plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Review--Warlock #1

Writer: Greg Pak

Artist: Charie Adlard

I'm not a big reader of company comics these days, preferring to stick to the creator-owned books about more banal subjects. But it would be dishonest were I to adopt the posture of never having taken an immense interest in the doings and goings on of the company universes and their characters. I particularly enjoyed Marvel's cosmic-themed characters, and during the early 90's when I bought the largest number of company titles those characters took center stage just about every summer, with the consequences lasting through the year just long enough to spark the next summer's cosmic saga and renew the cycle. I've long since lost interest in that sort of story, but because I liked it so much when I was younger I've always been willing to at least give the new titles of these characters a chance should they start up again as they always do. Also, I'll take a chance on any book that I don't have to pay to read, as was the case with Warlock #1.

This is a book that has left me with a great deal of questions. First and foremost is, why the revamp? Was the character of Adam Warlock so encumbered by prior continuity that the only option was to start over? I'm not complaining or anything. It may well be in Marvel's interest, and it's certainly their prerogative, I just don't know why someone would feel that all of that complicated and interesting history is actually a detriment rather than an interesting platform from which to build up, and maybe to clarify a little bit. To me, that would seem to be crammed with possibility. So I can only assume that there was a sound creative reason to scrap all that and start over, but from reading the issue I can't tell what that is.

Our way into the story of Adam's (re-)creation is through his visual designer, Janie Chin. She so far doesn't seem to have much of a distinguishing personality. I can read that in a couple of different ways. Either no attempt has been made to endow her with a personality of some sort in this, the introductory issue of the title, wherein there were twenty-some pages where it could have been done, or this is realism of a profound order. I'll explain. Most attempts to create a personality for a fictional character result in the writer amassing layers of cliched quirks and schticks with a little reified stereotyping and wish-fulfillment thrown in the mix. Most people, however, don't have much of a distinct personality at all by comparison. People would all sound remarkably similar if we read the things they said instead of hearing it. And even when we hear it, the content doesn't vary much from person to person. So, maybe it's a good thing and maybe it's not. Personally, I'm willing to put up with a certain amount of cliche if it results in the emergence of a distinguishable character, which means that the bland approach loses some points for me. Yes, it's only the first issue, but these things don't take long to establish.

I had the same problem with the scientist guys. They're pretty much several iterations of the same character. They're all deeply cynical, but they all really want to save the world at the same time. And this is where the story starts to get really confusing for me. The scientists want to save the world by creating a perfect ruler and protector for it. Is this the conclusion that a mix of cynicism and altruism would bring about? Does it not occur to these incredibly well-educated men that maybe part of the reason for the trouble in the world is the over-reliance on paternalistic, forceful, charismatic leader types to make the big decisions for everyone? Because, in essence, that's the solution that they're proposing. Well, not so much proposing as forcing on the world for its own good. Maybe this will be addressed in future issues, but again there is nothing contained in the first issue to suggest that it will.

On a sort of formal/thematic level, I also wonder at the costume choice. I mean, if this hero is supposed to be based on classical, ideal, mythological hero types, then why bring in the art deco look? I don't want to come across as freaking out about the costume change, because clearly the old designs were equally pointless and not much better looking. But when the reason for Janie's involvement is the design, and she explained her reasons for things like skin color, build and all that, why would she choose something as seemingly specific as art deco to influence the clothing design and not have a reason for it? Maybe I'm thinking too much about that one. Maybe the resemblance is coincidental.

I don't get a sense of any real conflict driving the plot. The wars and pollution seem like background details for the most part. The boyfriend is abandoned as soon as the scene shifts. When Adam appears there isn't any sense of urgency to it, he just says hi and introduces himself, then it's over. There really isn't anything there to compel me to seek out the next issue. Maybe Pak's just getting his comic legs, I don't know. It's just not quite coming together here.

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