Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Movement #1 review

In Coral City, police officers Whitt and Pena threaten to arrest a young couple on trumped-up charges, but say they'll let them go if the girl 'gives us a little peek'. They're stopped in their tracks on being surrounded by a crowd wearing identical masks, filming them on camphones.

Their captain is angry when local news shows the footage delivered by hacker group 'Channel M', but union rules won't let him suspend the officers. And when a mutilated body is found that may be the latest victim of  Coral's 'Cornea Killer', he has little choice but to take the bad cops along. At the scene, a call comes in that there's a slasher at a church a couple of blocks away, very likely the killer.

At the church, a young man is floating in the air, spouting demonic talk, terrifying a priest and his congregation. Before police can intervene, Mouse, a particularly pale pied piper, appears and sets rats on the cops. A young woman named Tremor arrives outside, and when police point guns, she shakes them up with quake-causing powers. A winged newcomer teaches officer Whitt that some women are in a better position to fight back than others. And the captain is confronted by a young woman going by Virtue, who announces that 'I can ride emotions'. She touches him and astral projects herself back to his home, then announces that his wife is having an affair with one of his men. She orders the captain to hand over his phone and gun, and says The Movement is taking the apparently possessed lad, Burden, away to look after him. He's just a 'poor tortured kid' with power enough to manifest as the possessed soul he thinks he is. Further, she warns the captain to stay away from ten city blocks they're planning to 'protect' and says her people will find the killer.

When DC announced The Movement a few months back, in the wake of the Occupy protests, writer Gail Simone pitched it to readers as being '...about the injustices that can affect real people's lives, just tarted up in costumes and superpowers'.

I wasn't sure what to make of that, but as it turns out, new-to-the-DCU Coral City is familiar territory - a dark place where dark heroes take down dark cops. There's a mutilating serial killer and a head-revolving kid with evil eyes who spouts bile. So far, I see no links to the world outside my window - these heroes - or rather, anti-heroes as they're willing to terrorise the good cops as well as the bad ones - aren't taking on villainous versions of bankers, or fatcat corporate executives, they're just doing the old heroes and villains thing with a few modern memes. As targets go, corrupt cops is fish in a barrel territory, while the idea of a masked citizens' army evokes V for Vendetta.

Of course, it's a cliche but pretty much true, that there's nothing new under the sun. Creators come up with similar ideas, or they borrow as a way to speedy resonance. The disappointment is that The Movement doesn't feel especially fresh. Simone lays down her plot with skill, and sketches in a whole bunch of characters with dialogue and action - I don't doubt some impressive colours will be laid down later. But so far it reads as a skilfully executed but unsurprising 'grimdark' comic, full of mostly unpleasant people negotiating the gloom. Of course, this is just the first issue; hopefully, the gloom will lift ... that's probably the story.

Sweet misunderstood kid about to be oppressed
As it stands, though, I'd be happy were Superman to fly in and arrest The Movement. Attacking cops who are trying to protect the public without even bidding to explain that Burden might not be such a threat? Invading the life of a decent police officer and then threatening him? Declaring that they rule a section of the city like some druggie street gang? So far, these aren't kids I want to spend time with; a little background on why they're acting in such a heavy-handed manner would be useful - all we get is a throwaway reference to a city council that impedes the police captain's ability to discipline his men.

It's not clear why Virtue blows his wife's secret to the captain, perhaps to establish her bona fides ... nevertheless, she doesn't give any indication she could physically overpower him, so why the captain hands over gun and phone, I don't know.

(You may have noticed that I've not named the police chief - neither does the comic, unless he's called Captain Captain. Oh, hang on - in the Comments below, Gary reveals all - cheers Gary!)

While Virtue, Mouse and Burden are new, Tremor and Katharsis originated in previous Simone books - the former appeared in the much-missed Secret Six series, the latter recently fought Batgirl. Tremor seems more serene than her colleagues, while Katharsis (because Ks are Kool) gets a new look but remains a vigilante ready to use excessive force.

Freddie Williams II does a fine job with the artwork, and hankie-headed goth cliche Mouse apart, his main character designs are solid and should work well together (click on image to enlarge). I expecially like Kath's new outfit, with her previous birdie wings replaced by a more cobbled-together model. The compositions are dramatic, and Coral City looks great, as grim and gritty cities go. Williams deserves extra credit for his excellently realised police department, and its varied inhabitants. Mind, there's one panel in which a horrible noise is referenced, but we get no sound effect, something that may be worth tweaking for any trade collection.

While I wasn't bowled over by this debut, I've enjoyed enough work by Simone and Williams that I'll probably give The Movement a couple of issues to grab me. I realise that we're not necessarily meant to like these kids, and they have a lot to learn, and I am most exceeding old - but it'd be nice to like them just a little. With luck, we may soon see the characters display self-awareness around their heavy-handedness.

And I'm definitely intrigued - I want to know why they're concerned with just ten blocks. Who's the moth-themed blonde on Amanda Conner's attractive cover and might she be the one to bring some actual humour to the book? Will Virtue find the Cornea Killer in ten seconds flat, something she could surely do given what we see of her powers here. I want to know who's financing the face masks they'd handing out willy nilly, and designing their campaign against Coral City (knowing how these things tend to go, they're probably being duped, but will beat up their benefactor and go it alone ... or not - Simone is generally better than that).

So, while I won't exactly be Occupying my comic shop waiting for the second issue, should I see a policeman with a copy, you can bet I'll snatch it from his likely corrupt, no doubt cucklolded hands ...

26 comments:

  1. This is the first NuDC title I've been interested in for quite some time so I sort of skimmed the plot bits of the review until I've had a chance to sit down and read it myself. All the same, you have to wonder where an employee of DC comics gets the idea to write about a bunch of free spirits yearning to break free of a corporate presence that crushes freedoms, don't you? I think I'll be happy if the Occupy movement just gets a fair shake in this book, as I have seen it portrayed in fiction - on television especially - as poorly as possible without outright lying about it, though two separate CSI shows pretty much do just that, while one episode of Castle peaks with the lead character screaming at an analogue for an Occupy member that he's a coward. There's something about Occupy that brings out the entitled middle class white person in tv writers, it seems (and Frank Miller), so I'll give this a go and see if comics can be more even handed.

    Yes, yes, it's DC - but you never know.

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  2. my apologies, Brigonos, I got a tad exposition heavy, though it seemed necessary in order to make some points. Still, too much blethering from me.

    I'll be very interested to hear your opinion on reading; I suspect you'll be surprised by the book, as I was.

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    1. Ah, not to worry, Martin, I have read it now, but didn't find the plot points in the review too spoilery as I fully expected most of the issue was setup for later anyway.

      I have an aversion to comics where characters show up shouting their name and what their powers are that goes way back, but I suppose it's just DC still trying hard to replicate the credibility of Image by emulating their early rough-edged years. What this reminded me of was New Warriors, possibly because of the whole "super-powered street gang" premise, but the way characters laid down the law by being jerks to everyone around them came off as petulant dick-swinging, and in the case of the two bent coppers a bit self-defeating as if I am reading it right, they turn down paid suspension, a reprimand and a transfer in favor of an official investigation into widely-disseminated footage of their attempt to plant evidence and statuatory-rape a child - with the former they take a smack on the wrist but ultimately stay on the force, while with the latter they lose their jobs and then go to jail where they'll be both a cop AND a child-rapist, the two lowest forms of life in sing-sing, so I have literally no idea what their motivation is to be jerks to their boss at this point other than everyone else is being jerks so they will, too.

      Not sure why DC use such torturous analog versions of Anonymous and the V For Vendetta masks, either, as the first is not copyrighted and is little more than a collective noun for online activism, while the second is owned by DC thanks to their continuing fucking of Alan Moore. Using the silver blankface masks just creates an unnecessary distance from the intent of the work to be relevant, in my opinion, and more importantly keeps bringing me out of the story.

      With some nuts it might have been the new Authority - and some jerkiness where characters lay claim to territory suggests that the ghost of Warren Ellis is at work. As it is, it's an average superhero title at best, let down by a lack of any central protagonist to act as a POV character for the reader while the world is set up. I might check out #2, but it's not Simone's best work.

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    2. Hi again Brigonos, I'm very intrigued by the idea that DC is deliberately trying to evoke the early years of Image (something I'd never notice, as I never read a single issue). Given that their craft isn't highly thought of these days, it seems an odd decision, unless they're seriously thinking they can emulate the initial Image bottom line. I wonder if it isn't just that DC is so full of influential Nineties types, that such an approach is natural to them

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  3. I read it and you are right about the hero characters not being all that likeable. They say there is a reason why they are needed to protect the area since the cops are not doing a good job or corrupt, but outside of the two dirty cops, I do not see a reason for any of this. Plus, without any form of character writing besides the captain, you do not get to know these characters on any level outside of their jerkish behavior. We need background here stat!

    I did get into this comic and I am curious to see where this goes, but this comic really needs to start making us feel attached to the characters, otherwise we have a very big disconnect going on here.

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    1. Given the generally good reviews this book is getting, I was beginning to think it was just me - which would be fine, but it's nice to know I'm not just a voice whining in the wilderness.

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  4. Yeah, it's an interesting choice that Simone makes, to make our POV character the captain. It certainly emphasizes how disconcerting and unexpected they are -- and how much they upend the machinery of society -- but at the same time, it prevents us from sympathizing with them. But perhaps we're supposed to be a bit more objective toward them right now, instead of immediately on their side. I'm very interested to see where this goes.

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    1. I'm not so much 'very interested' as 'vaguely curious' ...

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  5. I believe Simone's tale is a fair attempt of representing Occupy and Anonymous. As much as both phenomena are mostly about people full of good intentions protesting against a very unfair status quo, their movements lack a political and ethical orientation beyond a deep feel of injustice. Internet do gooders sometimes make hasty decisions that are more or less questionable, and it seems like that is Simone's point: they are all young, they need to mature, but they bring change, society needs change etc.

    That said... I didn't get the grim tone. The thicker, messy, panel borders even looked kinda like a McFarlane comic from the 90's. I do hope the moth-themed blonde to be a more light hearted character. This comic sure would welcome some comic relief.

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    1. Hi Thomaz, that poor little moth girl is now bearing the hopes of two brutish men - I hope she can handle it!

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  6. I am deliberating whether I should start reading this series. Do you have any advice for me Martin?

    --Eki

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  7. Hi Eki, aside from reading the opinions here and across the Internet - here's a round-up of some: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/tag/chain-reactions/ you might ask at any comic shop you use; of course, if you're there, you could look at it and follow your gut instinct.

    Did you see the preview, that might help?

    http://www.dccomics.com/blog/2013/04/29/preview-monday-the-movement-1-and-action-comics-20#8

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    1. Thank you Martin. I got it, but haven't read it yet. I'll get to it as soon as I have time.

      --Eki

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  8. As it's Gail Simone, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and stick around for a while.

    Oh and the Captain's name is Meers - it's printed on his door when the officer enters to tell him to turn the TV on.

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    1. Well good spot, Gary! I read the dialogue three times looking for that, having seen his name in other reviews after writing mine; I still reckon it should be more prominent.

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  9. I read this and definitely won't be back for the second issue. Part of it is I prefer heroic fiction and there aren't really any heroes or people acting heroically within its pages. Simone's humor seems missing too and no plot point or character got enough depth or an interesting hook to get past the flash card style of introduction.

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    1. Fair points, Steve - I'm still planning to try #2, though I'm not at all attracted to the feel of the world of The Movement.

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  10. First thing I thought of when I saw the two corrupt cops

    "Did these guys walk out of a Frank Miller comic?"

    That's my main impression of this book from issue one: Simone trying something similar to 'prototypical' Miller. You've got a lot of the same ingredients, corrupt cops, the citizens need to take power into their own hands... their politics will probably differ, but that's the thought I'm left with from the opening issue. And it might explain why they group isn't coming off as likeable yet...

    Well, that and 'what's the deal with the masks?' When I think of a civilians militia group of sorts, my first thoughts really aren't 'perfectly identical metallic masks'. First time I read the issue, I thought they were some kind of mind control, assimilating monster... an impression that wasn't helped by the last page. ;)

    Was that the idea?

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    1. Hello Inquisitor D, good call on the Frank Miller thing. And yes, the masks are just sinister - surely a Movement doesn't have to be a faceless mass? Or rather, a faceless mass led by showy super-powered folk.

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  11. First of all, I don't think this comic has anything remotely to do with the Occupy movement and Gail Simone has downplayed that comparison. Also, Gail has openly admitted and stated that The Movement was not about superheroes. She didn't want the Movement to come across as solely a hero group because they're not. They're not MEANT to be the gold, shiny good guys. They're meant to have questionable motives and they're meant to think they're doing the right thing even if they're not.

    The fact of the matter is this is a new concept for comics. No team of powered individuals has ever used normal non-powered people as part of their operations (as seen with the video with the cops) and they've never "taken over" a section of town and told cops they aren't wanted or needed. and btw, the cops aren't shown to be great paragons of virtue and justice. Some of them are sleaze balls and the kids in the comic do what teenagers do, paint them all with a broad brush that just because some are corrupt and vile sleaze, they must all be.

    As for Virtue, I got the impression that she might be the Captain's daughter. He mentioned he had one, but I may be wrong. I also didn't see Mouse as remotely goth, but that's just my take on it.

    I like the team, I like the title, and I like the direction. I like characters that have typically non-combative powers being on teams (like Virtue).

    As for use of V for Vendetta, well.. there was only ever one V. There has never been multiples. The movie made up the whole stupid everyone walking around in Guy Fawkes masks and.. I think it'd be wrong for the Movement to wear them since they, like many Occupiers and others that wear the mask, would have no clue what it actually meant (just like the movie really had no clue what V for Vendetta was about).

    I think DC avoided the use of Anonymous because let's face it, they're destructive. I wouldn't want to buy anything remotely related to that group. They've gone out of their way at times to harm people who had nothing to do with whatever injustice they see.

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    1. Hello Jan, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I can't say I've read many interviews with Gail on The Movement, but it sounds as if she should be having a word with DC marketing. Me, I'm reviewing based on what's on the page.

      I like your Virtue idea, and if so, the Captain is up there with Jim Gordon so far as daughter recognition is concerned ... unless he does recognise her, and that's part of why he's so unnerved.

      I was there with V for Vendetta from the first issue of Warrior; I know the multiple masks are a film-only thing - nevertheless, the imagery is out there.

      Anyway, cheers - let's see how #2 goes...

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  13. Hey Mart... I finally picked up last week's comics, and would love to see your thoughts on The Movement #2 (and Earth 2 #13 and Astro City #1, for that matter -- dance, monkey, dance!). I thought it was considerably stronger than the first issue, but again came away with the impression that I wasn't necessarily supposed to sympathize with all of these guys, necessarily. And there's no explanation at all for the masks, nor even a mention of them. But as we learn about the characters, I'm certainly more interested in them, and what they'll decide to do with the captured cops, and what any of them will do when they don't get their way.

    Definitely not a hero team, though. It looks to have ambitions of exploring the same sorts of moral gray areas as books like Suicide Squad or (I imagine) Team 7, but without the motivation of "national security" behind the brutal, pragmatic choices down the line.

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  14. I did buy it, and my thoughts are much the same as yours! I may still do a review, though the very idea feels dreary.

    And you remind me, I really must read Astro City, I did download it ... been a busy week, but the clouds are a-lifting!

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  15. Definitely read AC... it's always been one of my favorite comics, and it hasn't lost a step.

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    1. It was good, though I found the framing sequence rather distancing in terms of what I consider the main action.

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