This Is What Corporate Comics Look Like: Time Warp #1

TimeWarp1CoverLouis Falcetti writes… while on painkillers… they probably didn’t help him much.

(WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS)

I pride myself on my ability to change my mind, or rather my openness in allowing it to be changed. In this culture of alpha nerds and fragile egos I believe that’s an impressive personality feature and I don’t mind feeling good about it. I went into Marie Antoinette ready to hate it and ended up adoring it. I wanted The Walking Dead television show to be good so badly but once I realized the show was an enormous piece of shit I stopped watching it. So even though I’ve already essentially written off Vertigo I was still open to giving it another chance. I went out and bought Time Warp #1 ready for it to be a shoddily thrown together, bland, boring and instantly forgettable book only to find out that I was completely right. This is a shoddily thrown together, bland, boring and instantly forgettable book, just another nail (that’s gotta be at least 50 nails at this point) in Vertigo’s coffin as the former leader in smart, indie comics publishing dies the death of a thousand cuts.

Vertigo has never been a stranger to the digest format but it seems they’ve come to rely on them more in recent years to put forth the illusion that there were still things to get excited for from the Vertigo banner. It also seems like a very “smart move” from a corporate playbook, you still get some big names but don’t have to pay them big money, and you can charge more money for a book with slightly more content and a lot more ads (that doesn’t cost substantially more to publish than the smaller books, at least not $4.00 worth). Also a one-shot means you can totally do a variant, not normally something that Vertigo did (there were Invisibles variants for one issue though that was more about exploring different ways of communicating the comic art form, and I can’t imagine Gaiman not having to do at least one to make the upstairs property milkers happy during Sandman’s years) but with Vertigo having her (creative) feet bound and being made pretty for the market boring, old commercialism is going to get into the mix.

Before I start talking about the content I’d like to declare that if there is a Godwin’s Law for online arguments than there goddamn has to be one for time travel genre fiction. Several times during the course of this issue I thought “Oh fuck please don’t make this be a Hitler thing.” Sort of like at the end of The Adjustment Bureau where I found myself saying “Oh fuck please don’t make this be a secret God movie.” I didn’t spoil anything for you just now by the way, besides spoiling the experience of an hour and a half of vapid, hallmark channel “syfy” That being said, one of the Hitler instances in Time Warp was actually kind of cool, but the very fact that I have to specify one particular time travel story involving Hitler within the same comic should be a sign enough that we need to stop falling back to freakin’ Hitler as the maguffin out of plot free card every time.

The first story R.I.P. is “The Vertigo Debut” of TV’s Damon Lindelof with art by Jeff Lemire and it features possible DCU character Rip Hunter (I say possible because when Barry Allen fartconned creation because mothers or something I stopped investing any amount of mental energy into following the new exploits of old DCU lite, but Rip Hunter was at one point a character with stories and history in a rich universe of the same). There is a limited number of poster children for the “DCU CHARACTERS AND VERTIGO CHARACTERS SHOULD BE IN BOTH BOOKS BECAUSE OF PRECEDENT” crowd, they shout about John Constantine and they foam about Swamp Thing and they politely chat about Sandman and one person tweets a question about Black Orchid but Jesse Custer never told Psycho Pirate to literally fuck himself with a gun. My point being the first story involves an established (though possibly retconned until he can be unveiled as Rippur! The time traveling, vigilante with a hot new costume and no qualms about getting the job done! New member of Suicide Squad! Written by Henry Bukowski!) DCU character, which is great if Damon really wanted to do a cool Rip Hunter story, although if that was what he was setting out to do… But it feels forced. Like so much out of DC these days, it just feels forced and awkward, especially being the opening story. I don’t need a hundred thousand examples of company owned heroes doing stellar supporting jobs in supposedly creator owned waters, I’m just telling you how it felt when I read it.

And it feels forced because it doesn’t need to be Rip Hunter to tell this story. Why tie it in with a character that isn’t all that well known and especially so if anyone still believes that there is a section of Vertigo readers who aren’t also DCU readers and oooh that it’s. That’s it right there. A corporate playbook wouldn’t be happy if cool kids were just picking up the books that say Ellis or Ennis or Moore (in glory days, obv.), the corporate overmind says “If they’ll buy that, they better buy this” and “Why can’t we lure that extra wandering dollar sign into all our other books?” because everyone knows that it is easy and possible to please everyone, all the time, with everything. Only the stories told with the broadest strokes, with the least possibility of offending or confusing should be told on the largest scale possible at the loudest volume.

Also Rip Hunter dies in the story, so it either clearly takes place outside of canon or clearly (as in quite crystal) people give less of a shit than ever about canon and continuity at DC editorial these days so why stress about it? Rip Hunter is there so on the off chance that the elusive but popular “new reader” shall wander into yon stacks they’ll just have to find out more! Is he on Brave and the Bold yet?! (Brave and the Bold along with JL8 being just a few of the many places that embarrass the DCU proper by doing it a million times better than them)

As for the story itself, besides it’s sad pun of a title, it was fine. Really it was powered by the Lemire art since the Hunter story angle did nothing for the impact of the tale. That’s another thing about these anthologies, it’s a chance to see who hasn’t yet been disillusioned/horrified enough to quit/get fired from DC yet.

“It’s Full Of Demons” is one of two, TWO Hitler stories that actually have a shared important plot point. That’s how dry the bucket of Hitler stories is, within the same issue, two time traveling Hitler stories both focus on the same tired late night convention conversation. The story is by Tom Fowler and Tom King and while at it’s heart is a noble metaphor, on it’s surface is a slightly heavy handed short with a tired premise.

Also it’s worth noting that just as Rip Hunter’s inclusion stuck out as a symptom of Big Brother interference, the amount of Hitler stories would also play into that new Corporate knows creative playbook. Tell me you can’t picture some upper level micro-manager saying “You know what’s always cool in time travel stories? Hitler! Why don’t we throw in a buncha Hitler stories, people love those!” I can easily imagine some out of touch marketing firm with charts and figures analyzing the marketplace proving that “Yes. Nerds love Hitler stories.”

“I Have What You Need” is the other “Vertigo Debut” this time from eternal optimist Gail Simone (I mean, she must be, why else would she keep working there?) with art by Gael Bertrand doing his best Brandon Graham impression. It’s about a candy that lets you relive your best memory sold at a shop by a man resembling The Simpson’s version of Frank Nelson. Of course two sad men and one sad kid are enjoying the feels when a character who looks exactly like a short version of Hitler sans mustache bursts in with his square jawed, beefcake muscle. Now this Hitler looking guy wants the candy because he’s incredibly in touch with his spiritual rotteness and wants to enjoy one of his greatest hits. He goes on and on about how he’s special and his mom spoiled him and he gets what he wants while we’re treated to an image of a video game playing youth surrounded by expensive toys moving to him describing a woman he desired. And that’s when it starts to feel like an after school special or a warning from your mom. Yanyo (his name) says, “I saw this scrunt in a bookstore, real virgin type. She was hesitant. But I get what i want.” and we see Yanyo as a rotten twenty year old leering as evil-y as possible across the counter from a proper, well dressed but still sexual, tall, pretty with glasses girl minding her own business, on her computer, probably on Pintrest. “Well, we got married. And I wanted certain things. Certain bedroom things, eh, sport?” he continues and that’s when this Straw Man makes Straw Dogs look like Sippy Straw Dogs. I mean I guess she was just wowed by his constant lecherous gaze or angry, tight face. Just like that we have the perfect all encompassing bad male, made to look like the ultimate bad male and then peppered with personality traits right out of the worst true life stories of relationship nightmares who just gets to up and marry sweet, random library girl for some reason. So he kills her and she looks like one of the mom’s from Nickelodeon’s Rugrats during her death throes (possible reboot??). There is a “twist” that comes after a violent outburst but not before two characters become gay because hey, why not, as long as we’re trying to make the most reblog ready comic strip of all time. I dont have a problem with any of these choices as intelligent choices used in a smart storytelling, but these are all paper thin and the entire tale feels ridiculously hammy and heavy fisted.

Si Spurrier’s “The Grudge” with art by Michael Dowling stands out immediately as being far too smart for the rest of the stories it is in league with. His tale of competing scientists who break ground only when publicly shit talking each other is intelligent, emotionally complex and features characters with reasons behind their actions. Also it’s nice to read a story in a Vertigo comic that is actually written for adults, sure the cover may say “Mature Readers” but don’t worry it’s at most a PG-13 affair, tell Paul to get off the roof, the sexual investigators are gone! The art in “Grudge” is versatile at times feeling like the love child of Hitch and Phillips.

“The Dead Boy Detectives” are of course featured because it’s an excuse to put Neil Gaiman’s name in the solicits. The story picks up from the original D.B.D. story from Sandman because if history has shown us anything, it’s picking up stories once the narrative has concluded is always a rewarding experience for fans and critics, just look at Battlestar Galactica: The Plan or Before Watchmen. Everyone loves them for being so intelligent and well composed, so obviously done as a labor of love and not a transparent stretch for last ditch dollars from a dwindling fan base. To be honest I couldn’t even read it, though I admit to not trying too hard. It’s not important to know what happens to Spider Jerusalem after Transmetropolitan ends, just as absolutely nothing would be gained by having Jesse Custer and Tulip go out on one more adventure. The Dead Boy Detectives have been resurrected time and time again not due to popular demand, but due to accessibility, due to the instant X level of interest having Sandman characters around will always bring. I mean they tarted out Death for Lex Luthor didn’t they? A friend of mine keeps making jokes about Morpheus being brought into the DCU with a new rebooted costume and set of bad ass powers, and every time it gets less and less funny as the people at the top scurry around looking for more trademarks to bleed dry onto toasters and tooth brushes.

“She’s Not There” written by Peter Milligan (who I’m sure has lots more free time on his hands since DC shitcanned Hellblazer for the latest Constantine copy, Constantine) and art by M.K. Perker. The plot is reminiscent of the criminally unloved B.S.G. spin-off, Caprica but with a dose of one dimensional bad husbandry straight out of Simone’s heavy handed playbook.

“3:00″ by Fawkes and Macdonald is close to being a great science fiction short but includes so much useless, distracting science text that an 8 page story feels like a chore to get through. There is some smart characterization and interesting plot points but over all the strip over explains everything and reduces it’s punch, power and memorability.

The Matt Kindt story is, like everything the man does, wonderful. It’s smart, it’s tight and it’s gorgeous to look at. Kindt’s comic “Warning Danger” does the Twilight Zone homage best, delivering well thought out politics with creative science fiction and a battle of the sexes angle for the super fans in the back. It stands out in this flaccid, dull package like a Pollock would at a Thomas Kinkade gallery.

And finally, “The Principle” by Dan Abnett with art by Inj Culbard, the final tale, is also a Hitler story. Now I recognize that I’ve “ruined” (what is dead can never die, what is crap can never be ruined) several of the stories in here but it’s only to make this point: out of the 9 stories in Time Warp 3 are about going back in time to kill Hitler, 2 are about established DCU characters, 2 are actually good, and 2 are heavy handed moral tales about how men are bastards. This is your Vertigo now. This is what the children of the new 52 look like. This why I wrote this review, because this is what corporate comics look like. Know your enemy. It’s easy to spot because it is over priced, poorly done and dripping with advertisements. If these are the final days of Vertigo as many think (and more hope) let it finally die and stop propping up the corpse with silly shows like Time Warp.

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