March 5, 2010

A Different Glance At A Golden Age

This is, more than likely, going to be one of the tougher posts that I've had to write. Mostly because, as long-time readers of this blog (and by "long time readers" I mean "Chuck and Roger") know, I have an affinity and love for both Doc Savage and the Green Hornet. I'm probably one of the few who enjoy the Golden Age, but have a very slight working knowledge of the history of pulps.

So when First Wave (from DC) and the Kevin Smith written Hornet book (from Dynamite) were announced, I was a little hesitant...scratch that, I had been severely disappointed in most comic adaptations of Doc (bar Milennium Comics in the 90s), and, well, you can insert obligatory Kevin-Smith-late-script joke here.

However, with both books coming out this week, I can say that I was severely impressed with one, and the other left me a little cold.

The book that impressed me was First Wave, mostly because of Brian Azarello's writing. This isn't your grandfather's Doc Savage - in fact, Azarello creates a whole new world (or "Earth-53" as he joked at 2009's Wizard World/Comicon) inhabited by non-powered characters (Batman, the Spirit, the Blackhawks). There's been enough hype about the book, and I am pleased to say that the book lives up to the hype. Actually, it exceeds it.

An unnamed war. A discovery in the jungle. Without spoiling, there's a nice, hefty integration of classic pulp storytelling with some unique 21st century ideas. This Doc "feels" right, the Spirit has another unique feel (which, after recently seeing the Frank Miller film, is a little refreshing), and there's a solid build in storytelling. Rags Morales' art is pretty strong, helping to "sell" the atmosphere. This is one book that I don't mind following on.

However, I admit that I have some mixed feelings about Kevin Smith's Green Hornet book. First, the good points: the book starts with a nice action set piece which, quite frankly, would work as a big screen movie. There's an obvious love of the character and the "mythology" (as the teenagers would say). Jonathan Lau and Phil Hester's art helps drive the story (although at times, it does look a little awkward), and the dialogue tends to work.

However, there are some flaws with the book, with one seemingly sabotaging the storytelling.

First, the last few pages of the book which 'set up' the main storyline...well, they have a sense of "seen it all before". It doesn't quite seem true. The penultimate "domestic" scene really seems quite off, and rereading the book, I think I have the answer.

Smith is integrating the "mythology" of the Green Hornet, mainly through visual references to the 1960s television show. Some of the writing of Britt Reid and Kato in these flashbacks seem off. Way off. In a theatrical movie, these might have been updated/revamped for a modern audience, but by tying this in with the television show, some of the dialogue between Reid and Kato (including one potentially inflammatory remark) seems off...and that penultimate domestic scene? Again, the dialogue and behavior don't seem to fit, and are almost jarring. It's not really a bad book - I think it's just one where a specific creative choice ends up creating cognitive dissonance for the reader.

(To any colleagues who are reading this - yes, that's the second time I've used the term cognitive dissonance this month. I deserve a cookie).

I'm a big fan of Smith's movies, and he even made remarks about the Hornet film  in one of his live speaking appearances. His writing on Hornet seems like an uncomfortable mashup between the Hornet character and...a Kevin Smith movie. It's not bad, but I hope that the tone becomes a little more consistent, and that as the story progresses, it flows a little more naturally than this first issue.

In short, this week saw the debut of one really good pulp revision....and one that can use some room for improvement. Although I'm set on First Wave, I think I'm going to keep Green Hornet on probation for now.

I owe Kevin that much. That and fifty bucks.


Ron Fortier said...

Havent' read either yet, Gordon. Hope to do so in another week or so when my comics arrive in the mail.
In the meanwhile, just for your information, the general consensus on FIRST WAVE is all THUMBS DOWN.
You were right, this isn't our grandfather's Doc. Meaning exactly what? That somehow pulp fans let DC they wanted a "different" Doc then the classic, iconic hero? Don't think so. And again, per what I've read on-line at pulp sites, when did the Spirit become a dirty copy? Not in any Will Eisner stories I ever read.
I'm anxious to read this for myself, Gordon. I'm starting to get the feel by your comments, that this "pseudo" pulp is going to appeal to "pseudo" pulp fans.
Much more later.

Gordon D said...


Thanks for your comments - I have to admit that my exposure to the pulps has been mostly the "big guns" (Doc Savage, Spider, Shadow with a smattering of detective stories) - so as someone who's familiar with pulps, but not with the wide range and variety, I'm giving First Wave a tentative recommendation.

(And in all honesty, I'm not sure pulps translate well into comics - part of what I enjoy about the pulps is the prose - pulp stories have an energy and rush to them that I don't think comics can duplicate. But that's just my opinion).

And Ron, I think when you read Smith's Hornet book, you'll fling it at the wall in disgust. Upon rereading, it just seems even more off.