December 18, 2011

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Single Minded: Top Cow's Pilot Season 2011 Entries

It's time to once again become single minded, as I take a look at some more comics in single-issue form. Today, it's the eight "Pilot Season" one-shot trial books from Top Cow, who runs a yearly contest based on fan voting to determine which series get a green light for a full run of issues.  The idea seemed interesting to me, so I took advantage of a sale on Graphicly to check them out.

I admit that my history with Top Cow books is a bit mixed.  Actually, that's probably being kind.  I can't say that I've been fond of any Top Cow book I've read, other than Rising Stars.  Part of this is because I often can't get past the cover of the books, which in my comic shop experience were always laughable attempts to see how close the artist could get women naked without ending up behind a brown wrapper.  As a publisher, I tend to write them off.

Top Cow has worked hard to put that image to bed, though I admit it still lingers in my head.  I'm trying to give them another chance, and this was a good way to see what Top Cow's editors think make up a potentially good comic.  Since I was sick and am going to be too late to influence any of the voting, I thought it might be interesting to pretend to be an editor of comics myself, to see what I liked and did not like about these pitch issues.  Has Top Cow progressed enough for me to start caring again?  Let's see, based on these eight trial issues!

These issues are ordered by how I read them.  I would have used more pictures, but at the time of this writing, the Top Cow website is down for exceeding bandwidth.  I guess this Pilot Season promotion is proving pretty popular!

Anonymous  Written by Alan McElroy and Illustrated by Michael Montenat
Plot:  A black ops veteran is turned off by the corruption he sees in the system.  Faking his own death, he's out for revenge against anyone doing wrong.  He lives with the power of being Anonymous.
Initial Reaction:  Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time getting into these clones of the Punisher.  I feel like it has to be done just right to work, and a big part of it is finding a way to make the character interesting or different enough to be worth caring about.  Failing that, the foe that the character faces needs to be big enough to make me stand up and take notice.  Anonymous did neither.
Editorial Notes:  A pitch story really shouldn't end in the middle of a story.  We should know everything we need to know about this character or this world before finishing.  The problem here is that the story is so lacking, there's nothing new we need to know.  A guy wants to do the right thing, so he takes the law into his own hands.  That's the same story for everyone from Batman to Spider-Man.  He fights a stereotypical abusive and corrupt cop who's doing double duty as an evil step-father.  The foes are right out of central casting in any story just like this one.  Montenat does an okay job presenting the script, but the work feels flat to me, with no life.  Which, given the script, doesn't tell me much about the artist other than he's working faithfully from the writer's notes.  PASS.


City of Refuge  Written by Morgan Davis Foehl and Illustrated by Dennis Calero
Plot:  In a post-apocalyptic future, a city survives thanks to the implementation of chips that take away the desire for violence.  Only a few select people are allowed to mute the chip's power.  But when that power gets out into the general populace, what happens next?  Can a fragile future artificially created survive?
Initial Reaction:  Now this is more like it.  Creepy, if well-used backdrop.  A main character who desperately wants thinks to work but knows the whole house of cards is going to collapse around him.  A mystery that might destroy everything.  These are all really good hooks.
Editorial Notes:  While this story ends by opening up a huge can of worms, it felt complete.  We learned about the situation, the main character, and the huge issue he's going to face.  Clues are planted, ready to be built upon as the story progresses.  There's a real feeling that whatever this character does *matters* within the world he lives in.  These are the types of things I want to see out of a story, especially since it's going to be hard to make the premise unique.  Foehl's dialog is crisp and realistic, and the people involved don't all sound alike to me.  Calero's artwork is a bit muddied, but it works well for the noir feel that City of Refuge is going for here.  I'd definitely read more of this comic, and it gives me hope that Top Cow is progressing into new areas.

Fleshdigger  Written by Shannon Eric Denton and Brad Keene and Illustrated by Alex Sanchez
Plot:  A man is killed by a cult of Silver Surfer cosplayers in Colonial Rhode Island.  Later, a good Samaritan dies at the hands of a gang.  When a female associate of the gang says occult prayers, he's turned into a gruesome monster that avenges terrible wrongs and apparently eats rats.  He is the Fleshdigger!
Initial Reaction:   I wanted to like this one, but it's terrible.  The writing is stilted, the scenarios are cobbled from any number of plots, and the hero of the piece is unnecessarily disgusting.  I have a strong stomach and a love of horror, and I never want to look at the guy again.  That's a problem.
Editorial Notes:  What absolutely mystifies me is that this book looks like it's getting a huge push from Top Cow, which makes no sense to me because it's arguably the worst of the eight.  It has a great cover logo, but nothing else, and yet gets a variant pin-up from Kelley Jones and Tim Seely.  I don't get it.  The book started off bad, with naked silver women, then just got progressively worse, as seemingly disjointed ideas merge together to try and form a story.  Whoever thought a worm monster could carry a book either knows an audience of which I'm unaware or really needs to get back to the drawing board.  From a beginning that doesn't directly tie to the rest of the plot in any way I can tell to an ending that apparently links all the evils to a group of men who hold power (because we've never seen that before), this is a mess.  PASS.

Misdirection  Written by Filip Sablik and Illustrated by Chris Dibari
Plot:  A racecar driver opts to go out on the town and ends up wrecking his career, his care, and his life.  A chance is presented to make things right, but the opportunity is even worse than being a disgraced drunken driver.  It's going to take all of the driver's skills to survive in this fast-paced adventure.
Initital Reaction:  A murdering drunk driver is your protagonist we're meant to side with?  Seriously?
Editorial Notes:  I don't think I can get past the idea that the center of our story is a drunk driver who killed his passengers.  That's a shame, because had Sablik found another way to shame his protagonist (cheating to win gambling bets, shooting someone at a nightclub, or something similarly wrong but far less heinous), I would have liked this one.  The driver is clearly meant to be a generally good guy who is about to get mixed up into things far worse than he ever imagined, and if he gives up, innocent people die.  Chris Dibari's art works well with Sablik's script, and I know they are looking to tell a story of redemption.  But you can't redeem a drunk driver, sorry.  This one needs re-tooled a bit.  The idea is there, but it's not quite ready yet.

Seraph  Written by Phil Hester and Lance Briggs and Illustrated by Jose Luis and Sandro Ribeiro
Plot:  A man who wants to end his life finds a new fate awaiting him, as he must use his new powers to save those who are trapped in the clutches of Satan and his minions.  But is he on the right side of this Holy War, given his intentions?  Find out in the pages of Seraph!
Initital Reaction:  A good idea that seems a bit over-written.  I like the idea that the hero might be on the wrong side due to meddling by an angel.
Editorial Notes:  This comic feels like it's trying too hard to be an epic story, ramping up the drama and dialog before the story is ready to support it.  In that way, it feels like an X-Men book, where characters act like every single thing is the biggest event ever to happen to them and talks in apocalyptic tones.  Not sure if that's the fault of Hester or Briggs, but it really dragged down my enjoyment of the story.  I was intrigued by the idea of a Holy War by proxy and fighting over who plays for what team.  Like Misdirection, this one needs more seasoning before it's ready to be a series.  If it did come out, I might see how the story plays out, at the right price.

The Beauty  Written by Jeremy Haun and Jason A Hurley and Illustrated by Jeremy Haun
Plot:  A strange STD causes people to be more attractive, but with little in the way of side effects.  It's spread all over as a result, but some are wary of the consequences.  When it looks like the disease might have a sinister side, the police are turned away.  What do you do when you're a common cop told to back off, when the results of the investigation might affect your own life?  That's the horror behind...The Beauty.
Initial Reaction:  An interesting idea, with a good build-up and a complete story despite the twist on the final page.  The premise is believable, too.  Wouldn't many people seek beauty, even as a disease?
Editorial Notes: This was my other favorite from these eight titles, and for similar reasons to City of Refuge.  We get a complete picture of the world, a character for whom the results of the story are going to be personal, and the possibility of world-changing results, depending on how the story plays out.  The characters were a bit more play by number here, but the premise is solid and while Haun does draw people attractively, they aren't unrealistic.  So maybe there's a new leaf at Top Cow after all, at least in some places.  I'd definitely green-light this one.


The Test  Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal
Plot:  A man wakes up in a strange situation, along with a few others.  Guided by a strange female figure, they're told they are the new hope for humanity, selected for multiple genetic reasons.  Just what are they being asked to do, and by whom?  And what happens when not everything in this human petri dish works as planned?  Find out in The Test.
Initial Reaction:  Why are all the women in their skimpiest underwear while the men are modestly dressed?
Editorial Notes:  I think I would have liked this story with less butt-shots on the women.  I'm not a prude, but the examples here are just blatant, such as when a medium shot of David going into the house features a woman's thong as the largest item in the set piece or when another female character runs at us, butt-first.  It feels like the team is using sexy times to gain readers rather than work on a decent story.  That's a shame, because I think there's actually a story here.  It's just buried too far in the bad art choices.  I liked the idea of a test using humans and putting them through hell.  I just would have liked it better without the need to add as many crotch-shots as you can, without even a pretense of needing to do so in-story.

Theory of Everything  Written by Dan Casey and Illustrated by Thomas Nachlik
Plot:  Has a way to other realities been found?  It sure looks that way, when gold is stolen from a secure vault of a Swiss bank and the government wants the help of the one man who might know the secret.  But can even a theoretical genius save himself from...himself?
Initial Reaction:  Not a bad idea.  We've seen the idea of multiple realities before, of course, but I like the idea of a successful version of yourself trying to kill off the rest.
Editorial Notes:  While I did not enjoy this one as much as The Beauty or City of Refuge, it definitely has potential.  There's dimensional trouble, a loser of a protagonist who must find redemption--and do it with the shadow of a more successful (if evil) version of himself looming over every part of the narrative.  Charles is a man headed for devastating realizations about himself, and the reader is going to get to watch and see if he survives.  With artwork that does not get in the way of the story, this could be a keeper.  I'd be okay with seeing this story go the distance, too.

So there are my thoughts on the Top Shelf Pilot Season 2011.  I think the company is trying harder to be more than just a set of cheesecake, though it's still failing now and again.  I think two of these would make great series, two would be worth reading, two need to re-tool a bit, and two were absolutely terrible.  That's not a bad mix, actually.  I do wonder how well these sold at $3.99 for a paper edition, as I can't imagine paying that for any non self-published comic, let alone ones with possibly no future.  At 99 cents, I was happy to experiment.  Even at $1.99, I do not know that I'd have tried any of them.  I'd also like to know what happens to the losers--can they try again somewhere else, or is it "go big or go home?"  Anyone know?  I'm extremely curious.

Did anyone else read these comics?  What did you think?  I'd like to know that, too!