Weekly Check Up – 04/17/13

Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth #4

Wal-Mart family portraits, only $9.99.

Wal-Mart family portraits, only $9.99.

The mini-series “Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth” concludes by becoming an ongoing title. That timing may not be for the best though as the charm evident in the series first couple of issues has begun to wear some.

The appeal of the title is in its namesake, the little boy filled with hope and wonder, being juxtaposed against a cast of terrible adults (and even some terrible children). It’s the kind of premise well suited to a mini-series, since it has a notable shelf life. The importance of pacing is key to understanding the problem faced in the last issue and future of “Todd…”. Big ideas can fill hundreds or thousands of pages, but this did not start out as a big idea. It was a humor book that was genuinely humorous, but not filled with a great deal of depth beyond some societal critiques. As an eighty page story it would and is the kind of read that will make you laugh and think a little. Beyond that, I’m not sure… It doesn’t help either that the various story lines wandered far astray from one another. At times, the book feels more like a compilation of interconnected stories than it does a cohesive comic.

That isn’t to say the series was or will be bad. It’s still a unique view with genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a fitting art style. The humor isn’t simply gross out or situational in nature either. Barbiere takes some excellent shots at Hollywood, the prison system, and the wonders of adult incompetence alongside some easy cheap shots at Scientology. It’s the kind of mirroring performed by “The Simpsons” in the ’90s, but the vast majority of characters are much less endearing. Whereas Homer ultimately loves his family and will overcome great obstacles in spite of himself, all of the adults in “Todd…” are genuinely unlikable and that may prove to be a weakness as this book continues. Characters don’t need to be good guys, but they should generally be likable or relatable in some regard.

The series will return in September. Whether it will reach for more or remain a premise best suited to four issues remains to be seen.

Miniature Jesus #1

This won't be controversial...

This won’t be controversial…

I picked up this book for two reasons. One, Ted McKeever is a very talented artist who merits some attention. And two, the last comic to feature “Jesus” prominently in the title was one of the best mini-series of the last decade (“Punk Rock Jesus” is a helluva read). Unfortunately, this book doesn’t fulfill the promise of the creative mind or premise behind it.

The story is high concept in every way. It deals with a man struggling with both figurative and very real demons. Things are not right when rotting cats start talking to you and the little devil on your shoulder appears. That also doesn’t touch on the little eight-inch tall Jesus statue jumping off the wall and tossing a preacher around like a piece of Ikea furniture. If concepts like this don’t perk your attention, then I’m not sure what will. They’re great concepts and ones that appeal to a visual medium. There is a great deal of potential in the story that could be told with literal angels and demons hanging on a man’s shoulders and with a Jesus/Doll Man mashup. These ideas like a story to tell though.

The book’s central and, at this point, only character is named Chomsky. He’s a recovering alcoholic trying to avoid his past mistakes. You learn this because it’s stated at the beginning of the book. In fact, everything you need to know about Chomsky and his thoughts are clearly written out in the dialogue or his own internal monologues. There is no subtext, mystery, or room for interpretation. Everything is clearly stated. If you wanted to explain why the axiom “show, don’t tell” is important in writing, this book would make for an excellent example. It’s on the nose in a way that is often painful to read.

Beyond that, Chomsky seems to lack a narrative purpose. He walks about, interacting with his demon and a cardboard cutout of a clerk, then espousing an opinion that sounds like it’s coming from a high schooler who is obsessed with the newest Green Day albums. There’s no real drive to the action, because there isn’t really a story (yet). Some writers can tell anti-stories about protagonists wallowing in self-pity, but it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do and McKeever is not up to the task. The book feels very personal, but that doesn’t mean the thoughts are worth sharing.

The art is gorgeous. McKeever earned every Eisner nomination he has received. His backgrounds are generally sparse, but that only emphasizes the detailed facial and figure work in his panels. Horror elements like the rotting cat and demon are rendered in mesmerizing detail. Not overly awful, but definitely terrible. It’s enough to make me not regret buying this book, but not enough to keep reading.

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #2

Who put graffitti on the giant spider?!?!

Who put graffitti on the giant spider?!?!

The first three pages of this book are worth the price of admission. They display the great depth that can be achieved in incredible brevity in the comics form. In a total of 12 panels, a story is told of two siblings that endears them to the reader and sets up the drama of the rest of the book. No words are needed either, the layout of the pages dictates the chronology and reading of the action. It’s similar to the opening page of Morrison’s “All Star Superman”, a great story reduced to its most essential components without losing any of the impact.

The rest of the sophomore issue is left to indulge in “Indiana Jones” style hijinks. It’s action that feels like Steven Spielberg decided to quit film and start writing comics in the 70’s. Big, dramatic and perfectly paced. It pays tribute to classic adventure films and pulp comics of the 30’s without feeling the least bit hackneyed.

“Five Ghosts” blends big pulpy action with a lot of heart. It looks to be one of the standout series of 2013, showing what comics are really capable of at their best.

Coming up on Friday, I’ll take a look at:
Chew #33
Fables #128
Superior Spider-Man #8
Thief of Thieves #13
Wonder Woman #19

Also, after talking with some trusted friends, I’ve decided to finish “Age of Ultron”. It’s starting to feel a lot like the Star Wars prequels in two senses. One, it’s clear that the creative vision behind the book is unchallenged and has developed an over-sized ego. Two, it makes for an interesting discussion piece about how potentially great ideas can become pretty bad stories. So hopefully, it will be something we can all learn from, even if the last four issues don’t improve on the first six.


About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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