Mistakes Were Made

As a general rule, I don’t like to write bad reviews. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally guess wrong and end up with a bad book. Or comic or movie or whatever.

Now, bear in mind that of all of us here at the Junk Shop, I probably have the lowest bar to clear when it comes to liking something. Rarely, if ever, am I demanding High Art from my entertainment. Even with things that are pretty clearly just objectively bad, I often can find something there to enjoy.

In fact, for those of us who are immersed in the world of junk culture, we tend to distinguish between ‘bad in a good way’ and just bad. I think the work of Norvell Page, for example, is objectively bad; in technical terms, he was a very poor writer. But his work is bad in a really cool and interesting way. It has a fever-dream quality that I don’t think anyone ever has duplicated.

That said… sometimes something really is just plain bad. “Spock’s Brain” is an excruciatingly awful episode of Star Trek. Not bad in a fun way like “The Way to Eden,” but just a straight-up shitty hour of television.

There are those that enjoy mocking this sort of thing and some even have made careers out of it. But I’m never going to be one of them. I’ve never even been able to get through an episode of Mystery Science Theater. No matter how deserving the object of the mockery might be, I can’t get into it. There’s a mean-spiritedness there that I just can’t get past.

Even with a legendary piece of shit like Plan Nine From Outer Space, all I can think of is what a miserable epitaph that is for Bela Lugosi. It doesn’t make me laugh, it just makes me sad. Beating up on something like that feels like bullying. And I have pretty strong feelings about bullying.

That’s also why, if you are an indie writer or artist and you sent me your book months ago but you haven’t seen a review yet, it’s probably because I thought it was terrible but I can’t bring myself to write a review saying it was terrible. I got a book not too long ago that had a brilliant concept at its core: a mystic menace arises that has to be repeatedly defeated across the ages variously by a sword-and-sorcery hero, a masked avenger, a private eye, and so on and so on. A story structured as a love letter to all the different pulp genres, basically. (Kim Newman did something similar in Seven Stars, if you know that one.)

I cannot stress enough that this particular writer did everything right. He did his research and figured out I was writing stuff for people that would enjoy this kind of genre piece; he emailed and inquired if this was something I’d be interested in; and when I said yes he sent an actual physical copy of the book, something that even a lot of big publishers don’t do. This particular novel is very small-press, self-published (I think, anyway; but even if it’s not, letting go of one of your inventory copies on the chance a reviewer will like it and give it a boost is not a small decision when you are in a pond this tiny.) The concept sounded good, the author was being a total pro, so I was really predisposed to like this book. I was actively rooting for this guy.

But the prose itself, the actual writing, is shudderingly, indefensibly, terrible. It’s riddled with typos and filled with amateurish grammatical mistakes that evoke nothing so much as the worst examples of overly-earnest fan fiction. I kept thinking of what Seven Stars would have looked like if it had been written by Harold H. Harold.

I wouldn’t pass it from one of my Young Authors kids, and they’re only thirteen. It’s absolutely ripe for mockery.

But it’s also punching down and I don’t do that. It’s too damn hard to get a project like that into print at all. I respect the effort, if not the result.

So no review. This is clearly a passion project for this writer and he’s already probably spent way too much money on it. I just can’t bring myself to spit on his dream.

I get a lot of stuff like that. There’s no joy in beating up on it so I don’t write about it.

So, with all that being said…

…every once in a while, I end up with something that I really wish I hadn’t spent the money on, that is so annoying on a visceral level I have to vent about it just to get the bile out of my system. Today we have two of those. I’m going to spoil both of them, so be warned. Although really I’d think of it more as taking the bullet so you don’t have to.

The first is something I kind of knew I’d probably regret picking up, but my curiosity got the better of me. Savage Avengers Vol. 1: City of Sickles, from Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato.

Deep down I was pretty sure it would be at best a demented hot mess, but that can be fun; after all, I grew up on things like Bob Haney’s Brave and the Bold, to say nothing of pretty much any superhero story Robert Kanigher ever wrote.

Sadly, Savage Avengers is not that much fun. It got off on the wrong foot with me literally from page one. Duggan’s rationale for bringing Conan into the Marvel Universe, which is the main thing I was curious about, happens offstage. This is in itself irksome. You don’t start off the first volume of a new series with a goddamned recap of some other book, at least not if you are doing your job properly.

My thirteen-year-olds in Young Authors hear me say all the time, “You don’t get to run around behind your readers and explain things to them. Find a way to get it in the story without being boring.” Gerry Duggan should know that. For that matter, shouldn’t volume one be the story that is the actual starting point? Ed Bosnar just wrote up the Tigra volume that actually begins with the four-issue Claws of the Cat, right? Because that’s where the story actually goddam begins. So it’s not like Marvel paperback editors don’t understand this.

Nevertheless, I soldiered on. Starting in the Savage Land is actually a pretty good idea for easing Conan into the larger Marvel landscape, I have to give Duggan that. And Mike Deodato is doing the kind of kewl nineties rendering that I suppose the target audience for this will love.


But I regret to say the target audience for Savage Avengers isn’t me. There certainly is a lot of savagery, and Duggan does seem to be bringing some humor to it, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just not over-the-top enough: you know, if you’re really going to go there, then GO there. The bit with Wolverine and Conan shown above is about as much humor as we get; mostly it’s a lot of grunting and grim posturing. Moreover, the personalities of the team members are too similar. The fun of a team book is to see the different personalities play off one another, but apart from everyone’s tendency to look at Conan and say Can you believe this fucking guy? there’s just not much differentiation here. With a concept this deranged, I was kind of hoping for something a little more absurdist, like the old Gerber Defenders or something like that. But this is more just wall-to-wall violence with the occasional wisecrack, and it takes itself way too seriously.


Add to that the fact that this is basically a two-issue story padded out to five with one gratuitous fight scene after another and nothing is resolved (Kulan Gath gets away and the team is left sort of saying well, that happened) and my overall reaction is one of annoyance. If I’d paid full price for this–it retails for $15.99– I’d have been livid. There’s less heft to it than one of the old DC Super-Spectaculars, though I think it may have a dozen or so more pages of story.

But… I didn’t have very high hopes for it, I knew going in that it was at best a fifty-fifty proposition that I’d like it. And, in fairness, I didn’t hate Conan in the Marvel U as much as I expected to. I was more annoyed that Marvel has the gall to market this paperback as a book. It’s very incomplete in both its packaging and in the story’s actual construction. As I’ve said many times, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that a trade paperback collecting a run of comics should, you know, FINISH a story. This book just …stops.

But Savage Avengers, in the final analysis, was just annoying. The second one I have for you today actively pissed me off.

Flash Forward, written by Scott Lobdell, with art from Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund, was a sentimental impulse buy for me. See, Wally West is my favorite iteration of the Flash, and I was kind of irritated when I heard that he’d been retconned out of existence or something. I figured from the cover of this collection that this would be the tale of his triumphant return.

The last time I’d checked in with Wally was around the time of The Wild Wests, so I was certainly not prepared for this opening…


Seriously?

Burgas was snickering here not too long ago about the Baron/Guice Wally being a jerk, but I’d a million times rather have that version back than this brooding guilt-ridden Wally. In fact, this whole opening walks, talks and sheds water like Marvel’s Speedball/Penance transformation, and I think we are all agreed on what a spectacularly wrongheaded shitty idea that turned out to be.

I haven’t gotten around to Heroes In Crisis but now I’m pretty sure it’s not something I’d enjoy. For some reason, both Marvel and DC seem to have characters they’ve designated to be continually crapped on. At Marvel it was Hank Pym; at DC it was a tie for years between Hawkman and Aquaman, but now they’re both cool and getting movies and so on, so I guess the title’s been handed down to Wally West.

There’s a whole column to be written about this, and I’m pretty sure I’ve written it already a couple of times, but the thing that seems to be utterly beyond the grasp of modern comic book writers is the idea of varying approaches in tone. Stuff that is appropriate for The Boys or Watchmen is needle-scratchingly jarring when you graft it on to lighthearted character concepts like Plastic Man or Speedball or The Flash. Don’t take it from me; Alan Moore, the king of grimdark comics deconstruction, even said so. More than once.


Just this week Moore gave an interview where he reiterated that he regrets The Killing Joke and even added that the Adam West version of Batman is probably the best one. Of course it lit up the internet and made fanboy heads explode all over the world, but I can see his point. Especially after reading Flash Forward.

Getting past this depressing setup, the plot is fairly standard. Reluctant Hero is drafted Against His Will for An Impossible Task wherein he will Find Redemption and Purpose. It worked for John McClane and Buffy Summers and Kung Fu Panda, it’s a solid enough frame to hang a story on.

The idea is that Wally is sent hurtling from one parallel Earth to the next, desperately trying to stop “the darkness” from contaminating the multiverse.

This actually is a pretty cool idea and I’d really like it if, you know, we hadn’t already seen Grant Morrison do a (much better) riff on it in The Multiversity.

But all of this only rises to the level of annoying. The part that really killed me was where Lobdell landed with Wally’s redemption.

Wait for it….

Yes, that’s Wally West. In the goddam Mobius Chair from New Gods, because I guess Metron is dead now? Hell if I know.

Not only that, but I guess he’s tapped into the consciousness of Dr. Manhattan. Because I don’t know why, so don’t ask.

While I’m still making an incredulous WTF face and spluttering, it’s followed by…

Yeah. Another book that doesn’t fucking END, and it’s leading into a story I have no interest in, starring a character I’m already sick of, and I’m not even really keeping up with DC. Flash Forward, by the way, retails for $17.99, and though I only paid about nine bucks for mine I feel thoroughly ripped off. And also quite irrationally angry on behalf of Wally West, who isn’t even real for Chrissakes, but still deserves better.

I’m more mad at myself than DC, though, for letting myself be suckered like an abused spouse once again (“Maybe this time it’ll be different….”) when everything I’ve seen from them for, oh, the last three years at least, is screaming that it’s not for me. I thought it was bad when DC was obsessed with Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls, but that was mostly reserved for the Batbooks. This new love affair with Snyder’s Batman Who Laughs is apparently going to screw up EVERYTHING. No wonder they’re calling it ‘the Infected.’

Thanks but no thanks. I think I’m going to retreat to the Mark Waid version of Wally. At least DC is keeping it in print.

*

Well, I feel a little better now. Back next week with something cool…. and at this point almost anything would be a step up.

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17 Comments

  1. Greg Burgas

    When I reviewed Savage Avengers, I noted that it was longer than a regular issue #1 but still didn’t tell us what Conan was doing there because the entire thing was so padded with Conan fighting Wolverine and ninjas and whatnot. Good to see they kept that up throughout! 🙂

    Regarding Fast Forward: Oh, you fool. The name “Brett Booth” is clearly noted on the cover! That should have tipped you off as to the quality of it all!

    And sure, Wally is a jerk in the Baron/Guice Flash, but he’s certainly not gloomy and self-pitying and evil. He’s trying to be a good dude, he’s just kind of an idiot because he’s only 20. Yeah, he’s much more interesting than this dude seems.

    1. I don’t have a problem with Mr. Booth. He’s competent enough. But why Lobdell thought Wally should be the new Metron? Sure, put the fastest man alive in a chair. Make the.most relatable regular guy in the DC universe a cosmic entity. It’s like they are trolling us.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    RE: “Now, bear in mind that of all of us here at the Junk Shop, I probably have the lowest bar to clear when it comes to liking something.”
    Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m the guy who likes watching that thoroughly execrable film, “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.” And ‘Way to Eden’ has to be one of my favorite episodes of TOS, dammit!

    But I’m with you on the whole ‘mocking of bad pop culture’ stuff; I’ve engaged in some snarky conversations like that myself, and I’ve watched and mostly enjoyed an episode or two of MST3000, but I tire of that kind of stuff really quick. Yeah, it often does seem like bullying.

    As to ‘Savage Avengers,’ just the title indicates there’s probably nothing there for me, but my response to that cover image is: hard pass.
    And thanks for the tip on the Moore interview; there’s a more complete version at this link.

  3. I have no qualms writing extremely negative reviews of bad stuff; I do agree that snarking about them (or insulting the authors) is often cheap. Plus I simply don’t find MST3K funny — watching a bad movie straight is more enjoyable than listening to them jabber (and frequently more interesting — movies such as the 1952 Invasion USA are quite fascinating even though they suck).
    I really don’t like Baron’s work except for Nexus, but his Flash was definitely preferable.
    Heroes in Crisis struck me as having an interesting core concept — a place for heroes to deal with their PTSD from the violence and death they’ve seen — that’s also unworkable. You can’t realistically tackle that topic any more than you can realistically tackle the effect of all those blows to the head heroes get — it just doesn’t work with a long-running character. Plus, yeah, Wally as a killer.
    Totally with you on the inability to tell complete stories any more.

  4. Der

    It seems to me, based on your review and the recent trades I read(back in March when Marvel gave a lot of trades for free on comixology) that they decided that 5 issues was enough for a trade, but they keep on telling the writers to write for 6 issues. I read a Dr Strange trade(way of the weird or something?) That was interesting, but it felt cut off in a bad way, like they decided to end the trade there but the story ended the next issue.

    Anyway, Conan in the MU sounds like a stupid idea and something that I will keep on avoiding.

    1. One difference between trades and single issues is that I expect some sort of an arc finish when I read a TPB; with comics I’m not bothered if the arc runs three issues or nine (assuming it’s good, of course). As neither writing an arc to run exactly TPB length, nor sticking in a couple of one shots to fill out is a perfect solution, I suspect there is no perfect solution.

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    No interest in either of these; but, I also try not to review stuff I don’t like. However, I have done review threads of whole series and I have been stuck with bad issues. In most cases, I can find something to like or have fun with.

    I have to come to MST3K’s defense, to a certain degree; I never felt the riffing to be mean spirited, in the majority of the episodes; certainly not in the Joel years. I do think it took on a different tone in Mike years; not necessarily worse, just different. That said, there are a lot of episodes I fast forward through the movie to the good stuff.

    I have mocked ridiculous coincidences, bad history, poor research or impossible science, within a review, as a riff; but, at least try (don’t always succeed) in discussing the intent of the creative team vs the finished product, if I can discern an intent. Sometimes the intent is to pick up a paycheck.

  6. conrad1970

    I read the first trade of Savage Avengers against my better judgement and wished I hadn’t bothered.
    It was a pointless endeavour bringing Conan into the Marvel Universe, well apart from the sales point of view that is. Conan and superheroes do not mix well.
    It really wasn’t much of a swan song for Deodato either as thought that his art looked a little rushed as well. It seems like he couldn’t wait to get through the door.

  7. Ryan Sargent

    Mr. Hatcher, this bit of your post in particular resonated strongly with me (well said, as always):

    I’m more mad at myself than DC, though, for letting myself be suckered like an
    abused spouse once again (“Maybe this time it’ll be different….”) when
    everything I’ve seen from them for, oh, the last three years at least, is screaming
    that it’s not for me.

    This is the exact feeling I have about current DC, and yet I keep chasing the dragon and going back. I’ve decided I can’t read one more Batman story that ends with Batman failing and resolving to “become a better Batman,” only for the following story to tread the same basic plot (Batman fails because he’s a selfish jerk). We’ve had, I think, four or five of those in the last ten years? Of course, these stories are cyclical and the characters themselves have no end, but it’s beyond tedious at this point.

    Oh, well. Onwards and upwards!

    1. The trouble with stories like that is that if “Batman fails” or “Professor X does something horrible and unethical” works once, later writers will decide it’s a great twist, why shouldn’t they use it too. After a few iterations, Professor X winds up with so many black marks on his record he might as well be the Supreme Hydra.

      1. Ryan Sargent

        Precisely. One could argue that Batman failing repeatedly chips away at the much maligned “Bat god” characterization, but having him fail so hard at interpersonal communication with his supporting cast on a regular basis (which usually leads to some pretty awful consequences for Gotham) makes him into more of the problem than anything else going on in the city. Ugh.

  8. Chris Schillig

    I tried to like the Savage Avengers, despite my aversion to the idea of Conan interacting on a regular basis — as in, a non-What If? basis — with the Marvel Universe. But I couldn’t get into it, even though I hung around for nine or ten issues.

    It doesn’t help that, as you note, Conan ends up in the Marvel U through a story not included in that opening issue. That’s just a bad decision, editorially.

    Ultimately, it led me to the realization that I wasn’t enjoying any of Conan’s latest adventures enough to keep buying them, and I dropped the regular monthly title, too.

  9. jccalhoun

    “It’s riddled with typos and filled with amateurish grammatical mistakes”

    I used to listen to a podcast (now ended) that would discuss a lot of terrible self-published conspiracy theory books and the host would always say “hire a proofreader.” If I ever self publish anything I will remember that advice.

    Heroes in Crisis was so bad. Like Identity Crisis it was all about pain and misery and ruining a character. I’ve always been a DC fan but they are kind of determined to ruin things now. Didn’t they introduce an African-American Wally West to go with the Flash tv show and then they brought back the white one too? So there are two Wally Wests now? So they had to find something to do with one of them?

    And although I was always more of a Superman fan than Batman they seem determined to run Batman into the ground with this Batman who laughs garbage and the Three Jokers stuff. No wonder I only read a handful of new comics. Maybe post-Dido things will get better but I worry that DC’s new AT&T overlords will just shut them down.

  10. conrad1970

    Regarding the current run of Batman, it’s not something I can really got excited about.
    It’s not really terrible, just pretty average and dull.
    Whenever the Bat-titles hit a rut like this I just turn to the Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bold run or Grant and Breyfogle, now they were good comics.

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