(Dynamite Entertainment, 2013)
Review by Shawn Warner
Story by Bryan Johnson & Walter Flanagan
Written by Bryan Johnson
Pencils by Walter Flanagan
Inks by Chris Ivy
Color Artwork by Wayne Jansen
Esoteric, ethereal, supernatural; these are all words I would use to describe the second issue of the wildly imaginative and overly ambitious mini-series co- created by Comic Book Men cast members and Kevin Smith minions; Walter Flanagan and Bryan Johnson. Unfortunately perplexing, convoluted and digressive are words equally descriptive of this book. The first issue was marginally more coherent but the need for an editor was glaringly obvious then, now it is painfully so. Bryan Johnson has a wonderfully fertile imagination but he lacks the discipline and the experience to know what to keep on the page and what to toss out as obscuring and needlessly complicating to an already overly complex narrative. Personally I think Grant Morrison would be needed to put this disoriented ship set adrift back on course but now I digress.
This issue begins baffling and goes on to become utterly incomprehensible from there. Most of this issue is spent fleshing out the villainous Mr. Thead who is in human form this time around for his back story but you will remember him as the pig faced man in the pink suit from issue #1. I found the idea of dedicating an entire issue of a four issue mini-series to back story to be ill-conceived because the “plot” (or what passes for one here) does not progress a single step in this issue, leaving a scant two remaining to bring resolution to the most head scratchingly unclear storyline I have read in quite some time.
The protagonist, Alan Ostman, who inexplicably spends the entirety of this issue with a helium-filled balloon in the shape of a pig’s head as a traveling spirit animal companion of sorts, has apparently met with Thead earlier in his life and was offered a dream job for a crypto- zoologist/ conspiracy theorist. Thead it seems has arcane knowledge that was imparted to him by an extra-terrestrial survivor of the 1947 Roswell crash that all the cryptids including Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster are actually portals to other dimensions. Makes perfect sense, right? The whole premise is a mish-mash of sci fi tropes and the characters are recycled conglomerations of better writers’ ideas. For instance, Alan Ostman is part Fox Mulder, part Alec Holland with a generous amount of Kolchak: The Night Stalker thrown in for good measure. And as if there weren’t enough dangling plot threads dancing in the wind, there is the case of Ostman’s missing, assumed abducted daughter which I suppose would lend the narrative a sense of heart and urgency if you could ever possibly care about any of these characters.
I’m not entirely sure who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for this mess since Johnson and Flanagan are credited as writers but I can’t help feeling that whoever came up with the core of this story could benefit from some writing classes. There are some interesting ideas here but they get lost in the fracas of conflicting plot points. Before you can get invested in any one element or premise – Bang! – here’s another incongruous divergence to steal your attention and in this second issue there are too many to count. Johnson could probably come up with a plausible plot but there still remains the problem of his wooden and sophomoric dialogue. People don’t speak this way but beyond that there is no wit or humor to his dialogue, these characters have no personality beyond their inherent weirdness which comes across as contrived not clever. I did however enjoy the concept of the “Black Lodge” which is described as an even more secret Area 51. I thought that could be explored and developed into a coherent story, maybe not by Johnson and Flanagan but they could get some writers on board and create a compelling world of characters.
The problems for this book do not end with the writing, Flanagan’s art is some of the most inept I’ve seen from a professional artist and I know he is capable of far better than this, just look at the Batman stories he has done with Kevin Smith. I don’t know if he is just not interested in this bizarre ridiculous premise or if he has lost the drive to create but this book is inconsistent artistically at best. There are some passable panels but they are very few and far between. His anatomy and understanding of facial features are well below where they need to be to produce visually dynamic character designs. Even the Cryptozoic Man design is shoddy, uneven and downright preposterous.
Overall, this book feels like an inside joke that went too far; it should never have progressed to a second issue. I met these guys at Baltimore Comic-Con and I loved them, they are funny, personable and charismatic but they should leave the comic book writing to their more talented, more experienced friend, Smith. I wanted to really like this book but there is no way I could not even as a fan of Kevin Smith and the Comic Book Men show. It comes off as an abuse of connections. There is no way in the world this book could have been pitched by any struggling young writer and be accepted and published. This was done all on the strength of Kevin Smith’s name and the promise of built-in sales to his fans. I recommend sitting this one out especially for $3.99; I know I won’t be returning for the third issue. So until next time, see you at the comic book store. (1.5/5)
Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter: @shawnwarner629