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.