Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mysterius #1 (of 6)

DC Comics/WildStorm, 22 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Tom Fowler 
Colorist: Dave McCaig 
Letterer: Saida Temofonte

Jeff Parker ought to be sending out fruit baskets to Tom Fowler and Dave McCaig every time somebody says something nice about the characters in this debut issue. It’s Mr. Fowler’s stunning rendition of the protagonist that makes me want to read the comic. Mysterius, a medium for hire and former stage magician, is the gangly, pot-bellied cross between a latter-day Mick Jagger and the red-nosed caricature of prime-time Jean-Paul Belmondo, sporting a swagger to rival both gentlemen. I just want to watch this character do things on the page—it doesn’t matter what things.

Mr. Fowler’s faces and gestures are expressive and subtly nuanced throughout, and his characters and settings look real, three-dimensional and attractive in ways many of his peers can only dream of. Mr. McCaig’s colors add to the book’s visual depth and appeal; they’re just plain fun to stare at, and they’re always in the service of the story. Whatever else can or can’t be said about Mysterius, it certainly looks fantastic. A lot of the time, in fact, it seems more like a Franco-Belgian thing than something created for the North American market.

But let’s turn to Mr. Parker’s script. Mysterius #1 introduces the characters and the concept, tells its own little story and sets up a couple of longer-running threads. We meet Mysterius, we see him conduct a séance that leads to an encounter with his new assistant Ella, and the whole thing is framed by what I suppose is a set-up for issue #2. It’s all generally well-written, with a few very fun bits, even. It has a consistent voice and tone. It gets things underway, and it does so in a good, solid fashion.

What it doesn’t do, unfortunately, is to give me something that makes me want to come back next month. It seems this is news to a lot of creators out there, but what I’m looking for in my fiction, first and foremost, are situations and conflicts that don’t seem like I’ve read them a thousand times before. I don’t care what your story is about. I don’t care who your characters are. I don’t care that you’re a great craftsman.

What I really want from you before any of that concerns me is to tell me something new, something interesting. That’s why I’m giving you my time and my money. And if you don’t deliver, you probably won’t get it again, particularly if we’re talking serial fiction. The reason why a lot of comics fail, plainly, is that they’re just not bringing anything new or interesting to the table. (And, no, producing a work whose sole distinguishing element is that it’s “not superheroes” doesn’t cut it, either. Sorry.)

I have to apologize for making this point in the review of a Jeff Parker comic, really; what I’ve read of Mr. Parker’s work suggests that he knows what he’s doing, and Mysterius is certainly much better than the average genre comic. Which, on the other hand, annoys me all the more, frankly. Why not sit down, go that extra mile and come up with the one bit that totally goes for the reader’s guts and really takes things to the next level? It’s very hard to do, of course. But hey: That’s the job, right? Maybe the kind of situation or conflict I’m thinking of is still to come here. But if that’s the case, it shouldn’t be.

As I said, I like Mysterius. I’ll buy that next issue. It’s a well-written book with fabulous artwork and a protagonist who’s just a very fun character to watch. And Mr. Fowler and Mr. McCaig are now due another fruit basket each.

Grade: B-

1 comment:

Mark Clapham said...

You've summed up exactly my problem with 'Mysterius' - it was pretty well done, nicely executed... but I kept waiting for the slap in the face, the Casanova-falls-out-of-a-flying-saucer moment that would slap me in the face and make me come back for more. It never really came. Which is unfortunate, as the preview art on CBR shows that Mr Fowler does have some neat monster designs up his sleeve. More of that kind of inventive grotesquerie at this stage might have made this first issue more grab-by.