Sunday, 13 May 2012

Mystery In Space #1: Readers Roulette No. 2


The Vertigo seal, the aspirational $7.99 price point, the classy pop sci-fi covers by Ryan Sook and Mike Allred, the sprinkling of esteemed name creators, the franchise title fondly remembered by greying readers; context works as a promise, and Mystery In Space promises thoughtful, imaginative work in return for a hardly-inconsiderable investment. Regrettably, context can fib too.

Perhaps it’s the fact that MIS’s nine stories required six different credited editors which accounts for the mish-mash of disparate, largely uninspired product laid toe-to-tail here. It’s certainly hard to imagine what led to Mike Allred’s Alpha Meets Omega being commissioned. His retro High Sixties artwork never fails to intrigue, but his script’s as embarrassingly banal as a teenager’s recollections of a spliff-inspired spiritual awakening. Slightly higher up the food chain lies Andy Diggle’s Transmission, whose high-falluting chit-chat about “memes” and “democracy” can’t distract from the paradox of universe-conquering AIs who’ve never mastered the GCSE basics of human psychology. Still, Allred and Diggle’s scripts at least come to a halt at a place where there’s a clear ending of sorts on view. By contrast, neither Ann Nocenti’s Here Nor There or Nnedi Okorafor’s The Elgort manage to arrive at anything other than a say-wha? conclusion.

           
Thankfully Duane Swierczynski’s Verbinsky Doesn’t Appreciate It invests its everyman loser with a touch of individuality and pathos, even if the tale itself ultimately relies upon our being told about a tragedy which we really need to have been shown. Yet it’s the one story in the collection where anything more emotionally substantial than loathing and resentment breaks convincingly through the flat effect of the thin characterisation. Love may be the theme of Ming Doyle’s soporific Asleep To See You and sexual alienation that of Robert Redi’s Contact High, but neither tale succeeds in making its cast’s emotions feel like anything much more than plot-conveniences.

          
If the writing’s at best underwhelming, then the artwork’s often inexplicably disengaged. Perhaps the most exquisite is Micheal Mw. Kaluta’s art for The Elgort, where a great deal of care’s been taken to imagine a pastoral fantasy world. Sadly, Kaluta’s panel-to-panel continuity is often perplexing, disorientating the reader in the midst of an already-confusing tale when it’s clarity that’s desperately needed. Elsewhere, some of the artists seem to have no interest in the genre of science fiction at all. Doyle’s spaceship exterior is so dismissively executed that it’s hard to believe that a point isn’t being made, while the work of the normally splendid Kyle Baker on The Dream Pool seems to have been produced at such a speed that the eye struggles to settle on such apparently-unfinished sketches.

         
It’s tough working out who Mystery In Space was actually intended for. Comics readers are unlikely to take to such unengaging and expensive fare, while the chances of attracting science-fiction fans from other mediums is seriously limited by the functional-at-best art and the mediocre scripts. The short story is an incredibly demanding form, and anything other than excellence will soon get found out. A cluster of so-so tales will work as well as a gaggle of also-ran album-tracks trading under the title of a "greatest hits" collection, context being a promise, etc, etc. Was it too many editors that spoiled the broth, or have folks just forgotten the art of the fiercely compelling short story?


Sincerest thanks to all who nominated a comic or two in the first round of Reader's Roulette. I do hope, gentle reader, that you might consider suggesting something for the blogger to review when the next poll goes up.

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12 comments:

  1. That is a beautiful cover, though.
    Dina

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    1. Hello Dina:- Mr Sook's cover is the absolute high-light of the piece, you're absolutely right.

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  2. "The short story is an incredibly demanding form, and anything other than excellence will soon get found out."

    Oh, Lord, this is so true. Every time I try to write a 4 to 8 page story it ends up being about 20 pages.

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    1. Hello Joe:- As endless writers have said, it's harder to write a short story than an endless soap-opera superhero book. I do wonder what the brief for the stories in MIS was. Many of them, for example, had so much story in them and so little character that it would have taken a master to make them work.

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  3. Man, since I suggested two of the three titles for your Reader's Roulette, both of which you pointedly did not enjoy, I'm feeling a bit bad.
    I'm actually surprised that you found so little worthwhile here, given the talent involved. And I didn't even realize this book included a piece by Nnedi Okorafor - I absolutely love her novels, and would otherwise probably buy any comic written by her and illustrated by Kaluta sight unseen.
    Anyway, hope you fared better with Scooby Doo...

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    1. Hello Edo:- I fear that its me who owes you the apology. I haven't felt comfortable about writing these negative reviews, but in 500 words, its impossible to be anything other straight-forward and I really didn't think they were up to scratch. BUT I enjoyed the process of reading books I wouldn't otherwise hunt down and trying to frame a response. It was TERRIFIC practise and I'm SO grateful to you and those other kind folks who recommended them. I hope you'd consider recommending a book or two if you're ever passing this way again and a Reader's Roulette is underway. There's plenty of examples on the blog of books recommended which I ended up admiring: Orc Stain comes to mind as an example I've written about this year. So for me, it's win-win. Every book's interesting to come across.

      Nnedi Okorafor is obviously a fine and gifted writer. But her story wasn't much of a comics short in its own write, and Kaluta's art, though gorgeous on a panel-to-panel basis, made a challenging story all the more confusing. Perhaps Vertigo wanted some variety by offering such a difficult text, though my feeling is that perhaps a stronger editorial hand might have helped tighten the story and render it more reader-friendly.

      Scooby-Doo? What a fantastic challenge that'll be. I've no experience with the property and none in writing about such comics. That's exactly what I need :)

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    2. Hi Colin, pithy and precise, perfect!

      Unlike the comic. Maybe the editors should simply suggest the writers come up with pulpy fun, rather than - as seems to have been the case - Heartfelt Ideas. And them who knows, we may get entertaining tosh with smart subtext.

      Did you read Breeching?

      @Edo, if I may - I can't tell, having suggested this comic, did you read it yourself? Would you let Colin suffer alone?

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    3. Hello Martin:- thank you. And you're right that pulpy fun would've been one to go. I too would much rather get my meaning in the subtext. These stories were often overloaded with so much STUFF of varying kinds that it was hard to find the story at hand.

      I did read Breeching. With so few words, I had to pick my targets, and settle on the stories which I thought were most representative and/or interesting. I found Breeching to be cliched, boring and, as you say, dumb-minded by its close too. It was so dreadfully poor .... dear me, but how can an editor not lend a hand and tighten that up? As odd an idea as it is, that would never have got published in the 70s churn-em-out DC mystery books. And they were often - if not always - wall-to-wall mediocrity.

      Martin's review of the issue, which I did enjoy and even commented upon, can be found at:

      http://dangermart.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/mystery-in-space-1-review.html

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    4. Martin, no I haven't read it myself; I suggested it because it seemed like something I would like, and I wanted to read Colin's always interesting thoughts on it. At this point, though, having read his, and now your, rather negative review, I'm not sure I'll ever get around to reading it. So once again, Colin, I apologize for my own small contribution to your suffering ... ;)

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    5. Hello Edo:- No problemo. That which doesn't break us merely makes us more anxious to hunt out better comics ....

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  4. Hi Colin, just passing through to thank Edo for the response. Shuffling back to my corner now ...

    ... and thanks for the plug!

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    1. Hello Martin:- Thank you for your plug too! Eggness is always appreciated.

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