The Comic Book Club: Strange Adventures and Kirby Genesis

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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, Evan Narcisse, Douglas Wolk and Graeme McMillan talk about the Strange Adventures one-shot and Kirby Genesis #0.

EVAN: They should have never put a Paul Pope cover on Strange Adventures #1. Not because it creates expectations that his work would be in these pages, but because Pope’s turned out some of the best sequential art sci-fi in the last ten years. Nothing in this book comes close to the level of Pope masterpieces like THB or 100%. The stories collected here feel like inventory work in search of connective tissue. It’s not that they need to be narratively aligned, either; they all just feel random and half-baked.

I got suckered by the first page of the first story. I’m a big Denys Cowan fan from his work on The Question with Denny O’Neil and his Milestone stuff, and I know Selwyn Hinds as a former editor-in-chief of hip-hop magazine The Source. There’s also the fact that anytime more than one black person works on a comics story I get all swoony. The pairing made me expect a socially conscious, urban-inflected cyberpunk story, and while we get that here, it’s really only the skeleton of one. The in medias res structure doesn’t help things, and this story, like almost all of the ones in Strange Adventures #1, succumbs to the dangerous impulse to jargonize everything in the new reality. You spend so much time trying to decode the language that the other elements of the plot can fail to move you. In the case of “Case 21,” the plot pings on similar beats–personal worth as personal destiny–as Gary Shytengart’s Super Sad Love Story, but without the slapsticky humor that lubricates everything in that novel.

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GRAEME: Oh God, yes – The jargon is horrible, and the worst of all is definitely the much-hyped new series from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, “Spaceman.” While all of the stories in this oneshot suffer from some variation on “trying too hard” – a shame, given the pedigree of those involved – “Spaceman” is especially guilty of substituting an attempt at style over anything resembling substance. The language is awkward and the only thing even vaguely disguising the fact that there is not one interesting thing about the story.

EVAN: The best of the other stories in here have at least germs of good ideas, mostly. I actually really liked “Partners” for the central idea and “Postmodern Prometheus” for the execution, but something nagged at me even with those efforts. Reading Strange Adventures #1 reminded me of the big science-fiction and horror anthologies I’d pick up from the library as a kid, where every story held the promise of a fevered imagining. In the best cases, the work here feels like it needs room to grow, as if they were pitches for larger projects. In the worst cases, they feel tossed off, like “Refuse” (pun not intended) or–despite Juan Bobillo’s beautiful painted artwork–”The White Room.”

Going back to Pope, his sci-fi work isn’t bolt-from-the-blue stuff, in that it shows its influences readily. But, it visually stretches out in such a way that pulls you in. Nothing here does that for me. In fact, it highlights a sad fact, which is that DC’s biggest problem right now is their inability to develop and retain talent. Books like this–an anthology where new approaches and experimentalism can be given free reign–are exactly where it should be happening. So, when they sputter, the logic supporting the same old conservatism can continue unchecked.

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DOUGLAS: I was looking forward to Strange Adventures: hey, a new one-off anthology of short science fiction comics! I remember those! I used to really like Time Warp and Mystery in Space! And there are some good writers and artists involved with this one! And so on.

Long story short: this thing is an embarrassment. Has everyone forgotten how to put together a short story? I don’t know what went wrong with these stories, but they’re borderline unreadable. There are multiple Matrix knock-offs; there are a couple of “oh no! it’s virtual reality!” stories; there’s a story by Jeff Lemire that’s essentially the first 15 minutes of Moon with Ultra the Multi-Alien plugged into it for no reason that makes sense. Peter Milligan’s story is the old “is the imaginary friend REAL? is the person with the imaginary friend NOT REAL?!?!” saw, and nothing else. The preview of “Spaceman” makes me completely uninterested in seeing it.

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