Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rampaging Outlaws Nation

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of Outlaw Nation (Image, 2007) and Marvel Essentials: The Rampaging Hulk (Marvel, 2008).

There are certainly elements of genius here, and the seeds of a truly great tale. For my part, I can't help but find Jamie Delano's Outlaw Nation, originally published by Vertigo in 2000-2002, a really aggravating read for what it didn't accomplish. The series concerns a family of exceptionally long-lived miscreants called the Johnsons, who reside here and there in the American badlands, and whose exploits have been fictionalized by one of their own, a cousin named Story who went MIA in Viet Nam and finally made his way home many years later to find out what a mess he left behind with his family and his writing. Pursuing them is a half-blood relation who goes by the name Mr. Gloves and is the most sadistic thug you can imagine. Unfortunately, Gloves and his Howard Hughes-esque father have a lot more resources than Story and his ragtag associates, and Johnson blood can keep the old man going for decades more...

It's not fair to Outlaw Nation to burden a writeup with complaints, but while I did enjoy it, and find it incredibly fascinating, I also found it very frustrating. First up, Delano made the very odd choice to keep everybody's dialogue very naturalistic, and none of the characters discuss their background or their place in this wonderful tapestry, until a very natural time to do so emerges. In some cases, this doesn't come along for quite a few chapters. One thing that comic books can, and need, to do is contrive an appropriate way to forward information to the readers as quickly as possible. Delano's approach is more realistic, but leaves much of the first few issues very confusing the first time through. Put another way, had I been reading this as a monthly, I'd have dropped it after the second issue.

There's so much threatening, without follow-through, in this book. I was actually reminded of The X Files around its third season, when every other week, Mulder would pull a gun on Krycek or the Cigarette Smoking Man and everybody would yell at each other, but all that Quantico training would vanish under some gobbledygook about Mulder's sister and nobody would get a bullet between their eyes like you were hoping. This is like that.

Anyway, after 15 issues, just when a new plot complication was introduced along with some new characters, Delano was told he was cancelled and had four months to wrap everything up. So the conclusion is rushed, and I can't imagine he was especially pleased with it, but I was quite satisfied. The full run was collected in black and white by Image last year, and very nicely priced. This was originally a Vertigo book, so it's recommended for mature readers. Not emphatically, you understand, but it's certainly worth consideration.

Why, why, why did I buy this? What was I thinking?

Well, okay, I know. See, around 1976, Marvel decided to challenge Warren, publishers of black and white horror mags like Creepy, Vampirella and Eerie, with its own line of black and white magazines, which included this title. I never read one, and now the whole fifteen-issue run is available in one book. And it stinks, but it was 30%-off week at Borders.

So the book gives you nine stories which recount previously untold Hulk tales set between The Hulk # 6 and The Avengers # 1, for all seventeen people in America who demanded those tales be told. Then, recognizing the success of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series on CBS, the magazine was rejigged to get rid of almost all the superhero elements, with only token weird science, lots of Banner being a sympathetic hero, and supporting characters including abused kids and elderly cancer patients. So there, half the book is retarded retconning of old Lee/Kirby material, stories so bad that Bill Mantlo later retconned the retcon into merely being a series of feature films on an alien planet, and the other half is the worst kind of mawkish million-dollar-movie melodrama. Don't buy this book during 30%-off week at Borders. Don't buy this book at 90%-off week at Borders, for that matter.

(Originally posted September 10, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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