Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ursa Minors #1

Ursa Minors #1, June 2006, SLG Publishing
writer: Neil Kleid
artist/letterer: Fernando Pinto
creators: Neil Kleid & Paul Cote

Blogger's note: Entry for Tuesday, January 30, 2008.

Ursa Minors #1 definitely suffers from the "judging a book by its cover" paradigm, at least in the context of my current, week-long attempt to review comic books starring animals in honor of this weekend's Groundhog Day. The cover, a brilliant neon example of pop culture art and intrigue, boasts, "This Issue!: Bears! Comics! Midgets! Ninjas!" The snarling, smiling bears in the cover's foreground promised at least a fourth of that surefire equation, but as I dug into this issue's lead story, I discovered that the bears are really our heroes in bear suits. I feel a little betrayed but not entirely disappointed; Ursa Minors apparently explores a future in which humans enjoy dressing up like lesser rings of the food chain. On the first page, we see a guy casually strolling through the park -- in an elephant suit. On the second page, a beggar hides behind a mysterious koala costume.

I wonder, would real groundhogs feel offended if people decided to watch for their shadow every February? Or would those people simply be doing the job most groundhogs refuse to do?

Either way, the effects of this strange future are lost in Ursa Minors' self-appointed coolness. Its hipster heroes hang out on the Internet and in comic book stores and spew pop culture in-jokes aplenty, in the midst of thwarting their midget arch-nemesis, whose only apparent crime was posing as a woman on-line to score a date with one of one of our bear-suit wearing champions. I've explained this script-writing phenomenon before, this apparent need from the creators' perspective to relate to their audience by essentially writing them into the story. Of course, writers often write what they know, and many comic book writers are the geeks that read their books, but how many Star Wars-quip ridden universes do we need? Would "the future in which people dress up like animals" really be less interesting if told through another character's point of view?

Fernando Pinto's art is crisp and expressive, balancing the goofiness of this pseudo-superhero world with the mundane meandering of geeks that try to hook up on the Internet. I wish his style wasn't squandered on those more dialogue-intensive scenes, or that the settings were more diverse and better displayed the breadth of his potential, but the Ursa Minors were minimal in their exposure to the real world. Rabbi Ninja, the star of this issue's back story, is ironically more secular in scope, not to mention more superior in his execution. The Rabbi Ninja tries to balance the sanctity of his faith and the honor of the ninja clan that trained him, and in this first installment, he struggles through a blind date while trying to assassinate a clan enemy. The consistent dichotomy and internal conflict is hilarious, and the Jewish context is one not oft explored in comics, even in jest. A whole issue of this, with a back-up about bear-suit wearing heroes, would have been the better ratio.

Still, Slave Labor knows how to put together a pretty package, and Ursa Minors #1 is no exception. I only wish it had a little bark to its bite.

No comments: