Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pull List Review: Threshold #4

Unsurprisingly, when the competition/reality show facet of "The Hunted" is put on the back burner so a few members of the massive cast can be focused on more sharply, Threshold improves significantly. Even with the cliffhanger ending being spoiled by both the cover and the opening scene, Keith Giffen's script was able to interest and surprise me. Jediah Caul and K'Rot were both characters with glaring flaws before now, but here they are not only likable individually but have a strange and enjoyable chemistry between them that's the first example of such a character connection "The Hunted" has ever offered. Actually, I suppose there's a glimmer of a similar thing in the brief scene between Stealth and Ember. I've never felt attached to any of these characters, and suddenly I find myself interested in the futures of all four of them.
     The breakout star of this issue, though, is the robotic cleaning lady of Bleeding Adonis (who I think remains unnamed...if she has a name I did not catch it, but it matters very little). The premise is that she has the personality/memories of the ex-wife of the man who built her, which Giffen not only mines for several strong jokes, but actually incorporates into a major plot point. When Caul and K'Rot are cornered by a massive group of guards, the robot lady valiantly and explosively sacrifices herself to clear their path. And her only reason for saving them is because he ex-husband/creator told her not to. It's hilarious, intelligent, and even a bit poignant.
     Bleeding Adonis is also a lot of fun as the villain, because he so steadfastly refuses to let himself be rattled or even show the tiniest sign of being upset until the moment he is being physically attacked. And even then, when Brainiac pulls Bleeding Adonis' house and all the people in it into one of his bottle cities, Adonis speaks very calmly and matter-of-factly about what a drag it is. There's strong, understated humor like this all over the place, far preferable to the forced and hamfisted sarcasm of the preceding issues. By setting aside the concept of these characters being members of a city-wide televised hunt and boiling the plot down to a more direct, simplistic heist story, Giffen is able to flesh out these characters and slow down his jokes and generally just take his time in a way he hasn't up to now. I hope this is indicative of the future of this series, because based on what's here, I might actually want to follow along.
     There's still the problem of Phil Winslade and Tom Raney clashing so dramatically in their artistic styles. Winslade's work is too shifty and undetailed, feeling unfinished even though I'm sure it's not. Compared to Raney's work, every member of the cast is far less expressive or interesting, K'Rot most of all, who doesn't come to life for me until Raney takes over halfway through. I did enjoy the two-page splash Winslade drew on pages 2 and 3 of a destructive Brainiac attack, but from then on he was forced to draw actual living people, and he's just not very good at it. Look at Stealth when she jumps at Ember. It's so unnatural looking, with Stealth floating inexplicably in the air. There's no motion to it, and the ultimate effect is that Stealth appears to be suddenly floating, rather than jumping out as she is meant to be. So Raney is very much the stronger of the two artists, but the real problem is just that they are so dissimilar it's distracting and frustrating.
     The "Larfleeze" back-up continues to be the real reason to read Threshold at all, though. After next month, Larfleeze is getting his own title, so there's a pretty strong chance I'll be dropping Threshold then. Giffen feels like he was born to write this character. Larfleeze could and maybe even should be the Jar Jar Binks of the DCU, but instead Giffen makes him into a viable star with serious lasting potential. There are two moments I would point to in this particular ten-page stretch: 1.When Stargraves tells Larfleeze that the orange energy constructs are about to steal his butler, the very notion of being stolen from gives Larfleeze the power boost he needs to defeat them, and 2. When Rancor says Larfleeze still has all of his stuff, it is actually a comforting thought, because better for Larfleeze to misplace all of his possessions than actually lose them to someone else. These are jokes, yes, but they also get at the heart of the character, taking the idea of avarice made flesh and displaying how rich it can be. Larfleeze runs the risk of being a one-dimensional buffoon, but Giffen is exploring all the facets of greed, and the addition of Stargraves as someone who understand Larfleeze enough to effectively communicate with and even sometimes manipulate him is a brilliant move.
     Scott Kolins is just as perfect a choice for artist as Giffen is for writer. I've praised Kolins' work on this book before, and it all still stands. It is funny overall but with just enough of an edge to get scary when needed. There's a powerful sense of fun infused into every page, most starkly the almost-full-page panel of Larfleeze hugging Stargraves too tightly and saying, "Mine." In ten pages, Kolins delivers many more impressive panels than there are to be found in the whole of the 20-page primary "The Hunted" storyline.
     A big step up from "The Hunted" and continued excellence (if not even a half-step of improvement) from "Larfleeze". For the first time, I feel zero regret about the four dollars spent on Threshold.

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