May 19, 2009
The Next Generation of Zeroes!
Linkara: (seated on his Futon) Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Well, folks, it's finally time to talk about a period of bleakness. A period of twisted humanoid aberrations, and the decay of human morality! This is also known as... the Dark Age of Comics.
(Cut to montage of shots of comics from this period)
Linkara (v/o): There are a number of factors that contributed to the Dark Age, though most people attribute it to Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Suddenly, comic books were in the public eye, and seeing, quote-unquote, "realism" in its stories, with ambiguous morality and having real-world issues present in stories, was suddenly the hot topic. In reality, a lot of real-world issues have been creeping into comics since the '60s; it's just no-one really paid much attention to it until those two stories. They were so radically different from what had been on the market before that it changed the industry. The problem is that people didn't quite understand why they changed the industry. The assumption was that because the stories were dark, that must have been why they were so successful. The truth was that they were just complex stories, and in Watchmen's case, everything was so well developed, foreshadowed, and had such complex characterization and moral themes, that it was a work of genius.
Linkara: But then again, like Hollywood, whenever something is successful, the comic industry oversimplified things, and decided that the reason was because of the dark storylines.
Linkara (v/o): Suddenly, characters had to be grim and gritty, with melodramatic narration and looser ethics when it came to crime-fighting. And of course, the artwork reflected this gritty style, assisted by our old pal, Rob Liefeld. There are several characteristics of the Dark Age of Comics, but for today's subject, we're going to talk about the artwork. People were beginning to pick up comics not because of interesting storylines or characters, but because of the art. Liefeld and other artists had an art style that was so different from traditional sequential artwork that it was considered "new" and "edgy". And in the early 1990s, the artists were pissed. Dissatisfaction with Marvel's payment policies and ownership rights of characters caused a group of artists, including Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and others, to band together, leave the company, and start their own: Image Comics. The focus was more on artwork instead of writing, and while sales were initially strong, over the years, continued delays on books and continually crappy art and writing caused people to suddenly realize what the hell it was they were paying for, and attitudes shifted away. By the late 1990s, most of the grim and gritty style of heroics were tossed aside in favor of more traditional heroes, and since then, Image has changed its ways. After all, as Superman once put it...
Superman: These "no-nonsense" solutions of yours just don't hold water in a world of jet-powered apes and time travel.
Linkara: Today's subject was Image's first book off the press, and ironically, the first book I ever did a text review of back in 2007. As such, let's dig into (holds up comic of review) "Youngblood #1".
(Cut to a closeup of the comic cover)
Linkara (v/o): Let's forgive for a second that the anatomy of these guys is suspect. Let's forgive that this is a dime-a-dozen group shot with everyone clumped together. Let's forgive the fact that we can't see their eyes on any of them, hence why I coined the term "Youngblood's Disease". Let's forgive all of that. But now let's get into the coloring. This is ridiculous! I can barely tell where one hero begins and another ends. You look at teams like the Justice League or the Titans, and each hero has a unique look and usually a colorful characteristic that makes them distinct. With this cover, they're all blending together! But then again, it's not like we'll see them as that distinct anyway. Right before the first page, there's a cardboard, er, "profile box", featuring the only female hero of the Youngblood home team, Vogue. Here, it is revealed that underneath her "patriotic and independent skin beats the heart of a Russian defector".
Linkara: Because, you know, when I think "patriotic", I think a purple and white bodysuit, clown face makeup, and huge shoulder pads, too.
Linkara (v/o): The first page opens up, according to the comic, in Washington, D.C., at 12:17 PM. A man and woman are out shopping. We get a smattering of tiny bits of exposition as we learn that the man is named Jeff and that his date Shelly...
Shelly: ...wouldn't believe the reports we have to fill out!
Linkara (v/o): Yeah, those TPS reports are a bitch. And as you can see here, just like on the cover, Jeff has no eyes. Look out, Daredevil, there's a new blind superhero on the block! A thief runs past several mall walkers down the escalators, and Jeff leaps down to apprehend him. His hips are pushed out at odd angles while he leaps from an implausible side angle, only for the next panel to see him attackling [sic] the thief from a straight angle at the thief's back.
Linkara (v/o): Jeff berates the thief with this splendid dialog...
Jeff: 'Tis the season for giving, not stealing!
Linkara (v/o): Dude, it's July! A narration box reveals that...
Narrator: A good hero can never let a crime go unpunished.
Linkara: Okay, (holds up magic gun) then who do I have to punish for this comic?
Linkara (v/o): We cut to an assassin lining up a rather bizarre-looking gun that looks more like it's designed for caulking than long-distance shots. A voice warns Jeff of the danger, and I'm sure it was meant to come from Shelly, even though the dialogue balloon seems to indicate that it came from the assassin himself. Jeff's body now looks like it's ballooned out so he can be an extra in Weird Al's "Fat" music video.
(Cut to a clip of said video)
Weird Al Yankovic: Because I'm fat, I'm fat, sha mone...
Extras: Fat, fat, really, really fat...
(Back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): He grabs a pen from his pocket and tosses it at the assassin. This somehow hits the assassin back with the assassin with enough force to knock him off of a ledge.
Linkara (v/o): A bunch of onlookers reveal that our friend Jeff here is really Shaft.
Female voices offscreen: (audio from Shaft) Shut your mouth!
Linkara: I'm just talking about Shaft.
Female voices: Then we can dig it! (Linkara nods)
Linkara (v/o): Jeff begins to search the body. And by "search", I mean he holds out his hand towards the body and says...
Jeff: No I.D. No pulse. No answers.
Linkara: No editor.
Linkara (v/o): From what I've read, "Youngblood" came about because Liefeld had been interested in doing a Teen Titans book for DC, and that Shaft here was supposed to be Roy Harper. As such, it's quite a shock to learn that Roy can search bodies JUST BY LOOKING AT THEM. Shaft gets a call from H.Q. and apologizes to Shelly as he runs off. Shelly looks dreamily at her boyfriend and says...
Shelly: Go nail 'em!
Linkara (v/o): And that means hammering nails into our skulls with the artwork. Trust me, he's already done that. We cut to...
Text: Baltimore, Maryland. 12:32 P.M.
(Cut to an opening of Dragnet, showing a shot of Los Angeles)
Joe Friday: My name is Friday. I carry a badge.
Linkara (v/o): Here, we meet Bedrock – later Badrock because of legal issues – the gray mama's boy who's eating lunch as he gets the call to come into the H.Q. as well. He even asks to be excused as the mother says how proud she is of him. And by the perpetual smile on her face, I think "The Stepford Wives" have been made into a comic book if not for the fact that even though it's the '90s, she has a head of '80s hair. We then cut to...
Text: Arlington, Virginia, Underground. 12:44 P.M.
Linkara (v/o): And I start to wonder what the hell's taking H.Q. so long as they appear to be calling their agents in ten-minute intervals. Anyway, in Underground, we meet the next Youngblood member, Diehard WITH A VENGEANCE! Okay, it's just Diehard, but seriously, did Rob Liefeld even think these names when he was planning them? Although, I do admit Bruce Willis coming in and smacking these dorks around would have elevated the comic in my eyes. So what does this mysterious, eyeless character laying on a multicolored slab have to say?
Diehard: I am needed. This time, I must make better use of my freedom.
Linkara: (as Diehard) WITH A VENGEANCE! (audience is heard booing) Okay, okay, I'll stop now.
Linkara (v/o): Cut to almost half an hour later in the same location, only Aboveground now, where the buzz-cut Youngblood member, Chapel, is in bed with a naked woman as he gets his own call from H.Q. He tells her to go and that she should leave her number. We then see Chapel in his iconic costume, even though it's only, like, two seconds later. The outfit consists of a leather jacket, red pants, skull face paint, and a gun right out of Men In Black. His inner monologue gives us this insightful bit of wisdom...
Chapel: (narrating) You gotta give 'em hope. As Shaft would say-- "It's good P.R.!"
Linkara: Dude, there is no P.R. firm in the world that could make that outfit look impressive or manly.
Linkara (v/o): Cut to five hours later, as we see Vogue hopping around rooftops of Washington, D.C., revealing that she knows she got the call a few hours ago.
Vogue: (narrating) Shaft's probably pacing the halls by now. They think I'm at their beck and call. Let 'em wait!
Linkara: Remember, kids, she's patriotic.
Linkara (v/o): We finally cut to what I can only presume is H.Q., since there isn't any establishing caption to reveal this, which is weird, considering every other place we've been to gave us one. Shaft comes in, and we see him walking up to a huge-ass computer console where a normal-looking woman and a person with flaming green hair named Photon are. Shaft suddenly acts like a complete asshole as he says, for no particular reason...
Shaft: Oh, so we get the pleasure of your company tonight, Photon?
Linkara (v/o): I'd question the relevance of that panel, but then again, it's not like any of these panels have been all that essential to this comic. The rest of the Youngblood team shows up, and Shaft berates Vogue for being late. Before they can get in a good little dialog about what exactly our fearless team leader will do if she shows up late again, the woman at the control chair reveals that there is a request for assistance coming in.
Linkara: Wait a second! What the heck was it that required Youngblood's presence FIVE HOURS AGO that they were called in for?!
(Linkara raises his finger in the air, as the chorus for "Time Warp" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show plays; he bobs his head to the music)
Linkara (v/o): Shaft asks what the situation is, and the woman reports that one of Youngblood's transport vehicles is under attack. She says...
Woman at controls: It's Strongarm!! And Gage!!! The Four!
Linkara (v/o): Erm, actually, that's only two, and why the need for three exclamation points? While Vogue tries to cover up that bit of idiotic dialogue by asking...
Vogue: Didn't we put two of them away?
Linkara (v/o): ...Diehard and Chapel say that Strongarm and Gage are attempting to make an escape attempt. (the next panel shows a closeup of Shaft's face) So Shaft orders– AGH! HEART ATTACK!!
Linkara: TAKE COVER, THE ARTWORK'S COMING RIGHT FOR US!! (runs off, tossing comic aside)
Linkara (v/o): Cut to some random street in what I can only presume is Washington, D.C., since, again, the establishing captions have abandoned us. We do get captions of a few bits of dialogue, albeit they're all colored white, so we have no idea who's saying it unless they say the other person's name.
Youngblood member (presumably Shaft): Let's make this one quick, team!... The Four have never really been that tough.
Diehard (as mentioned below): I want Strongarm this time.
Shaft: He's all yours, Die Hard [sic].
Linkara: So is it possible to live hard?
Linkara (v/o): Strongarm, like our old pal Mech Max from "Doom's IV", has no visible joints to speak of for his arms, making him look like a cheap action figure. Gage is, well, just a guy with guns. Strongarm rips off the doors of the truck, revealing Deadlock and Starbright, and I have to say, they actually have semi-decent outfits, albeit Deadlock seems to have an inexplicable ponytail coming out of the back of his mask that's suffering from Gilbert's Tie Syndrome by defying gravity. Of course, this brings up the question of why the heck these two are even still in costumes if they were in custody. Starbright asks if there's any sign of Youngblood, to which Deadlock replies...
Deadlock: Dah! The mere mention of that name boils my blood!
Linkara: (as Deadlock) Oh, no! My blood! Help me, my friends! I'm vaguely Russian and my blood is boiling!
Linkara (v/o): Starbright tells him to "keep it in check"... Um, keep what in check? ...and that their plan depends on it. Gage gasps and calls out...
Gage: Four o'clock! Four o'clock! They're here! They're here!
Linkara: (as Gage) They're here! Everybody hide so we can yell "Surprise!"
Linkara (v/o): Three arrows hit the ground. Okay, Shaft can kill a guy standing a hundred feet away with a pen using his free hand, but he can't hit a couple of guys with a bow and arrow?! Okay, admittedly, his bow doesn't have any string, as indicated by the cover and a page that's coming up, but still... And here's the moment you've all been waiting for, folks: Diehard flies down and smacks Strongarm in the face with his crotch! I'm sure this wasn't what was supposed to be conveyed, but that's what we get, what with the bulging lines, the blood trail, and Diehard bodies foreshortening. Diehardcock proclaims...
Diehard: This makes us even!
Linkara (v/o): And suddenly, I understand fully what he did with his freedom the last time.
Linkara: And I also realize why they don't want any eyes if they're seeing stuff like that.
Linkara (v/o): Diehardon punches Strongarm, this time with his fist, while shouting...
Diehard: I've been waiting for this day! And this time you won't be as lucky!
Linkara: I don't think any of us want to be that lucky.
Linkara (v/o): And finally, we cut to a two-page spread of the other members of Youngblood rushing out at the Four. Oh, and check out the cops in the lower-left corner who have oversized legs and arms that, for some reason, are extended out away from them like stiff boards. Perhaps they're imitating what one of Liefeld's men would look like if they had muscles like that in real life.
Linkara: Whew! (closes comic) That issue lasted forever, didn't it? Well, at least it's over and... (suddenly, he stops himself as he looks at the back cover; his expression sours) Oh. I forgot. Yes, folks, in a rather bizarre bit of page construction, what we saw on the cover was actually the home team of Youngblood. And now... (turns comic over, revealing another comic story) we have to flip the comic over and read it from the start. So we can get another exciting tale! (smiles sarcastically and shakes his head) Yippee!
Linkara (v/o): Okay, in theory, this is a neat idea: two teams that alternate whenever there are missions on the home front or missions that take you away from the immediate area. The problem is that this can also be a radically stupid idea! In the hands of a good writer, having a huge team on a book can be great.
(Cut to a shot of artwork showing a group shot of the members of the Justice Society of America)
Linkara (v/o): Like the JSA run, there are 25 team members, and single issues can spotlight individual heroes, or they can get some nice character moments and fight scenes since we know how unique each one is.
(Cut back to the group shots of the "Youngblood" teams)
Linkara (v/o): But "Youngblood" gives us TWELVE characters, but not all in the same story! Half the book is for one group, and half is for the other. It's a terrible idea to put both stories in the same book. It's possible to have two different teams with similar names running at the same time, but with "Youngblood", the two teams mean that the missions are going to be really short and, again, little time for characterization. Backup features work because they're short supplements; a small story with a large story. But these are both of equal size, and we didn't get any resolution on the home team of Youngblood. The story just stopped! It's especially bad to do this for a FIRST ISSUE! First issues are supposed to get the reader acclimated to these characters in their situations, give us some idea of what their deal is, and why we should like them, but this book just had the characters thrust into one action situation to the next, without any real chance for substance. Are the Youngblood a government organization? Are they the world's only superheroes? Tell us!
Linkara: (sighs) Anyway, with all that in mind, let's dig into (holds up comic) "Youngblood #1". Again.
(Cut to a closeup of the back cover)
Linkara (v/o): The cover on the back is a little better off in the home teams, with a bit more uniqueness to the characters and even some symbols for them. The colors don't seem as blended. Inside, we have yet another cardboard profile box, this one for the home team's leader, Shaft. (the theme for the movie Shaft plays briefly) Apparently, he's an experienced FBI agent, who was chosen to replace an unseen character named Battlestone as leader of Youngblood.
Linkara: (holding up index finger) Say, Rob, why not have an origin story for your entirely new universe and characters, eh? No? Fine.
Linkara (v/o): It says that his weapon of choice is "a specially crafted bow and arrow," which makes me think it must be special (cut to the earlier panel shot of Shaft's bow without a string) IF IT DOESN'T HAVE A STRING! (the comic proper begins) We begin with six television screens displaying a news report. I'm reluctant to call it "talking heads", though, since every time a person is on the screen, they look like they're sleeping! Yes, not only do they have their eyes tightly shut, but their mouths are clamped firmly down, even though there are both speech bubbles and caption boxes that indicate that people should be talking. The speech bubble for the news announcer doesn't even have an arrow connecting it to him! For all we know, they're just putting Bob SquareBody there on the screen, while he took some NyQuil and someone else is trying to make it look like they're actually talking!
Linkara: (holding up index finger) Superhero books can be great inspirations. Like, right now, this is inspiring me to sleep, too.
Linkara (v/o): Apparently, the situation as they describe it is how a radical leader of a terrorist group named Saddam Hussein– uh, erm, I'm sorry, that's "Hassan Kussein", who is also sleeping, by the way, has taken control of several Israeli territories. The President is sending in a specialized task force to deal with it. We switch to a live feed from a reporter on the field, and despite the fact that his mouth is actually open, this reporter's eyes are also just as shut as the others, indicating he must be unconscious, too. Let's focus on one of the Youngblood dorks: Combat. Look at this guy! A giant tuning fork on his head, and a helmet that I'm sure in no way is meant to resemble Magneto's from the X-Men. And he's also got this huge pink gun that was probably supposed to look badass, but instead makes him look like he's wielding a giant frosting dispenser. To make matters worse, while the other members of Youngblood are leaping down from helicopters in relatively the same direction, Pinky the gold salad fork here is dropping down facing the wrong way, plus scrunching his body as if he were sitting on a toilet.
Linkara (v/o): On the next page, Combat's gun is like three times smaller than it was in the previous one. Continuity? What's that? He announces shock that there were more than what the briefing said there would be. Cougar, who is, of course, not like Wolverine at all, responds thusly...
Cougar: Got more toy soldiers to play with!
Combat: War's just a game to you?
Combat: Otherwise, this wouldn't be fun, Coug!
Cougar: I gotta admit-- this is gets me pumped!
Linkara: And suddenly, we're in a Jane Fonda video. Well, that actually would explain why all these losers are so muscle-bound.
Linkara (v/o): The de facto team leader, Sentinel, who is obviously not Iron Man, explains that this is only the first wave, and that it's revealed that Combat wasn't paying attention during the briefing. Oh, and his gun is turned into another size, this time about two-thirds of the original size. Let's see: he doesn't pay attention to briefings, he has a size-changing gun, he's got to be uncomfortable to be within an elevator due to his size, and he treats war like a game. The next generation of heroes, ladies and gentlemen! Seriously, who the hell would find this compelling?
(Cut to 90s Kid)
90s Kid: Dude! I got, like, (holds up three fingers) three copies of "Youngblood #1", man, and, like, (holds up four fingers) four copies of "Youngblood #0"! That's, like, a number-one issue, only it's zero! That means it's, like, zero times cooler! (beat, then frowns) Wait...
Linkara (v/o): We catch up with the other members of the away team. Psi-Fire just kind of floats on the air alongside Riptide, who is herself riding on a wave of water. He cleverly quips...
Psi-Fire: I should've bought this land! I've always wanted beachfront property, babe!!
Linkara (v/o): Riptide, echoing the sentiments of every human being on the planet, responds...
Riptide: Shut up, Psi-Fire!
Linkara (v/o): Following along is the other team's strong man, Brahma, and he– (suddenly, he is shocked by Brahma's open mouth) OH, MY GOD!
Linkara: (pulling comic away from himself) GET AWAY FROM HIS MOUTH! IT'S A BLACK HOLE!! (tosses comic aside and runs off)
Linkara (v/o): He complains...
Brahma: These soldiers are worse than flies!
Linkara: You get a lot of flies in your H.Q., or are you actually a cow?
Linkara (v/o): They close in on their target, a small building without much security, to help secure Saddam– er, Hassan's location. The group leaps in close to the building, only to be stopped by an energy field. Psi-Fire is fine, however, and he creepily exclaims that he could take out Hassan from the states. The energy field doesn't affect him, and he looks up at the camera, stating, actually quite frighteningly, with his lack of eyes, that he...
Psi-Fire: ...wanted to do this-- personally!
Linkara: (as Psi-Fire, his eyes shut and his arms out, feeling around) Just give me a second to figure out where you actually are.
Linkara (v/o): Meanwhile, Combat and Cougar have suddenly engaged with other high-tech robots and... you know what, I don't care about any of this, so let's skip to the end. We cut back to Psi-Fire and Kussein, who's pleading for his life. To make Psi-Fire even more unpleasant, he proclaims...
Psi-Fire: I actually admire what you've done in this backwards country. It's just that mine pays me more.
Linkara: (holding up comic) The next generation of heroes!
Linkara (v/o): Psi-Fire gives a little psychic attack to Kussein's brain, and much to the surprise of every reader of the book, we get a closeup shot of Kussein's eye. Wow, it actually exists! But Kussein holds his head in pain while Psi-Fire says that he does this kind of stuff for free... Then why was he talking about he's paid better in the USA? ...allowing Kussein's head to blow up off-panel. Charming. Combat and Cougar enter, saying with rather mild annoyance...
Cougar: He did it again!
Linkara (v/o): The other members of Youngblood wake up and also express their eye-rolling disappointment over the fact that he killed him. Brahma just stares as the bodies of Gary Coleman had slapped him in the face while Riptide sums it up with an irritated...
Riptide: Oh, way to go!! Brilliant!
Linkara (v/o): ...with about the same amount of enthusiasm as you would when you forgot to put gas in the car. Iron Man– er, Sentinel says it's time to leave, and they should call a cleanup crew. And our comic ends with a shot of US Today, saying that Kussein's terror ended in suicide. The newsprint says that he apparently unpinned a grenade in his mouth and that a suicide note was found nearby.
Linkara: Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen! They're murderers, liars, and they support other killers! Isn't it just the stuff of legends? (holds up comic) This comic sucks. The art is bad, the writing is bad, it's just bad all around! (throws down comic, gets up and leaves)
(Stinger: 90s Kid appears again)
90s Kid: Bowstring! Cha! Who needs a bowstring anyway? Those are for losers who are not hardcore enough! Don't even think about having heroic logos on your chest or anything. What we want is shoulder pads. Huge shoulder pads, man! Those are so much more boss than a stupid symbol. Hey, I'm 90s Kid, (opens up jacket to reveal t-shirt underneath which reads "WYSIWYG") and what you see is what you get!