Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Buzzkill #1 Reviewed

We welcome Andrew O'Brien with his first review for Idle Hands!

It’s been an exciting year for Dark Horse as they’ve tried to challenge the Big 2 by expanding their reach into the superhero genre. Although Dark Horse has always had a flagship “superhero” in Hellboy they’ve never been a contender in that department because Hellboy’s been more a supernatural book than the “proper” capes and spandex superhero. Although they’ve had some success with Captain Midnight, X, Ghost and Brain Boy, I think Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek’s Buzzkill is the most ambitious of the Dark Horse superhero movement due to the sheer force of its originality. Originality is very hard to find today in modern comics (modern anything really) because it’s such a risk. But getting into the superhero business against the Big 2 is a pretty large risk by itself, so Dark Horse already proves that they’re a little drunk on danger. So does Buzzkill’s original spirit kill Dark Horse’s buzz? (Sorry had to.)

The story begins with Ruben, our protagonist, going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Ruben is no normal alcoholic, for when he drinks or does any kind of drug he gains incredible superpowers.  So, on top of trying to kick a self-destructive drug abuse problem, Ruben also has to give up being a superhero. The bulk of the story is Ruben telling his discovery story. I would say origin story, but it really wasn’t that because Ruben never reveals how he actually turns alcohol into super strength or cigarette contents into invulnerability. He doesn’t even tell the other people at AA what drugs do to him or his real name. Without spoiling anything, I'll mention Ruben’s tales of discovery were more horrific than wondrous. Instead of the average “boy finds superpowers, boy uses powers to combat crime” scenario, we find Ruben is more afraid of his new found power than anything. He does eventually take the vigilante path and it’s short flashes of this past that set the stage to make Buzzkill a much more intriguing entry into the superhero genre than we've seen in some time.

Cates and Reznicek do a really good job of establishing a tone in Buzzkill that’s wildly different from my initial thoughts formed after reading the book's solicitation. I mused “Oh, a drunk superhero.. this’ll be pretty funny”, but it wasn’t funny at all. The creators took a more realistic approach to the character showing that if you had super strength when you were hammered it would probably turn very badly very quickly ...possibly ending in death and destruction. They could’ve easily gone the humorous route, but they didn’t, and I commend them for that. Ruben, as a character was snarky, but well-rounded, and the plot was cohesive and engaging. One of the most interesting story beats included Ruben not being sure if he’s a good guy. I mean, he has good intentions and he dresses like a superhero, but he gets blackout drunk and when he wakes up he’s surrounded by disaster. The creators also include enough of his past to intrigue me, but not so much that I'd feel overwhelmed by a long history I'd need to study to fully grasp the events of subsequent issues. I also liked the framing device of the AA meeting, but it felt a little clichéd from the get-go. Let's face it, if you’re going to tell a story about an alcoholic (superheroic or not) the first place most people would go is an AA meeting.

As for the artwork of Geoff Shaw, I thought he did a great job creating the world of Buzzkill. It’s a darker world then say, Spider-Man, but it never really falls into Batman territory. There’s still an air of whimsy about it that he conveys in small touches throughout the story. My favorite example of this is the minor touches he adds to the discovery story that gives it a silver-age feel. That addition is Kirby Dots or the dotted pattern in the background of many famous comics of the 1960s and 70s made famous by Jack “The King” Kirby. I am a sucker for Kirby Dots. And Shaw only uses them in the discovery story to convey a more uplifting tone, but later, in the current story, the Kirby Dots get replaced by dark cross-hatching which today is used more prevalently to make scenes grittier and dark. There are a few minor problems, most of all, some awkward panels in which the characters proportions are off, but overall, Shaw did a good job at conveying the story visually and keeping the tone consistent with the writing.

Buzzkill does not kill dark horse’s buzz, and even though I don’t think it is connected to the other Dark Horse superhero properties, if they decided to make it part of that larger universe, I think Cates & Reznicek’s creation would find itself uniquely at home. You should definitely take a chance on an original idea instead of pitching your money at some run of the mill villain-based one-shot from another company.

Buzzkill #1: A-

1 comment :

  1. Awesome review! I particularly enjoyed the review of the artwork...not many people pay that much attention to the fine details, but mentioning the Kirby Dots? Genius.