Robot 6

A Month of Wednesdays | Rushkoff, Snyder, Forsythe and Wheeler

A.D.D. (DC Comics)

Writer Douglas Rushkoff repurposes the familiar acronym for the title of this original graphic novel, only here it stands for Adolescent Demo Division rather than Attention Deficit Disorder (although the association with the original definition is certainly attentional, and somewhat apropos).

The kids of this ADD are professional beta testers and something of a focus group as intentional society. They were raised from the cradle to test things, and to compete as the athletes of the near-future, where video game competitions are apparently the dominant professional sport.

Something’s a little off with these kids though, as civilians and their competitors all notice and never fail to point out, and they all seem to have some sort of developing superpower, as well. Protagonist Lionel can see through electronic information and codes of all kinds to the message and intent behind, his friend Takai can build and un-build just about anything, and so on.

When some of the kids themselves discover something’s off regarding their origins and the company that keeps them pampered prisoners, they try to escape. Rushkoff’s plot is well-structured, if quite familiar and predictable, and he obviously put a lot of care into crafting the near-future slang of the teens, most of which struck me more as funny than convincing (“Dekh” for decode, “Kopa” for cool by way of copacetic, “nexy” for a blend of new, next and sexy, etc).

Goran Sudzuka illustrates the book and the art, like the script, is a solid construction job only lacking in innovation and inspiration. This future basically looks like an antiseptic, generic version of today’s world, remarkably free of logos, fashion, style, trends or visual clutter—remarkably, because the villains of the book are concerned with selling things to kids through visual Trojan horses of information.

The future, in short, looks generic.

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the games depicted. We only get a good look at two of the games. One is called “Ant Wars,” and features the outlines of ants on a grid of hexagons, which looks simple and primitive … more Atari 2600 than even a Facebook or cellphone game. Another features avatars of the characters fighting in a background-free blank space; one side has uzis and skateboards, the other, which are dressed like the Hitler youth for some reason, have jetpacks and flamethrowers.

The book thus looks like a vision of the future from the 1980s, and while some of the criticism regarding corporate advertising and the isolation and alienation from the real world that gaming can bring with it seems quite salient, that too feels outdated, given its delivery in a visual medium lacking in visuals that look so out-of-date.

Grant Morrison, Cory Doctrow and Ann Nocenti all provided really complimentary blurbs for it, though.

Batman: Gates of Gotham (DC Comics)

As a standalone series, this trade collecting last year’s five-issue series co-plotted by critically-acclaimed and fan-favorite Bat-writer Scott Snyder seemed at first a good place to check out what Snyder’s been up to in Gotham City.

As it turns out, it’s probably a less-than-perfect place to start. Snyder only co-plots with Kyle Higgins, who scripts most of the issues, although before series end, a third writer Ryan Parrott helps dialogue as well.

Additionally, the plot is firmly rooted in the pre-New 52boot DCU, with Dick Grayson as Batman, Damian as Robin, Tim Drake as Red Robin and Cassandra Cain, who may or may not even exist anymore, as The Black Bat.

Snyder and Higgins’ best bits are their character interactions, the way they define Batman’s various sidekicks, their strengths, weaknesses and relationships, while also telling a story that constructs a back-story for Gotham City history and architecture and giving the Bat-people a supervillain to track, fight and defeat.

Reading it then was a bit bittersweet—here’s another writing team that, like Grant Morrison, has no problem juggling all these Bat-people as they were last summer, but the whole franchise has since been kinda sorta rebooted nevertheless.

The artwork , most of it provided by Trevor McCarthy, is also excellent—except when it’s not. By McCarthy, that is, as opposed to excellent. It sort of falls apart in the fourth issue, at which point Graham Nolan comes in to do layouts, and Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan draw different parts of the issue. It’s coherent enough, but by that point its hard to keep one’s self in the story when every panel reminds one that things were frantic and confused behind the scenes of its creation. There’s really no excuse for this sort of thing in a standalone miniseries, and this seems to be one more comic book victim of DC’s news of their relaunch reaching too many editors and creators too late.

Jinchalo (Drawn & Quarterly)

Matthew Forsythe crafts another wordless, dreamy adventure inspired by folk tales in the style of his 2009 Ojingogo.

In a quasi-traditional Asian village, a hungry little girl stays up late reading comics and eating all of the food in the house. When her grandfather comes home and freaks out, he gives her some money to go to market and buy some more food. The village is populated with fantastic creatures, and our heroine bumps into one, a shape-shifting bird creature, and they mix-up their eggs, and our young hero spends the second half of the book chasing a creature capable of turning into whatever Forsythe imagines, and slipping in and out of amazing fantasy sequences of various kinds (in one panel, she drags Forsythe, and his pen and ink into the image to have him correct something in the art that threatens her).

Forsythe works with black and white art, with blue used to provide the only additional color, and used in lieu of shading or gradations of the black, with the images appearing in as round drawings on the white pages, using where the space meets the drawing to suggest borders rather than drawing panels.

Perfect in craft and execution, and exciting in design and storytelling, I  can’t think of the last comic I read that was as purely enjoyable as Jinchalo.

Too Much Coffee Man: Cutie Island (Boom Studios)

The title character doesn’t appear in the title story of this collection of comics from Shannon Wheeler. That story is about a rabbit and a worm who live on a boring island where everything is cute and ugliness is punished (with flame!). They  build a boat and search for other lands, ending up on an island where everything is ugly and dangerous, although it’s connected to their home island by a tunnel that is also a giant two-headed snake.

Like a few other stories in this book, there’s a rather Dr. Seuss-like serious subject matter  n child-like storytelling vibe to it, only with Wheeler’s super-simple cartooning taking the place of rhyme in the communication of it, as well as Seuss-like universality.

The TMCM stories are mostly shorter, one-page gags, with “gag” being defined here as an observation of an existential dilemma or acknowledgement of ennui, and the narrative of several of these rolling into one another to form little story arcs.

There’s also a neat biographical section in which Wheeler discusses the Too Much Coffee Man opera in comic strips about himself and his at-first rather reluctant work on it.

Given how short most of Wheeler’s stories are, and at almost 200 pages, there’s a lot of comics in here. But I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much Too Much Coffee Man.

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