Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Secret Service #1

Mark Millar (The Authority, Ultimates, Wanted, Kick-Ass) and Dave Gibbons (best known for Watchmen with Alan Moore) have both done great work in the past.  I think “Wanted” is one of the best stories I’ve ever read.  Gibbons work on the “Martha Washington” series with Frank Miller is pretty cool.  Matthew Vaughn is a great director, I didn’t see X-Men First Class, but “Layer Cake” was awesome.  His work on “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” is wonderful.  But even with all that star power the book still comes off flat to me.  “The Secret Service” is not one of the best stories I’ve read, nor is it all that great to look at.  I tried repeatedly to come up with a good Colombian hooker joke, but the material was uninspiring.

It opens on a snow-covered chateau in Switzerland, where some swarthy-neutral gentlemen are holding Mark Hamill hostage.  There is a bit of good banter when one of the armed men asks Hamill “What did you think of the prequels, man? Don’t you think they were kinda pissing on your legacy a little?” But before we can figure out the motive behind the kidnapping---but not before finding out his destination, the Middle East, da-da-da-dummm---he is rescued by a British Secret Service agent, or sort of rescued.  After a short ski and snowmobile escape-chase the agent and Hamill go off a cliff.  The agent has a parachute, and in true Hollywood stuntman style grabs onto Hamill, but it doesn’t open.  He and Hamill die on impact.  It’s supposed to be funny, that I get, but the way the kidnappers talk it seems this was all part of the plan.  They expected them to go off the cliff, but they expected the chute to open.  Their boss, they say, is going to be very pissed about losing Hamill.  It opens up a bunch of plot questions, as it should, but losing Mark Hamill is my first problem with TSS.

I am tired of Star Wars references in scifi-fantasy-pop-alt-culture media.  It’s a cultural touchstone for geeks of the world to unite, one of the biggest if not universal to a generation of nerds.  It is over used, over played, and a cop out.  It’s lazy writing, I’ll make a Star Wars reference, old geeks love Star Wars references.  I don’t want to see another room numbered “1138” or someone telling someone else “these are not the droids you’re looking for.”  I just don’t care.  Show me something new, or at least in a new way.  Find something else, anything, but make it clever. If you can’t entertain me, inform me, if you can’t inform me, insult me, bring the fire, something, anything.  Anything but “it’s a trap!” or “do or do not, there is no try.” Writing a good story is not easy, if it was, everyone would do it.  Good writing is easy to identify, you read it and if it’s any good it invokes emotion.  Sadness, anger, passion, hope, fear, the better it is the harder it grabs you.   I don’t care how you do it just make me care about your story.

Ultimately that’s my problem with “The Secret Service,” I couldn’t find anything to care about, only more that just rubbed me wrong.  After the technical difficulties with the parachute we’re introduced to Gary, broken family, broken life.  Mom dates an abusive jerk who gets Gary’s little brother to roll spliffs for him.  Now let me explain spliffs to the uninformed.  They are a mixture of tobacco and marijuana, very popular in the Europe.  Coloring duties for TSS goes to Angus McKie, who sounds like a good Scotsman and all, but the “spliff” being rolled by Gary’s little brother has no green in it.  Not a speck.  Is it a censorship thing, like “oh we can’t show marijuana” so no green, or did no one see it when they proofed the copy?  The devil is in the details Angus, and the Devil’s Weed is green.

Next up, Gary’s uncle, Jack London, British spy.  He fills in the back story, getting the low down from a government official, that various members of the cast and crew of Star Wars, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek have been mysteriously kidnapped.  London asks if it was members of the original Star Trek or the Abrams’ version, which is perfect opportunity for Millar to inform us of his opinion of the film.  I don’t care what Millar thinks about Star Trek, if he wants to jerk off J.J. Abrams, do it on your own time, don’t make me pay $2.99 for it.  Guess what Mark, everybody loved the reboot.  Oooh I know, young geeks love the new Trek, I’ll make a new Trek reference.  Again, this is a cop out.  Either drive the story forward, increase the scope of the fictional world, or tease me with some cryptic info, but don’t, I REPEAT, DON’T WASTE MY FUCKING TIME.  How about this, how about take this panel to SAY something, something about this world we’re being introduced to, something about the characters that actually effects the story, or at the very least, something funny.  Instead Millar just wants us to know how much he has a hard-on for Karl Urban.        

Jack gets a text from Gary’s mom, Gary’s in trouble, he’s in jail.  He stole a car with some friends of his and crashed it.  They might have got away but a dog crossed their path so Gary had to swerve to avoid hitting it and crashed, see he has heart of gold this one, SEE? 

Uncle Jack shows up at the police station and he and mom get into it a bit.  Mom is pissed because Jack is rich and doesn’t break off a piece for her, and he berates her for being on welfare with a deadbeat for a boyfriend.  This tone continues into the precinct house where Jack sees Gary with a shiny new black eye, compliments of Southwark’s finest.   Where Jack applauds the cops manhandling his nephew a bit in an effort to set him straight, mom screams litigation to high heaven.  This is the one interesting note to the whole issue, Millar’s slightly to the right social discourse on modern England.  At one point mom screams “How am I supposed to control him?!” Jack responds “If you raised him right you wouldn’t need to control him.” Personal responsibility is at the heart of the argument for Millar.  Jack is disgusted by his sister and nephew, they are everything that is wrong with his England.  They do nothing but leech off of him and society, never seeing how their negative actions only lead to negative consequences, or once seeing it, not caring enough to do anything about it, it’s just easier this way.  Jack wants to leave Gary there in jail, but he can’t for the sake of his family.  He bails him out.

Gary goes home to the projects, he joins his friends drinking and smoking in a common area.  His uncle leers menacingly from a walkway above them.  Blue-fucking-tooth in ear he contacts “reception” and requests to be connected to the “Practical Skills Facility in Hereford, that’s right: The spy school.”  The lettering for “spy” really is in bold print too, I’m not making that up.  I wanted to throw the book away right then and there. 

Anger is an emotion I am familiar with, I have read things that make me angry.  Some will make you angry in a way that drives you to engage the text.  Like getting angry at the guys bulling Lennie in “Of Mice and Men.”  Others make you angry not at characters or story, but with the author.  Once the anger is directed at the author you’ve lost your reader.  You’ve taken them out of the story, you’re done, you’ve failed.  That’s why don’t tell me, show me is a cardinal rule of storytelling.  It’s that simple, and that complicated.  Again, if it was easy everyone would do it, but dammit man this one is pretty big, I expect more from the guy who made heroes out of villains.   

I really like Mark Millar.  I thought “Red Son” was a great concept, “Wanted” one of the best flips on the super hero genre in a long time.  I picked up all of Kick-Ass 1&2-saw the movie too, and I enjoyed “Superior,” Leinil Yu’s art is great.  “Nemesis” was highly entertaining.  This book, this book is just crap.  Gibbons art is okay, it wasn’t mind blowing in “Watchmen” either, but it fit the story.  Here it just looks…dated.  I get the feeling more and more Gibbons was the Jim Lee of his time, it’s pretty but I don’t really feel a lot going on there.  It’s too generic comic book cartoony.  I can’t excuse Matthew Vaughan for his involvement with this either, actions have consequences Matt, personal responsibility means taking ownership of your fuckups too.   It feels and looks too Hollywood.  It’s too slick in all the wrong ways.  See right here, right here a good Colombian hooker joke should go right here.  I can’t recommend this book to anyone, maybe a recommendation on what not to do in good comic book, then it would serve pretty good. 

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