alan Moore who sucked all the fun out of those goofy, loveable Silver Age heroes.

And now he's praising a realistic, violent take on Superman. The man's incoherence and hypocrisy never cease to fascinate me!