Saturday, October 14, 2006

Warriors of Plasm #1

Warriors of Plasm #1, August 1993, Defiant Comics
writer: Jim Shooter
penciller: David Lapham
inker: Michael Witherby
painters: Janet Jackson, James Brown, & Tom Ziuko
letterer: George Roberts
editor: Deborah Purcell

From time to time, like in yesterday’s review for example, I’ve coined the term ‘90s fluff to describe any given issue from that decade, assuming that you, my readers, know what I mean. It’s time I define the concept, if not for future reference, than for myself, if only to refrain from using such vague critical terms in the future. See, I remember the ‘90s boom, when a slew of talented artists departed from the mainstream companies that assured their success and sought their own independent success. Believe me, the sight of titles like Spawn, Wildcats, and Youngblood was revolutionary in my young eyes, an impression fueled by the retailers’ hype that we were in the midst of an industry renaissance. My fellow collectors and I were eager and grateful to be on the ground floor. Then, just a few years later – which is not long in collectors’ terms – something startling happened.

The hype was abruptly halted as quickly as some of the titles that instigated it. The issues that we were certain would fund our kids’ college careers were demoted to the dollar bins, and dozens of other independent companies popped up – each with less clout than the one before it. The new release shelves that were once peppered with these “hot new titles” now looked just like they did before, with a different generation of slowly aging material. Some of the concepts behind those new comics – and consequently behind those new companies – were so high end, new young readers like me were lost when we had barely begun the journey. (The Topps titles that didn’t capitalize on preexisting franchises, like The X-Files, are good examples, like the sloppily adapted Satan’s Six I reviewed yesterday.) Honestly, until I began to dabble in the comic book creating process myself, I shunned many independent titles with a mild case of collectors’ trauma. In many ways, the A Comic A Day challenge has become an effort to make up for that lost time.

Then I read issues like Warriors of Plasm #1 and I wonder if I should stick to the superheroes of my youth. Warriors of Plasm is the first title of the Defiant comics line, as thoroughly described in the self-aggrandizing essay written by writer Jim Shooter at the end of this issue. I can’t remember how many essays I’ve read like this, chronicling the beginnings of a publishing company in the wake of some creator’s overwhelming sense of victimization at the hands of the industry. I can’t remember how many essays I’ve read like this by Rob Liefeld. This is what I mean by ‘90s fluff. When the rights of the creator to assert himself as an artist dominate the rights of the reader to enjoy a comic book as a piece of art, it’s fluff, nothing more. When I look at the Mona Lisa, I don’t scan the edges of the canvas for Leonardo’s signature. He let the artwork speak for itself.

Warriors of Plasm does a lot talking, but I have no idea what it’s trying to say. Literally. Within the first dozen pages, every speech balloon contains at least one word or phrase completely foreign to the human language, an in-vernacular readers must decipher to understand the intricate, alien world Shooter has created. Consider this passage from page six that serves as a simple narrative transition:

CHARACTER A: Entry pore open, Sir.
CHARACTER B: By the org’s grace, enter!
CHARACTER A: We have arrived at the Plexus Cavity, Sir.
CHARACTER B: Ask the ship to alight at the Mooring Node.

Huh? What makes matters worse, this exchange is made between characters that are off panel while we watch their ship enter the, uhm, cavity, so it’s difficult to determine who is saying what. The high-concept fantasy element of this tale reminded me of the Epic issue I read way back in July. In fact, if I dig up that issue, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Shooter’s name somewhere in the credits . . .

Once this elaborate language is stripped away, we are left with a story about an alien leader, Lorca, celebrated by his people as a hero, who does not believe in his government’s philosophy and practices and who plans a revolt by recruiting soldiers from “a world of bold, willful, self-reliant people, unlike the slugs of the Plasbaths.” Ah, we almost made it through an entire quote without giving my spell check a heart attack. Anyway, this mysterious world is, you guessed it, Earth, and Lorca abducts ten thousand random, unwitting earthlings who unfortunately fail to survive his transportation process, save five seemingly chosen warriors. Transformed by the plasm that fuels Lorca’s org (I’m getting the hang of this), these humans fight a Zom army (maybe not), and their mettle convinces Lorca that he must destroy Earth to cover up his failed treasonous plot. From here, I’m sure the adventure continues, but even with the lingual relief offered by the presence of some fellow humans, I’d have better luck understanding a medical dictionary . . . and it might be more entertaining to read.

Alas, it wouldn’t be as fun to look at. Another aspect of ‘90s fluff: as terrible as some of the stories were, these comics were often masterfully illustrated, and Warriors of Plasm is no exception. Latham’s pencils are solid and Witherby’s inks capture the original line work with an artistic integrity that captures the eye from panel to panel. The painting pops the artwork right off the page, creating a depth becoming of a cosmic adventure and a fantastic aspect befitting a story that takes place on an alien planet. Humorously, two of the three painters credited in this issue are Janet Jackson and James Brown. Never let it be said that comics are a soulful business.

Such a statement offers an appropriate transition to conclude this review: The creators of the ‘90s boom would undoubtedly lead you to believe that they poured their soul into their work from that era, but conversely, the saturation of the market at that time may have robbed the industry of its soul altogether. The “indies” aren’t the only ones to blame. During the ‘90s, DC killed Superman and broke Batman’s back, and Marvel had more Spider-men and Hulks running around than ants at a picnic. These epic crossovers were the mainstream companies’ attempt to keep their core readership while attracting that fanatic collectors’ market, but the results were the same: the white-bagged Superman resurrection issue can often be found in the dollar bin, too, right before Liefeld’s Supreme #1. Of course, I’m not the first to write about this forsaken era; in fact, I’m sure fans and creators alike are just plain sick of talking about it by now. Too bad, I say. As long as I find these issues in the back issue bins, I won’t drop my opinion, or the insistence that it’s all just fluff. Trudging through these old titles is like wading through plasm – it’s a sticky business. Maybe, if we keep bringing it up from time to time, the lessons learned from that era will stick, too.


Anonymous said...

Something reminded me of Plasm and i went hunting for the wiki and found your commentary. I agree with you on the era. Having just moved I've got to get my comic collection out of storage. I've got way more than I want to keep and there's a ton of the fluff you speak of. However, I look back on Plasm and really enjoyed the originality of the title. It did remind me of the awful GI Joe movie but took the good parts that belonged to a different life of their own. I think that if the words chosen had been plane old "bring the ship to the docking port" it wouldn't have had the same impact as the alien language. Just thought I'd say that this was a title that could have gone places and unfortunately folded due to Marvel's bullying of Defiant. I'd say in some ways that Plasm was ahead of it's time.

Matte said...

I have to be honest but with painters called Janet Jackson and James Brown it is quite hard to really take this comic seriously. I mean it's hard not to get the pop (poop?) culture standards away from relating names. I ironically never happens when I look for Cialis Online but that's a different story

Damien said...

Oh no, I disagree with you. I NEVER tire of lambasting the 90s era comics and reminding my comic-reading friends that while they were chasing down every cover of GEN13 and all the other multi-cover image books (some selling for upwards of $100, let us remember), I was reading such fare as Sandman, Shade the Changing Man, Moonshadow, Bone, Magnus: Robot Fighter, and the like. Even as a kid I knew me some quality, and the Image books just didn't have it.