Friday, August 22, 2014

The Drop List

In my various comicbook bloggings, I tend to skew positive. I've written before about why that is, but it boils down to generally feeling more energized by comics I like than those I don't. Negativity is an essential part of any criticism though, because not everything is going to be good, and when it's bad someone ought to say so. In that spirit, then, below are the comics I've decided to drop from my current pull list as of whenever I get around to sending an e-mail to Kelly at the store. (It'll probably be right after this). Oh, and of course, the reason(s) I'm dropping them.

Archer & Armstrong: I'm not totally sure when Archer & Armstrong went sour for me. It's still got a lot of fun and humor in it, but it feels like it's fallen into a narrative rut. The title characters keep fighting ancient evils and protecting ancient artifacts from being misused, but there isn't much actual progress made. This was probably always true, but it becomes more grating and noticeable the longer it lasts. Also, Archer and Armstrong haven't managed to remain as endearing as they once were, as individuals or a pair. Some of the playfulness has been sapped out of their relationship, and they both feel like empty echoes or their former awesomeness. I guess the whole series just got watered down somehow, not devoid of the elements that made it such solid entertainment in the past, but offering weaker, less interesting versions of those elements at every turn. Maybe this is more my fault as a reader than its fault as a comicbook; perhaps I've become less enamored of things that are exactly the same as they used to be, and I just can't say why. Whether I'm to blame or the books is or we both are or even neither of us are, though, is largely irrelevant. Bottom line is I'm over this title and ready to move on.

Hawkeye: As a rule, I've been less impressed with Hawkeye than other critics, or anyway the ones I read. I think there's been some smart stuff, but I wasn't as wowed by things like the dog issue or the most recent sign language issue. Cool ideas, carried through respectably and skillfully, but not mind-blowing or even necessarily stuff I'd never seen before. Not in that context, certainly, or in Aja's excellent style, so there's new good material, no doubt. It just doesn't excite me all that much. In between, there are Kate Bishop issues, which pretty much all suck. I don't have much experience with the character outside of this book, except for Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers where she was considerably sharper, calmer, and more interesting. Fraction writes her as a little manic, and that makes her issues manic all over. There's a cartoonish energy about her and her stories that grates on me, doesn't fit with the Clint issues at all, and makes me dislike Kate as a character. I'm only talking about her recent move to L.A. In the early issues of Hawkeye, I loved Kate, and she was very much like her Young Avengers self. Maybe it's Fraction saying something about L.A., maybe it's the artists who should be blamed and I am pointing the finger at the wrong person...whatever the case, I have yet to like a Kate-Bishop-does-L.A. installment of this series. And I've always hated the bro villains. Cannot, will not, shall not accept them as a serious threat, no matter how many clown-themed hitmen they have in their ranks. The patriarch figure wheres what appears to be a Kangol hat and the world's douchiest sunglasses, so...not happening. With all the downsides and the longer and longer waits between issues, Hawkeye just ain't worth the wait any longer. Or the money.

Nailbiter: My normal probationary period for any new ongoing series is the first three issues. It's an arbitrary number, but three issues feels like the right amount to prove that you're worth following as a series. It gives the comic a chance to fully introduce its concepts, characters, and style, plus (ideally) move the story forward a significant beat or two. With Nailbiter, three issues wasn't quiiiiiite enough for me to make up my mind. There were some obvious negatives right away that never got better, but there was also the kernel of decent story in there, and I remained curious and invested despite the flaws. However, it only took issue #4 five pages for me to know I would not be following this series any longer (even though I still read the whole issue, because, you know, gotta finish what you start). There were two lines of dialogue in Nailbiter #4 that sealed the deal. First, a little background to explain why they were so awful. The story of Nailbiter takes place in a town that was the hometown of sixteen different serial killers. Nicholas Finch gets called out to that town by a friend of his, Detective Carroll, who believes he has finally uncovered the secret of why so many murderers come from the same place. By the time Finch arrives, Carroll is missing, so Finch teams up with local sheriff Shannon Crane to find him. This all leads to Finch and Crane digging up the grave of the first serial killer, which is what they're doing when issue #4 begins. BACKGROUND OVER. So, on page four, Crane says something about the guy they're digging up, and Finch says, "He was the first, huh? The first of the sixteen killers?" Ugh. I get it, they're trying to make this accessible to readers for whom this is the first issue of the series...but come on. That's not even trying. There is no way in the world Finch would feel the need to say that to Crane. It's a long-established fact that this is the first killer, and even if I accepted that Finch might want to confirm that, the notion that he'd qualify the statement by saying, "The first of the sixteen killers?" is just insane. She knows what he means by "the first" and he knows she knows it. The line isn't just forced and awkward, it's distractingly lazy writing. Then, at the bottom of page four and spilling onto page five, Crane gives a speech about how it wasn't until killer number sixteen, the titular "Nailbiter," that anyone paid any attention to the small town and its messed up history. According to Crane, "The victims showing up with their fingernails missing was big business." NOPE. Not buying it. The first three pages of this issue are devoted to describing another of the killers, called "The WTF Killer," who mutilated and messed with people's corpses like art projects. Two pages later you want to convince me missing fingernails is what got the headlines? Bullshit. It wouldn't take more than four or five serial killers coming from the same rural town for somebody to connect the dots, some cop or fan or reporter, and make it into something. Crane does say a few small-time books were written, but that's just not good enough. Fifteen killers went under the radar, but a guy chews on one not-that-intimate part of his victims' bodies, and that's news. I'm never going to be getting over that detail, so might as well call it.

Saga: I might actually decide to keep reading Saga for another month or two. It's so fucking good-looking and visually inventive, I resist walking away. But looking at my pull list (without the other five titles in this post) Saga is the only thing I'm not actively enjoying right now, the only one where I feel no attachment to any characters or plotlines. It's a dullard, as narratively dry as it is visually...wet, I guess. Rich. Whatever the proper opposite-ish adjective is. It drags and drags and drags, filling time and space with dialogue that thinks it's clever and/or risqué and/or funny but is usually none of those things. Lots of gratuitous sex and violence, too, which I'm sure the creators would say has meaning but the meaning has yet to reveal itself to me. It's spectacle more often than not, and that has its place, but I can't afford to stick with it indefinitely if nothing meatier is ever going to be provided. Sometimes I love an individual issue, but that hasn't happened since before the most recent little hiatus the title took, so it feels like forever ago. Is the hope of it ever happening again worth the risk of being super-duper bored for another month's worth of this comic? No, but I may avoid giving up just yet nevertheless, due to weakness. Be strong, Matt.

Unity: Of all the comics on this drop list, Unity is the one I should've left longest ago. The opening arc was pretty fantastic, for several reasons, but it got fairly crappy as soon as that ended and has yet to step its game back up. I think the problem is that Harada had to become a villain, since in his "main" book of Harbinger that guy is way evil, but he was a big part of the brilliant combat strategies that made Unity stand out at first. His tactical mind and immense powers contributed a lot to the team's overall agility and capability. Also his personality helped stir things up. Now it's just people who agree with each other working toward common goals. Wah wah. The other huge change, and easily the biggest reason to stop reading this series, is that Doug Braithwaite left. He was most of why I picked it up in the first place, having been none-too-impressed with Matt Kindt's writing, historically. I should have departed when Braithwaite did, but I've now read more issues without him than with, and enough it enough already.

The Wicked + the Divine: So far, everyone who's said anything in this comic has been incredibly, insufferably full of themselves. They think they're so smart and funny and fantastic, but mostly what they are is boring passive supermodels who do nothing but talk about themselves and each other. Yes, ok, some heads blew up and some people were set on fire, but even then it happens so casually, and with a literal snap of the fingers, so as to make it seem insignificant. The idea of this comic, with the group of gods who show up every ninety years as hip young weirdos, is sexy and cool in all the right ways, but so far all the book has really accomplished is to idly roll around in the brilliance of its own concept. The most recent issue (#3) was mostly wasted space used not for story advancement but just to introduce two crazy annoying and clever-in-a-not-at-all-cute-way characters, who ended up not even mattering to the plot yet and walked off stage as suddenly as they entered. Boo, hiss, etc. I'm sure there's a plan, and that what seemed to me like wasted space was in fact a super-important piece of a puzzle too enormous for me to grasp yet, but I already don't care to ever grasp it. If this is the pace at which this comics plans to move, and these are the types of people who populate its world, then no thank you. Parting shot: the plus sign in the title is just obnoxious. Unless, I suppose, it's pronounced, "The wicked plus the divine," in which case it just has a dumb name.

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