Sunday, October 30, 2016

FULL REVIEW: Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, No. 1 (Oct. 2016)

Publisher: DC Comics (Young Animal imprint)
Format: 40 pgs., $3.99, glossy pages
On-sale: October 19, 2016

“Part One: Going Underground” (22 pages)
Writers: Gerard Way and Jon Rivera
Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Colors: Nick Filardi
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Molly Mahan

SYNOPSIS: After attending his wife’s funeral, a despondent Cave Carson, some 20 years past his Silver Age adventures, finally takes the advice of his daughter, Chloe, to look into the origins of his cybernetic eye, a mysterious implant which is forever scanning and analyzing his surroundings and giving him strange visions, a device he has no memory of having installed. He’s examined by Metal Men creator Will Magnus and, while on a visit to his employer EBX, where a new version of the Mighty Mole tunneling machine is under construction, he is visited by a denizen of the underground city of Muldroog, who promptly explodes revealing an Alien entity inside. Cave defeats the tentacled monster and calls his pal Wild Dog for help.


BOTTOM LINE: A weird, melancholy  rides that serves to set the stage while we we wait for he real action to start. Recommended.

COVER: (8.75/10)
I’m not in love with the logo. The “Cave” and “Carson” sides do not balance, while the size and angle of “Cybernetic Eye” make it hard to read. Meanwhile, the corner UPC box is a littl busy, although I suppose it’s better than having all of the information there splattered all over the cover, which would have smothered what is otherwise a compelling image that perfectly sets the tone for the series. Clearly, we have something here that is going to graft a heavy dose of reality onto Cave’s slam-bang Silver Age adventures. In many ways, think of this series as “BREAKING CAVE.”

My only thought is that I might have chosen to remove the word balloons from the old comics   panels in the upper left corner. Because of their placement, the viewer at first wants to try and read the words, realizing too late that’s not really the point. The balloons on the middle right work because we also have the old “INSIDE EARTH” logo (the apparent inspiration for this titles logo), which makes it quickly apparent the eye is seeing an old magazine/comic book cover. Without that making clear to those who are not aware Cave used to have his own DC title waaaaay back in the 1960s, the reader has to wonder how the eye “sees” the words in the upper right.

PLOT: (8.5/10)
There's a little but of weirdness in this one, but its not the total WTF non sequitur of Way's other Young Animal book, DOOM PATROL. Maybe that's the influence of this title's co-writer, Jon Rivera. Or maybe its a realization that you can only go to the absurdist well just do many times. At least simultaneously.

Not a ton happens in this issue, so far as action goes, but the exploding Muldroogian is payoff enough, I suppose. It is pretty gruesome. I think I could have used a bit more background on Muldroog, however, maybe sprinkled in with all the heavy-handed foreshadowing that EBX is now evil. As it is, the underground dweller seems to come out of nowhere, taking the story on a hard tangent. It wasn’t entirely clear to me whether the scene with the Muldroogian happened at Cave’s home, or if he returned to EBX after his checkup with Will Magnus. But either way, it might have been nice to have found out in this first issue that Cave’s wife was a Muldroogian princess, something we know from the solicitations for Issue 2.

SCRIPT: (8.75/10)
Way and Rivera do a great job with the father/daughter dynamic and I can already see Chloe taking a starring role in the modern DCU, assuming, of course, that the Young Animal titles take place in the main Rebirth universe and not some other corner of the multiverse. The scenes at EBX are a little mush, as noted, but otherwise the dialogue sets the tone and direction of the series well without falling too much into exposition. Meanwhile, the scene with Magnus, including the chipper salutations from the Metal Men, makes for a nice counterweight contrasting Cave’s Silver-Age persona with his current state of mind.

The only but that took me out of the story some was when Cave visits his mechanic, who just happens to be Wild Dog. I have trouble believing that Cave Carson, inventor of the Mighty Mole (or as presented here, mere helper in its creation) needs someone else to look at the brakes on his car. I think more could have been done with this scene to make it more apparent Cave didn’t really need his brakes looked at, he was just looking for someone to talk to, in that man way of addressing one’s feelings by not actually talking about them.

I also could have used some clue in the story who the supporting players are. Because it’s been years (decades maybe) since I’ve read any of by old Cave Carson back issues, I kept wondering, okay, is that person someone from his old team? I ended up doing a little Googling, and, no, all of the characters here appear to be all new. Of course, that Googling turned up another daughter, Thula, who I guess is not part of this continuity.

LAYOUT: (7.75/10)
In large part, the quirk factor of this title is provided by the artwork of Michael Avon Oeming. I do like it. The are interesting layouts, like Pages 2 and 3, a double-page spread that takes Cave home from the funeral by way of a car-on-map trope that leads the readers eye back across the two pages back to the lower tier of panels, and ends with an Eisneresque display of the story title and credits. The scene with the alien reveal is also a real out-of-body experience, figuratively as well as literally, well worth the splash page.

ARTWORK (6.5/10)
Still, despite telling the story well, the deceptively simple figures and backgrounds sometime become a little too stylized. There's the page where Cave and Chloe leave the diner that looks like it took me longer to read than it took Oeming to draw. I'd give the art a higher grade but for pages (and a few panels) like this.

EDITING (6.75/10)
Editing is, of course, always a difficult category to grade, because so much of the work happens behind the curtains. Therefore, it tends to score lower because it’s so much easier to see the mistakes and missteps than the decisions that brought the package together and made it work. Overall, Mahan gets points for presumably holding Way and Rivera to a clear narrative. If the concurrently-published DOOM PATROL is anything to go by, Way can go WAY off the reservation. However, there are a few panels, and at least one full page, that Mahan should have sent back to Oeming for a do-over.

There’s also the head-scratcher that is the three page Wonder Twins/Batgirl back-up story by Tom Sciloi. It’s not included in the DOOM PATROL book, so it’s seemingly something meant to tie specifically to Cave’s title. But not only does it have seemingly nothing to do with Cave’s adventure, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense as an independent tale. But then, with the tiny lettering on sepia toned pages, the thing was virtually impossible to read. I suspect that if CCHACE is supposed to be a parallel to WATCHMEN, with a dystonia (or, in this case, down-right despondent) take on traditional comic book heroics, than this back-up story is meant to be Cave’s version of “Tales of the Black Freighter.” Still, it’s swing and a miss for me.

Finally, I’ll give Mahan a demerit for the logo, and a draw on the Who’s Who-style feature pages. They are cool, even if they harken to a Copper Age sensibility rather than Silver, and I realize these were reprinted from earlier Young Animal promotional materials. Still, this wold have been a good place to give us more information on Cave’s wife (she’s described as just a fellow spelunker) as well as his team. In fact, I would have greatly preferred if the Changing Girl entry had been replaced with one of Cave’s team, giving us a where-are-they-now update.

Oh, one more thing, take out one “shit,” and there’s no reason this title (at least based on this debut issue) has to be restricted to “mature readers.”

Like editing, production is often hard to score since, when done right, the work is almost invisible. The only time one really notices lettering or coloring, or printing and packaging, is when something ain’t right. So, on the first go round I think I have this a 7.0 or something. But then I noticed something subtly in the coloring. Now, many fans might argue that coloring should be graded as its own section, but I’m old school and still consider it more of a production job than a purely artistic one. Still, whether it was something he did of his own initiative, or something he was directed to do, Filardi pulls off a great homage to Silver Age comics.

Often, when modern colorists try to imitate the dot-matrix coloring of old comics, which had to produce a full palate from just four basic colors — magenta, indigo, cyan, and black — the result is off-putting. It’s just so hard to reproduce the old mechanical effect using modern coloring tools without the result screaming, “LOOK! HOW RETRO! DOESN’T THIS MAKE YOU FEEL ALL NOSTALGIC!!” But Filardi uses the old dot patterns as a shading effect. That way, while the patterns may be recognizable to older fans, they are not so off-putting to readers who did not grow up reading comics in the 1970s and before. It’s really quite an accomplishment, I think.

DOLLAR VALUE: (6.0/10)
There’s a bit more here to chew on than the usual modern comic. Still, $4 is a tough sell for me. C’mon, DC, you’ve got 15 pages of ads in this comic, but more than that is house ads. Let’s sell that space, produce some actual revenue, and get the price of this book down to $2.99!

This is the kind of series I can easily see getting picked up as a Netflix show. It is very STRANGER THINGS with its mix of geek nostalgia and comparatively modern truth-is-out-there motifs. If that should happen, this could become a WALKING DEAD-type value. However, absent that development, this series probably will be subject to the TPB phenomenon, where collected editions tend to depress the resale value of original editions. I don’t see this becoming more than a $5 book without some development to propel it into the wider pop consciousness.

That’s compounded by the fact that this is probably going to be a short-lived series. Apart from the current state of the market, there’s also the hook of the book which works against long-term viability. I mean, just as MICRONAUTS kinda collapsed once Baron Karza was defeated, this title will almost surely lose it’s way, not to mention writer Gerard Way, once the mystery of the cybernetic eye is solved. Depending on how long that takes, this entire series could be collected in a single trade, or maybe two. I mean, what’s next, to keep the series going — CAVE CARSON HAS A COMPUTRONIC FOOT?

That said, this is a series that is worth having in your collection, I think. So, given the relatively low print run (this probably moved about 35,000 copies to retailers, at most) I don’t see a ton of these floating around the back issue market. It could be one of those things that sells well in TPB form simply because back issues are too much trouble to track down, or not easily scrounged from dollar bins.

Well, as noted, the exploding Muldroogian is the kind of image comics fans will linger over, like an EC Comics gore-fest. Chloe is also a compelling character, which makes us want to know more about here, while Cave’s melancholy pushes all of my middle-aged fanboy buttons, as do appearances by the Metal Men and Wild Dog. Meanwhile, the mystery of the eye is worth lingering over, trying to glean clues from depictions of it in action. This comic may be marked for “mature readers,” but it does a far better job than most books these days of awakening my inner 12-year-old.

This is a book I'll likely stick with for a few issues, at least through the first story act, which should last five or six issues, if only to see what happens. Compare that to Way’s other Young Animal offering, DOOM PATROL, which I dropped hard and happily after one issue.

• Get this book down to $2.99.
• Taking the second arc to Skartaris would not be unwelcome
• It might makes sense to retitle and renumber each arc, a la HARRY POTTER AND THE . . ., with variations on the “Cave Carson has/is/was/wears/etc.” motiff. Apart from making clear jumping on points for new readers, that might help make each collected edition a distinctive title.
• I probably wouldn’t mind if the focus slowly shifted to Chloe over time (the media might redub her “Cave,” a nickname she can hold as easily as her dad), or else centered on her for some arcs.
• Here’s hoping the EBX as the villain is handled deftly, as the “corporation is really a power-mad evil entity bent on world domination” trope has been done to death. I’d almost prefer to see the company was honestly working for good and merely being a pawn or victim of the greater problem, and not the cause of it. If EBX’s board of directors turns into a table full of mustache twirlers, I’m liable to drop this series.

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