Vincent S. Moore Presents:
It Was A Dark And Stormy Night
Well, that was a very long two weeks.
Howdy again, folks, I’m what’s left of your regular writer, Vincent S. Moore.
After my last column, I took some time off. In part to let my words and ideas about The Black Panel 2009 work their way around the internets. In part because I had some personal issues to attend to. In part because of a secret project I’m still not ready to mention. But I didn’t want to stay away for too long, even though I’m still in the midst of issues and secrets. So I’m taking the easy way out and reviewing some comics this time out.
In fact I’m taking such an easy way out that I’m going back to review a four-issue limited series that I already reviewed the first issue of. What a cheater, I know.
The mini series in question is Stormbringers by Korby Marks and John Stinsman.
To bring you new and old readers up to speed here’s what I had to say about the first issue originally:
“Lastly, there is Stormbringers #1 (Stormbringers Studios, cover price $5.00; stormbringers.com) by Korby Marks and John Stinsman. Here we have a new black superhero team book, filled with characters that don’t quite fit the usual molds. That in and of itself is refreshing. The story is of an former head of the CIA’s black ops division coming above ground after escaping the assassination attempt on his life and the lives of other CIA heads that took out the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Yes, you read that correctly. To Mr. Marks, Sept. 11’s “real” conspiracy is the civil war going on between the CIA, FBI, ATF, and NSA. Moving past that major plot point, we find our hero Dr. Malcolm Xavier Forbes in the city of New Frontiers. A city suffering from a plague of women with sudden superpowers and a crime wave of murders involving the women with sudden superpowers. Now, before some of you out there gather your verbal pitchforks, just be patient with me. The situation does improve. Dr. Forbes has finally tracked down an old friend, Dr. Lydia Grant, who is the only therapist in town who is working with these newly empowered women. Dr. Grant herself is in hiding, working out of a storefront in the witches’ section of New Frontiers, a place where electricity doesn’t work but I guess we’ll learn that magic does. The two friends reunite not very easily. From there, we learn that each has a problem they need to other to solve: for Dr. Grant, she needs her remaining five patients, including an angel, trained in the use of their abilities and protected from The Vivisectors who are killing their sisters in the streets; for Dr. Forbes, he needs her to help with the deprogramming of the four former CIA assets he handled in the past that, naturally, are his first choices for protectors of the supernatural women. A deal is made and thus is the story set for the remaining three issues of this first story arc.
“While I did find the core ideas interesting, I do worry about the sexual politics of the situation. All of the women in New Frontiers, thousands of them as mentioned, are all empowered by something Korby calls “womb energy”. No explanation of even the most bolognium filled kind is offered. It is simply a power and a power source that comes from within women. Yet the men mentioned as protectors are all said to have come by their powers by force of will. Huh?? If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that Korby Marks is trying to dramatize old ideas of women-as-beings and men-as-doings, that everything associated with women flows from within and everything associated with men accrues from without. But it felt a bit disturbing to this reader.
“The 9/11 link adds a sense of reality to the story yet the whole conspiracy angle immediately takes the realism away.
“Again, much more telling than showing. Is writing good dramatic scenes becoming a lost art in comics? Manga does it. Why have American comics forgotten it? I will revisit this topic soon.
“The art, handled by John Stinsman, was the saving grace in this book. The beautiful and powerful pencils and inks added to the telling of the story. I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of John’s work since his pro debut on Avengeline from Maximum Press. Yes, Rob Liefeld’s old company. But John has always possessed a strong style that balanced realism with dynamism well. Time away from comics hasn’t taken the edge off of his work. The rest of the book production was just as excellent, the darker color palate matching John’s work perfectly and the letters were clear but could have been smaller without losing readability.
“I do look forward to the next issue, but I hope the story becomes clearer as it progresses.”
It took two years for me to catch up with the rest of the story. I just wish it had been worth the wait.
Stormbringers #2 opens with the quest to gather the five supernatural women underway. Dr. Forbes, being given the bulk of the responsibility to gather both the supernatural women and the warrior men, goes about his task matter-of-factly. So when we see our mentor-hero attempting to enter a gentlemen’s club to find our first special lady, we shouldn’t be surprised in the same way our hero/narrator is not.
What is surprising in this second issue is the number of new concepts thrown at the reader. From new age crusader knights also on the hunt for these supernatural women to a corporate boardroom filled with the plotting and bickering agents of the new gods of the city of New Frontiers, the reader is asked to absorb six impossible things before he or she reaches the final page. The revelations of these new ideas threw me a bit at first. I usually expect a writer to be in control of his world at all times. And there is nothing wrong with building a world; that’s what a good writer is supposed to do. But if a writer is to expect his or her readers to accept that this story does not take place in our world, then enough explanation has to be given for those differences. In between issues 1 and 2 we’ve gone from a world where a super duper conspiracy led to the tragedy of 9/11 and the emergence of women with super powers has scared certain folks to a world where there are knights and gods as players in the game, shaping the world through their actions. All of which shows this reader Marks had some good ideas but couldn’t figure out completely which ones worked versus which ones were merely cool. Not being able to separate those two different sets of ideas ends up affecting the story to its detriment.
The bulk of Stormbringers #2 is built around conversations between various master, major, and minor characters. The same thing ends up occurring in issue #4. That’s fine for a Vertigo title or any indy book, let’s say. Let’s just say it’s not the best thing for a purported superhero book. Something, I guess, Marks realized. Unfortunately the best solution he could arrive at was to jam pack issue #3 with two fight scenes straight out of B action flicks. The overall effect makes issues #2-4 feel uneven and out of balance.
For any long time reader of superhero comics, fantasy quest novels, and caper movies, you can guess that these three issues make up the “Gathering of the Team” part of the story. And I’m very sure there is more story to tell. Stormbringers #4 ends with the final members of the team having been gathered up by the doctors Forbes and Grant. One can guess what would come next. Such as the meeting of the team, the fight to see who will lead, the training sessions, etc., etc. Yet, even knowing all of this, it is as though Marks the writer simply takes it for granted the readers will hang in long enough to see all of this come to pass. As I asked in my original review: where is the drama? I understand the goals of the lead characters. But what is at stake? Why should the readers care about these characters and their circumstances? Nothing is given to the reader, over the course of three more issues, to make sure he or she cannot put this book down.
The art also struggles to keep up with both the story and the quality level of work done for issue #1. At times, especially towards the end of issue #4, Stinsman’s art starts to become stiff or look rushed and incomplete. I will give Stinsman high marks for drawing black people that do look like black people within the limits of his style. But not even that can fully save this mini-series.
Taken as a complete package, Stormbringers #1-4 offers an incomplete story. The powerful images used to advertise and promote this book and these heroes at many different comics conventions and even in Wizard magazine were not backed up by an equally powerful and compelling origin tale. A shame, really. The comics industry needs more books featuring black characters. After reading this one and others I’ve seen, I am beginning to wonder if it is possible to produce a quality black superhero book. Of course, I think the problem, for both black and white creators, is getting stuck on the idea of creating a “black” superhero book in the first place.
But that’s a topic for another time.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved