Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sugarshock

Dark Horse Comics, 24 pages plus extra material, $ 3.50

Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: Fábio Moon
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Nate Piekos

(Reprints the three-part "Sugarshock" serial first published in Dark Horse Presents in 2007.)

Sugarshock has two of the best and most visionary craftsmen of their generation, at peak level, turning in the literary equivalent of the three-minute punk-rock song of the year: loud, quick, heartfelt, funny and true. It's the comics version of the Ramones, only with better lyrics. Or the Ramones version of Spaceballs, only funnier. Or the Star Wars version of Spinal Tap, only this one finally goes up all the way to twelve. Or something very much like that. Take your pick.

There's a rudimentary plot about a rock band—three girls and a robot—in a space-opera kind of story that shoots them off to some kind of galactic contest, but, really, the point of this story, originally told in three eight-page strips published on the Internet, is for Joss Whedon and Brazilian master storyteller Fábio Moon to have fun.

Which they mostly do by way of the dialogue or, more precisely, by gearing everything towards a good punch line.

Which, in turn, is harder to do than you might think, because it demands great timing not just from the writer, but also from the artist. The artwork Mr. Moon delivers here is nothing short of spectacular. It convinces me for good that there is nothing in the universe that Mr. Moon could not draw and make it look cool and expressive. A single image from Sugarshock communicates more information and more sensations to the reader than the entirety of the average North American comic book.

Mr. Whedon's writing, meanwhile, emphasizes the writer's knack for playing with the unexpected. You never quite see where the conversations, the plot, the characterization in Sugarshock are going, and yet if you look back at where they went, it's hard to argue the fact that it's the most natural—or dramatically effective—place they could have ended up.

There is some adorable nonsense—sound words like "LOUD MUSIC," "WEIRD GARBLE OF ALIEN CHEERS!" or "EXPLODE!" come to mind—and Sugarshock has its share of non sequiturs and its share of situation comedy. In its best moments, though, there's a subversive attitude to the work that challenges our reception of established mainstream storytelling devices like flashbacks (behold: the secret origin of … a temporary hankering for potato chips!), reaction shots (watch those squirrels!) or the use of supposedly elevating music (Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," always and only) at crucial junctures in emphatically meaningful big-budget films.

Moments like these betray the apparent lightness of touch—you simply don't know to try this sort of punch line unless you're an astute observer, and you don't know how to succeed with it unless you're an experienced practitioner of the trade: The truth of the matter is, continuously surprising your audience with moments that are unexpected but still ring true is the hardest thing there is in fiction.

By mastering this art and making it all look easy, Mr. Whedon and Mr. Moon turn in one of the most insightful and elegantly well-made North American comics of any year—pop, in its purest and most accomplished form.

Grade: A

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