With the recent release of All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #0, the opening salvo of the second “season” of this ongoing, idiosyncratic project — as well as the All-Time Comics trade paperback collection of “season” one (both published under the auspices of new “home” Floating World Comics) — now seems like a good time to look back to 2014/2015 and examine where the brothers Bayer have been in order to possibly limn out the parameters of where they’re going. A few general observations here, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each issue as the week progresses —
First up, it’s gotta be said that this whole thing reads much better in trade than it did in single issues, even if I miss the cheap newsprint. The aims of creators Josh and Samuel Bayer with this concept are multi-faceted — and yeah, maybe even more than a bit muddled — but what they’re “going for” becomes much more clear when absorbed in its totality than it did over the course of six sporadically-released installments. As to what those aims are —
Simply put, I think the two major artistic goals are the exact inverse of each other : on the one hand, ATC is about transposing the aesthetic and storytelling ethos of “Bronze Age” comics into present-day comics; on the other, it’s using the sensibilities of said present-day comics to re-examine the past. There’s an inherent tension between those two metaphorical tributaries that causes them to run independently and without merging at times, to diverge entirely at others, but when they do flow together, or at least parallel to each other, the results can be quite interesting indeed — which is all my long-winded way of saying to expect almost as many “misses” as “hits” here. We’ll get into those with more specificity as we go along —
The de facto “line” made its debut with All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer #1, sporting a cartoony ultra-violent cover by Jim Rugg (each issue also featured a variant or two, but for purposes of time we’re just not even gonna go there) that, along with the participation of Benjamin Marra (on board for this one as inker), probably led readers to believe this was an exercise in pastiche at best, spoof at worst, but in truth the script here by the younger Bayer brother (that would be Josh) plays it pretty straight — yeah, it’s absurd, but not to the point of being what the Brits would call a “piss-take.” In point of fact, most “Bronze Age” comics were absurd, and cleaving to their temperament necessitates channeling a fair degree of that absurdity, for good or ill.
Hence the “purple fist” shoulder-pads of our protagonist, a Vietnam-vet-turned-vigilante (but otherwise a fairly obvious Batman stand-in) bound and determined to fulfill a promise to a fellow soldier who’s landed behind bars by checking on the well-being of the man’s daughter, a task which takes him from his “home turf” of Swan City to the mean streets of Optic City, generally considered to be under the protection of Atlas, purportedly the mightiest hero of the ATC “universe.”
Not that he appears to be doing a very good job of it — the place looks like a shithole, and that comes across pretty damn well thanks to the pencils of the now-late Herb Trimpe, who turns in solid work throughout and may just be the unsung “star” of the book. His art gets you to “buy into” the idea of a sewer-dwelling cult that wears pilgrim costumes and worships some kind of snake-god (for reasons that become apparent later), and lends just the right air of near-plausibility to Bayer’s admittedly scatter-shot script, which goes from stage-setting at the penitentiary to obligatory Crime Destroyer/Atlas team-up to sewer battle to a typical serialized non-resolution “ending.” It’s a bumpy ride smoothed out by solid, workmanlike illustration that manages to retain a nice bit of personality even under a thick layer of Marra inks.
I was less sold on Alessandro Echevarria’s colors, which were a bit too self-consciously saturated and syrupy for my tastes, but the decidedly un-self-conscious lettering of the great Rick Parker balances out the efforts of the book’s “rhythm section” nicely. “Tonally uneven” is a constant theme in these comics, but insofar as this debut installment goes, it’s not a “deal-breaker.”
It would be a reach to say this comic marked an auspicious beginning to the line, it’s true, but it provides enough — even if just barely — to keep folks marginally “hooked.” Whether or not that there’s an ultimate pay-off for readers who remain interested is a question that is, frankly, still being answered, but we’re going to do our best to puzzle out what those answers might be as our “theme week” continues.
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