Okay, so, as I mentioned recently, I've been getting into comics. I got into DC roughly 1 year ago. Thanks in a large part to comic book reviewer Linkara's Atop the Fourth Wall, I've been itching to read more comics than the handful of DC titles I've picked up from the New 52. So, I decided to start trying to read some Marvel comics.
When I chose to start reading DC, they had just rebooted the entire universe, so it wasn't a terrible place to jump in with issue 1. Marvel, however, still has it's decades-long history of comics. So where to start? Well, to be honest, I recommend watching Linkara's episodes that feature Marvel and DC comics if you're interested in getting into comics. He reviews bad comics (the show's tag line is "where bad comics burn") and explains why they suck, but he also explains character history and context for why certain things are bad. You learn a lot of the history, and it's interesting, entertaining, and hilarious to boot.
In addition, I did a ton of reading on Amazon. I looked up various ongoing series for a description of what they were about, then looked up reviews on Amazon for the trades to see what others thought about them.
I have some comics to recommend, but today I want to talk about a new comic that just started up semi-recently that I bought the first three issues of, but will no longer be reading, Alpha: Big Time.
The backstory for this hero actually starts in the Amazing Spider-man comics.
"One day during a demonstration at Horizon Labs, presented by Peter Parker, an accident similar to Parker's granted Andrew the ability to create a hyper-kinetic form of energy tied to the forces of the universe. After being tested by many superhero scientists, Andy became the new spokesman to Horizon Labs, while he was trained by Peter Parker's alter-ego, Spider-Man." -- http://marvel.wikia.com/Andrew_Maguire_(Earth-616)Alpha eventually lost his powers because he was careless and stupid and nearly got a ton of people killed. Peter rigged a machine to zap Alpha's powers away. Alpha: Big Time issue 1 starts there, with Alpha going in periodically to get check-ups from Peter Parker.
The first issue deals with the repercussions of Alpha losing his powers. He apparently was quite popular at school after he developed powers, using them to gain social stature among his classmates. Now, with no powers, he's a mistreated nerd.
Right off was kind of annoyed, because the comic features the cliched "nerd table" idea. He's so unpopular he has to sit at the "loser table," which only features two other people--an overweight stereotypical geek that drones on and on about overly-analyzed pop-culture, and a heavily-pierced girl with an attitude known (affectionately?) as "Soupcan."
This is some pretty lazy, cliched characterization. But my beef goes deeper than that.
Alpha is a dick to both of these characters, treating them like they're below him, like his being among them is a punishment put upon him by his peers--which, to be fair, it is, but his attitude toward these "losers" that he should feel empathy toward is just as bad as his peers attitude to him. I guess he's a teenager, and teenagers are actually like this, but ask any horror fan how portraying the absolute worst qualities of teenagers works to develop likable protagonists (spoiler alert: it doesn't).
Anyway, Alpha goes to his check up with Peter Parker, but he gets a shock: Parker is going to give him his powers back. This is because Peter Parker recently switched bodies with Doctor Octopus and died, leaving Doc Ock in Parker's body. Ock-Parker has decided to try to be a hero in his own way, and decided he wanted to mentor Alpha for...some..reason. I dunno. I question his judgement, though, because in literally two issues (the next day) he acts annoyed that Alpha keeps coming to him for advice.
Alpha doesn't get all of his powers back, just a fraction of it. However, it's enough to make him feel way better about himself. After flying around and being carefree, he goes patrolling. He sees a mugging in progress and steps in to save the victim, a young woman. When the mugger doesn't back down and threatens Alpha with a gun, Alpha punches him in the face so hard he SHATTERS THE MUGGERS SKULL. He starts to panic, but where the comic started to lose me was his first thought. Not "oh shit, I just killed someone." Nope, it's "Peter Parker is going to be so mad at me."
In issue two, he takes the guy to the hospital. There's a scene that's supposed to be humorous I think where he thinks some cops are there to arrest him for severely hurting and potentially fatally injuring this man--thug or not. The cops, however, shrug it off. "He must have slipped during the struggle."
This reminds of the way cops are portrayed in Gotham (and in the new DC comic The Movement). They're corrupt. They abuse their authority, they feel that they can beat the shit out of petty criminals, while also being in bed with the larger, more monetarily endowed criminals. But unlike the cops in Gotham that we're supposed to dislike, I think these cops are supposed to be good. Like, we're supposed to like them because they let Alpha off with no consequences? I'm supposed to be okay with that? "Hyuck, hyuck, just a youngster getting used to his superpowers." This scene has the same sort of tone to it as the scene in Raimi's Spider-man, where Peter tries to swing on web and winds up leaping off of a roof instead. But in that one, Peter just looked like a goofy youngster, charming and green. This guy has potentially killed someone. Ha ha?
I will give the comic this credit: Alpha still goes to Parker's lab to have his powers taken away.
While he waits in the lobby to confess to Ock-Peter that he was irresponsible, he meditates on what happened. He expresses a little bit of guilt--but mostly he bitches and moans about how he's going to get his powers taken away (again...AGAIN...he's almost killed people TWICE, but I should feel BAD for him???).
I guess I could buy this well enough, and maybe even sympathize, if the character were built up as charming and sympathetic. But he's really not. I mean, he has a shitty home life--shitty (drug addict?) mom, divorced parents. That's tough. But that doesn't make him sympathetic if there's not something likable about his personality as well. I get using his powers for self-gain. I get hurting someone because he's not careful. I get being unsure, or even angry. But he almost never expresses any guilt about what he's done wrong. He occasionally pays some very basic lip-service, but then he launches into another bout of self-pity about how he'll miss his powers and/or grumbling about having to sit at the losers table some more.
Anyway, Alpha grabs a nearby paper to kill time and learns, joy upon joys, that the mugger will live after all. Sure, he has a shattered skull and (most assuredly) brain damage. But he will live. Alpha's reaction? Relief. Not minor relief that at least he didn't kill the guy while still feeling guilty about probably ruining this guy's life. No, he's completely ecstatically over the moon that he didn't kill the guy. I mean, Charlie after finding the golden ticket jubilant. He flies around with a big fucking cheesy grin.
My wife and I were in a car accident in which she was thrown against the windshield when her seatbelt failed to lock up properly. She suffered pretty bad brain damage and had to fight for several months to get back to where she was, and her short term memory took even longer to fully recover. Thankfully, she was young, so she could bounce back really quickly. This mugger? Got it way worse. Not just a head injury--A SHATTERED SKULL. He most certainly has brain damage, and will have to deal with probably years of physical and neurological therapy to get better.
Then! Alpha decides to go to the injured man's hospital room to "apologize." However, after initially saying sorry, he starts pussy-footing around, inevitably laying blame on the mugger for "totally trying to kill" him, effectively shirking himself of any actual blame. It becomes one of those "sorry you got offended" apologies.
All-in-all, I couldn't stand the hero. I think this comic is supposed to be an answer to Spider-man--young, in high school, dating girls and dealing with juggling superherodom with a broken and messed up family life--but where Peter Parker was charming and funny with his jokes and references, this character is unpleasant, self-absorbed, and almost sociopathic with his social interactions.
In a story there has to be some reason for the reader to care. Either the character makes mistakes but feels bad about them and/or justifiable reasons for his bad decisions, he doesn't feel bad but has to deal with the consequences of his actions just the same, or some combination of the two. It's very hard to have readers give a crap when the hero's actions are completely and totally divorced from any real consequences.
It's not just that he doesn't feel anything for nearly killing someone--it's that he doesn't suffer any external repercussions either. The comic plays it off as a kind of sick joke. I think it's implying that this person will come back as a supervillain, but honestly, that's not the kind of repercussions I'm talking about. Where's the emotional turmoil and fear of what he could do with his power? Where's the hesitation to not over do it again? Maybe because of this, he's reluctant to help other people lest he cause more damage or hurt someone even more? Maybe his indecision results in others getting hurt and he realizes he has to do something? Or if he's supposed to be so emotionally undeveloped, where's the external repercussions? People afraid he'll hurt them if they encounter him, cops investigating his abuse of power, the family of the victim suing for damages...honestly anything besides, "Wow, that sucks. BUT HE'S ALIVE, SO OH WELL!"
As if the clunky story and unlikable characters weren't enough, I'm not a fan of the artwork, either. I was intrigued by the cover artist, who draws Alpha in a very engaging way and pleasing (to me) way. The art is cartoonish enough to give the book a fun feel, but detailed enough to be pleasing to look at. It's the kind of art that can carry comedic, light-hearted adventures and darker, emotional story-lines equally well. It sort of reminds me of Ben 10 or Teen Titans. You can see an example of the cover art above.
The inside art? I don't like it. The characters have weird physical proportions, their faces are shaped weird--both the shapes of their heads, but also the character's face and where it sits on their heads. Just look at Alpha's profile:
Also, if you look at all of the pictures from inside the comic that I've posted, his hair seems to defy all logic, growing and shrinking at random. And if that's one of his superpowers, they don't mention it.
In the back of issue 1, the writer of the comic says flat out that Alpha is supposed to be a jerk to demonstrate how unique Peter Parker was in how he handled his abilities, the responsibilities that came with them, and juggling them with his civilian life. Parker was young when he received his burden, but, they argue, he handled it unnaturally well. Alpha is supposed to be more akin to the typical teenager and how they'd deal with superpowers if they got them. Well, if they wanted to portray him as a jerk, they succeeded. I just wish they'd made him likable as well.