Friday, 8 June 2012

Project 52.1: The Ravagers #1 (Alex vs Tim)

That's all, folks. The New 52's second wave is over, and so is Project 52.1.

Well, not quite. Here are the final two reviews, Tim "Trivia Lad" Maytom vs Alex "Alex-Spencer" Spencer, as we both take on Teen Titans spin-off, The Ravagers, and I try very hard to do some serious mic-dropping.
Project 52.1
Worlds-finest-1



The Ravagers #1
Written by Howard Mackie
Art by Ian Churchill






                  Alex Reviews The Ravagers #1



This issue isn’t very good. It’s not terrible, or bad in a very interesting way, either. Sorry. The most remarkable thing about The Ravagers #1 – I genuinely had to go back and check the cover for the title, there – is that it is the last one of this Second Wave we’re reviewing. That means I’m hoping it will sum up this last month of DC comics in some way, and give us a neat little conclusion. Maybe even a lesson.

Which is, essentially: that there is a type of comic, one which I only ever really read for review purposes, which I find deeply depressing. A type which falls a lot closer to the public perception of superhero comics – i.e., that they’re not for kids anymore, biff pow bam, but they aren’t for adults either, really, except the pathetic basement-dwelling, constantly-masturbating variety.

They’re devoid of a spark, one which was there in the examples I enjoyed. And it makes me feel, with a pang of my-parents-were-right-all-along, like perhaps those comics are the exception, and this medium deserves the slow, undignified death some people are predicting for it.

They’re not all necessarily bad, but they’re not a good use of our money, and time, and minds.

Let me explain why The Ravagers is this kind of comic. (Note that I will both be talking about this issue specifically, and talking more generally about all the comics I’ve read and not enjoyed in the last year, achieving a double layer of meaning which this comic seems incapable of.)

It’s in the narration boxes, which weigh heavily on each page, each chunk of text purple without being ambitious or fun. Not the chimneyboyspeak of Dial H or the pop slogans of Batman Inc, but stuff like:
“…A lunatic named Harvest tried to reshape each of them in his warped image. / Did he succeed beyond his wildest dreams? / Can I help them rediscover their humanity? / Or are they -- now and forever -- RAVAGERS?”
It’s in the imagery, too, which leaves little impression as you turn the page, which does little to encourage you to linger on any panel or splash.  The art is fine, it’s competent, but it’s not fluid or pin-to-your-wall gorgeous (like Churchill’s work has been elsewhere) or bravely different or … anything, really.

It’s in the story, where the words and pictures meet. The conflicts are all a bit overwrought, and the way the characters go through them is weary, with their forced emphasis speech and stiff poses, as if they’re bored of being forced through these motions.

The drive of the issue seems to be which characters, as they try to escape the clutches of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. in the Arctic Circle, will make it through the wilderness and into #2. That’s actually a good idea, whittling down the ranks to build tension, but it’s completely undermined by the cover, which pulls the exact opposite trick to Earth Two’s, by outlining exactly which of the dozen-and-something characters will make it to the final page. It goes so far as to announce each character by name™.

(As if most of them being faceless background fodder, and one of them having her name and powerset based on the chorus and video, respectively, of the 1983 Bonnie Tyler song Total Eclipse of the Heart, wasn’t enough of a clue.)

I think these are mostly new or at least overhauled characters, which is, after all, the supposed point of this whole New 52 jaunt. So let’s count them down, in descending order of visual interestingness:

Ridge™ – comics’ beloved ‘man or monster’ cliché made chitinous peach-coloured flesh. With his old-man sideburns and eyebrows, he resembles a cross between Wolverine and a crab. With a tail.

Beast Boy™ – taking second place for the simple fact that he spends most of the issue as an Crayola-orange polar bear, and that I fondly remember the Teen Titans cartoon’s version of the character, which doesn’t seem to really bear any resemblance to this one.

Fairchild™ (actually, that cover is coming in fairly handy now for working out their names) – because she has goggles, which I dig, and, on the cover, the least practical Arctic get-up I’ve ever seen. By which I mean, she essentially has her tits out. She’s the narrator and (presumably elder, though Churchill’s art doesn’t really show it) leader and saviour of the group. And I can’t work out from the art what her power is – she powers up somehow, and she might grow, or shrink, or just bulk out a bit. It definitely means she has to take her goggles off.

Thunder and Lightning™ – who, with their brother-and-sister-with-complementing-powers schtick, appear to be the Wonder Twins filtered through the lens of post-Geoff-Johns comics and the original Tron. Oh, and their names seem to be the wrong way round, given that Thunder is the one chucking bright blue energy around.

Terra™ – Again, familiar from the Teen Titans cartoon. She kind of disappears halfway from the issue, and doesn’t receive any characterisation before that so… um. I like her hair?
As a first issue with new characters, introducing the cast and making them seem interesting is presumably the whole point. But they all feel as disposable as the characters that are sacrificed at the altar of Creating Drama.

The whole affair feels waffer-thin, from premise to plot to cast. It’s not about anything except itself, and it’s not a fun romp either.  There’s not even any effing dinosaurs.

Like I said, all this spit and bile is both about and not about this comic, which is just crushingly mediocre, but the cumulative effect of all the rubbish comics I’ve ever, like a grey landfill’s worth of cardboard emptied onto my head.

The worst thing about The Ravagers #1 is that it’s just a comic, unremarkable except in the ways it’s embarrassing to read in public. And it feels like catching your eye in the mirror as you sniff a pair of knickers you bought on eBay, and thinking, just what the hell am I doing?

I read a lot of comics coverage on the internet, and listen to a handful of comics podcasts. And underlying much of it is the sense that a lot of people seem to be getting a bit tired of comics, especially of the mainstream Big Two capes-and-fists variety. All the writers and artists distancing themselves from DC and Marvel as the Before Watchmen fiasco looms on the horizon. The way that people talk about crossovers, their voices full of dread and bondage. That we’ve become trained to expect, and accept, less, so that sparks of true originality are treated as an anomaly, or lost to the six-issue cancellation bug. That most industry analysis consists of commentators taking a look at the growing prices and spiralling sales and just go:

Sigh.

Down to Tim to fight the corner for the future of the industry, then.
FINAL GRADE: D


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Tim Reviews The Ravagers #1

Alex, wise man that he is, is right. This isn’t a good comic. But let’s not sound the death knell of the mainstream comic industry just yet.

As Alex points out, the brother-sister duo of Thunder and Lightning appear to be named the wrong way around on the cover, with ‘Thunder’ wielding bolts of electricity and ‘Lightning’ projecting some kind of wave of force from his chest. They appear to be named incorrectly because they are – in the comic within, the names are the other way around (and therefore far more appropriate). This kind of lazy, basic error is indicative of the comic within, which serves straight down the middle to comics’ core audience of extended-adolescence man-children with overwrought, poorly-constructed dialogue; needless, artless violence, and female characters with plunging necklines, despite the book being set in the Alaskan wilderness.

The comic has spun out of an event in Teen Titans (and proudly proclaims so on the cover) and perhaps if I was reading that title, I’d connect more with the characters and their situation, but as it is, the only characters I recognise (Beast Boy and Terra – both were members of the Teen Titans and have appeared in the cartoons) disappear off on their own, barely five pages into the issue. It’s a strange and possibly brave decision on the writer’s part to cast aside the two characters with any kind of name-recognition to the general populace, much like Earth Two presented us with an alternate Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, then promptly killed them off.

However, while that series at least allowed us to follow the characters through some kind of arc (even if it was their final battle), in The Ravagers Beast Boy and Terra simply decide to leave. Including them on the cover feels like a shameless ploy to sell more books, when they might as well not even be in this issue.

The art is competent, but there are some poor moments in terms of clarity of storytelling, and Ian Churchill appears to know two facial expressions – angry and neutral. In an issue where characters are expressing fear, desperation, rage, panic, determination, even flirtation, barely any of it registers on their faces, or even in their body language.

As Alex points out, this isn’t a comic that’s about anything, nor does it show the kind of verve, creativity or spirit needed to sustain itself on its own merits. There are no grand themes, no real sense of character beyond sketched out archetypes, no cleverly constructed plot or interesting take on the premise. It simply is. So why are we spending this long talking about it, and why haven’t I given up hope on mainstream comics?

This is the last of DC’s second wave of the New 52. It’s a shame that it’s such a poor example of what the medium can do, but it’s as good a point as any to look back from. It’s a sad truth that even as comics dominate more and more of mainstream culture, in terms of films, television, fashion and pure cultural weight, the comics themselves seem trapped repeating themselves. Superhero comics were once the ‘House of Ideas’, where visionaries like Jack Kirby crafted new mythologies. Now they are nostalgia machines, cycling over and over with ever-diminishing returns, right?

That’s certainly one argument, but the other side of that is, as disappointing as some of DC’s New 52 has been, it did happen. One of the two largest forces in comics decided to roll the dice on resetting their entire universe in the hope of kickstarting some creative juices, and drawing in new readers who were put off by decades of labyrinthine continuity. And it worked – sales saw a huge boost, and if you’ve been reading all our reviews, you’ll know that there were some real gems in the new universe of titles.

Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, Batwoman, Batwing, and the sadly departed OMAC all showed a spark of ambition and vision. Older heroes have been rejuvenated thanks to Grant Morrison’s continuing work on Batman and guidance of a new-look Superman, and Wonder Woman’s complicated origin has been streamlined into something easier to follow and stronger because of it. Even in this second wave, we had the bizarre Dial H and the pulp fun of Batman Inc to sustain us.

It’s not the Renaissance, granted, but, to take it back to The Ravagers, the real story this issue seems to be telling is that superhero comics are nothing but power fantasies for the emotionally repressed, lacking in any kind of voice or passion, but we know that’s not true. That gives me hope, and hopefully, if we vote with our wallets and support that titles that show that essentially ambition and wild creativity that made comics so wonderful to begin with, there is life in the industry yet.

FINAL GRADE: C–

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.