Tuesday, March 20, 2018

All-Time Comics: Blind Justice #2

In some respects, Josh Bayer getting Fantagraphics to publish his line of 80s throwback superhero comics may have been a bad thing for the project. It put a sheen of respectability on a project that was inherently bizarre and trashy. Indeed, it's odd that these are now Bayer's best-known comics, considering how much better his Raw Power and Theth series are. They also trade in on superhero tropes but from a completely different perspective, incorporating the juvenile aspects of reading them as part of the experience and warping them through Bayer's "cover versions" of obscure comics. Bayer's idea to mix alternative cartoonists with older mainstream cartoonists was an interesting one in theory, but there have been a lot of hiccups along the way. Indeed, the first issue of Blind Justice, to be penciled by Rich Buckler and his son, is one of the most incoherent comics I've ever read.

The over-the-top violence and misogynistic elements of the other All-Time comics, combined with the fact that the entire first wave was done by men, made them an easy target for criticism. Bayer's attempt to combine frequently nihilistic and raw 80s comics with the dumb ultraviolence of 80s cinema as a kind of goof removed both Bayer's own satirical viewpoint as well as artists like Ben Marra, whose work walks a fine line between satire and sexism. The character Justice is in the tradition of inexorable, intelligent, vengeance-seeking crusaders. The twist is that his secret identity is that of a unresponsive cranial injury victim living in a ward. When he hears about crime, he builds himself armor out of things like old newspapers and phone books, cobbles together a club, and looks like a bulky, bandaged figure in a suit. Having a hero literally built out of decay and newsprint is a fun metaphor, especially one as single-minded as an avenging Steve Ditko character.

The second issue follows a psychopathic killer who enters a home and asks "Hey buddies...who wants to lay down and make this easier for me? Who wants to lay down on my altar?" The killer, named Miller, is a kind of goof on Bayer's version of G. Gordon Liddy, ranting about raw power and viewing killing as a part of nature, that he exists to eliminate weaker species. Of course, he's gone rogue from a typically evil corporation. The first big action piece is Justice infiltrating the company to get information and escaping from a small army of guards. The clever thing about the storytelling here is Justice essentially bullshitting his way through his enemies with a combination of trickery and outrageous confidence, as he proceeds as though he's invincible even though he has no powers. The same was true for his showdown with Miller, except this time the villain saw through the disguise but underestimated Justice's cleverness and relentlessness.

The story, while violent, actually tracks quite nicely. Part of this is due to the unlikely but highly efficient art team of Noah Van Sciver and Al Milgrom as penciler and inker, respectively. Van Sciver goes to town with all sorts of weird page grids and formal oddities, like the bottom of a panel "giving out" underneath a punk's foot. Milgrom's inks essentially smooth Van Sciver out a bit, adding a bit of fluidity to fight scenes, while retaining the essential character of Van Sciver's work. Milgrom was the essence of the meat-and-potatoes Marvel inker and penciler who could work super fast and tell a story, even if the art itself wasn't flashy or attractive. The eccentric coloring job by Paul Lyons and Jason T. Miles (whose work is about as far away from this as one can imagine) only increased the weirdness of the book, as Miller was purple, Justice's shirt was yellow, and the sky during the showdown ranged between yellow, orange and red. The use of color was so deliberate, yet they kept it the same four-color flat colors of early 80s comics in order to duplicate that atmosphere, only the sheer wonkiness of it served to remind the reader of the comic book essence of the proceedings. It was meant to be anything but realistic and a little bit ugly and weird as well. It feels like Bayer also really nailed the tone of this comic in a way he hadn't in other All-Time issues. I have a feeling that the second run of All Time Comics will wind up being much more interesting in the first, especially with comics drawn by Gabrielle Bell and Julia Grfoerer.

No comments:

Post a Comment