Quick comic comments

December 9, 2006

Welcome to Tranquility #1 (DC – Wildstorm): The premise for this series sounds a bit like an arc from Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which is never a bad starting point for a look at the margins of a super-hero culture. Writer Gail Simone has set a murder mystery in a retirement community for “maxis,” powerful heroes and villains living together in relative peace during their twilight years.

Being a person of intelligence and sensitivity, Simone largely resists the urge to ridicule the citizenry’s mental and physical decline. Being a writer who thoroughly explores the scenario at hand, she can hardly ignore it. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I think she does a nice job. Not everyone ages into an AARP commercial, and when people start with the kind of faculties possessed by the citizens of Tranquility, the results can be kind of frightening when they start to lose them.

Simone tells the story through the eyes of someone in her prime, Tranquility Sheriff Lindo. The character has her own tricky balancing act to pull off. She’s protective of the citizenry in several ways – she’s responsible for safety and order, which can require taking a hard line, but she’s also sensitive to their dignity and respectful of their accomplishments. It’s the sandwich generation conundrum through the eyes of law enforcement, and her handling of the conflicting demands makes Lindo immediately sympathetic.

The down side of having such a well-developed protagonist is that there perhaps isn’t enough time to take full advantage of the setting. As Lindo grudgingly baby-sits some visiting reporters, readers get glimpses of Tranquility and some of the people who live there, but the supporting cast can pass by in a bit of a blur. Introducing marginal characters in strong, specific ways is generally one of Simone’s strengths as a writer, and she succeeds more often than she fails, but the crowd can get a bit daunting.

It seems to overwhelm artist Neil Googe as well. Tranquility itself looks appealingly Rockwellian, but character design can be iffy. Googe is better at rendering action and motion than acting and emotion, so Simone’s script isn’t served as thoroughly as it could be.

But the book has definite potential. I like the underlying premise, and I’m a sucker for a murder mystery, so I’ll stick around and see where it leads.

*

Crossing Midnight #1 (DC – Vertigo): This is another series off to an intriguing if not completely satisfying start. Writer Mike Carey introduces readers to twins Toshi and Kai, born and raised in contemporary Nagasaki. Their thoroughly modern parents indulge their paternal grandmother, a survivor of the atomic bomb who insists they offer a prayer to the family shrine during the pregnancy. What harm could it do?

Mom and Dad would have been better off sticking to their principles, as the act of appeasement has unexpected, decidedly unpleasant consequences. Toshi, the younger of the twins, evaded the eye of the sonogram and surprised her parents with her arrival. The surprises continue as she finds she’s immune to physical injury. Carey takes an interesting direction with Toshi’s emotional reaction to her “gift” and does a nice job illustrating its impact on the family dynamic.

The story is nicely structured, but there’s an underlying detachment to Carey’s writing. The events of Crossing Midnight are never quite as urgent or intense as I think they should be. The book feels at times more like an artfully rendered case study than an organic story, more impersonally observational than visceral. (As an example, I generally hate the device Carey uses to establish the extremity of the menace Toshi and Kai face, but it just kind of rolls past here.)

I do like Jim Fern’s pencils, which are detailed and precise. It’s clean, clear rendering with some nice flourishes of imagination, and Fern’s work gets solid support from inker Rob Hunter and colorist José Villarrubia.

In the end, though, Crossing Midnight is kind of chilly, which keeps it from being very chilling.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

*

Hero Squared #4 (Boom! Studios): I’m starting to wonder if Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis aren’t intentionally embodying the indie-spandex divide in their appealing super-hero parody. Sure, Captain Valor is a morally monochromatic Superman archetype, but I’m finally picking up that Milo is just as much of a pastiche of the common stereotype of the artcomix protagonist, so neatly summarized by Shaenon Garrity.

It’s probably taken me much longer to realize this than it should have, but it tickles me to think that Hero Squared is offering equal-opportunity mockery.