The Comic Book Club: Jennifer Blood, Silver Surfer and Spider-Man

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Evan Narcisse and Douglas Wolk talk about the first issues of Jennifer Blood and Silver Surfer, as well as Amazing Spider-Man #654.1.

DOUGLAS: It’s been very strange to watch Garth Ennis over the past decade or so as he’s evolved from an enormously versatile writer with a couple of pet subjects and an immense, delicate grasp of character to someone who writes the same two and a half stories over and over and over. I loved Preacher and Hitman and his run on Hellblazer, and I’ve at least looked in on everything he’s written from Troubled Souls on down, but now everything seems to come down to: Badass protagonist is badass, and kills evil people. The supreme source of comedy is sex, which always consists of an interaction between a lustful stooge and an uninterested victim; the secondary source of comedy is mutilation. Sometimes there are historically accurate military details.

(More on The Comic Book Club: DCU Online Legends and Scenes from an Impending Marriage)

And now we’ve got Ennis and Adriano Batista’s Jennifer Blood #1. Some sources seem to call Jennifer Blood an ongoing series; the text piece in this first issue calls it a limited series (and the “Jennifer spends a week getting her revenge” conceit sure makes it look like one); the indicia says “Volume 1 #1.” I can’t imagine it sustaining Ennis’s interest for very long, because Jennifer’s one of the least convincing not-a-total-caricature characters I’ve ever seen him write. Tulip O’Hare from Preacher was his previous attempt at a badass girly-girl with a gun–but Tulip felt real and deep, a genuine invention of an extraordinary character. Jennifer is an Erma Bombeck routine with a gun grafted on; in action, she’s the Punisher with boobs. Lustful stooge/uninterested victim sex jokes, check; mutilation jokes, check. The one gag that actually clicked for me was a self-aware one–where she finds herself striking a “check out what a badass I am” pose, and immediately chastises herself for it. I keep waiting for the project where Ennis is going to challenge himself to break out of his comfort zone and make himself write more-than-one-dimensional characters again. Maybe that’s City Lights, but it’s not this.

EVAN: I’m glad you mentioned Ennis’s Hellblazer run specifically, Douglas, because that’s my personal favorite of his work. His Constantine was a bad-ass, but Ennis still would pull back the veil to show the cost of bad-assery. He’s long since stopped doing that, and it makes his work a lot more two-dimensional.

To me, Jennifer Blood feels like he’s trying to have his cake and eat it, too. The self-aware notes in the narration wink at the absurdity of the premise–”can you believe I built an arsenal in the basement? And how about drugging my family, huh?!”–but we’re still expected to be wowed by the action sequences and Jennifer’s steely demeanor. The problem here is that it feels like Ennis doesn’t believe in any of his characters. They’re all means to an end, and the end isn’t very satisfying.

(More on The Comic Book Club: Fantastic Four #587 and Infestation #1)

GRAEME: I’ll say this for Jennifer Blood: It exists.

I’m not a fan of the majority of Garth Ennis’ work – his mix of machismo and sentiment has never really appealed to me, for some reason, and even his “classic” things like Preacher and Hellblazer don’t really win me over for much more than technical chops. So it’s fair to say that I wasn’t really the target audience for this series, but having read the first issue, I’m not sure who is. Ennis completists? People who thought that Punisher needed some more lazy jokes about suburbia? ABC execs looking for a new plot for Desperate Housewives?

This seemed a particularly lazy comic: Ennis’ plotting and dialog seem really overfamiliar (and unrealistic: the narration seems as if he’s never met a real suburban housewife, but has certainly watched a lot of bad TV shows about them), and the art – which I think is reproduced directly from the pencils? – is scratchy and completely uneven. (The husband, in particular, seems to change shape between panels.) There was nothing that really tried to engage the reader here, apart from the high concept and awkward titillation aspect. (That silhouette through the shower curtain at the end? The t-shirt and panties shot as she gets ready for bed? Really?) It was just horrible.

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