The stories in Approbation’s Myriad anthology share one great failing: each utilizes a tired genre to which it brings nothing fresh or new. Here are stories concerning gritty urban superheroes, sci-fi elves and the superheroic militant warriors in homoerotic bodysuits with whom they do effeminate battle, and, yes, pirates, and there is nothing in these pages that you could not predict based on what I’ve already told you.
Bart Thompson and Steve Fox’s “Chi-Sai” wants desperately to be Daredevil or Elektra or Shi or Kabuki. If you’ve read any superhero comics, particularly lesser superhero comics, and specifically lesser superhero comics from the early ‘90s, then you’re familiar with that old staple, the Hero-Interrupts-A-Rape scene. You will recall, I’m sure, that the dialogue in such scenes is always over the top, its villains not just sleazy but loudly, cartoonishly evil. “Chi-Sai” reads like a Hero-Interrupts-A-Rape scene stretched out to a full issue.
“Lineage,” by Jay Jacobs and Chris Tsuda, fares no better. Its characters all speak in poor imitations of the sardonic, superior tones of a Warren Ellis protagonist, but with none of Ellis’ wit or charm (or plotting, or pacing, or grasp of narrative structure). The artwork pays earnest tribute in every panel to Image Comics circa 1992. The story begins thusly: “2314 A.D. East coast of North America. 6:32 A.M. local time… as the light of dawn stretches out to touch the great metropolis, no one is prepared for the light to grow beyond anything known to man.” First, Grant Morrison wrote a comic book in the ‘90s entitled Doom Force, a parody of the grim, constipated superhero tales of the era which was so accurate, it was (literally) frightening. It began with a caption much like the one with which “Lineage” opens, offering not only the time (by zone, no less) but even the setting’s longitude and latitude.
All of which is to say that Jacobs and Tsuda are already treading self-parody waters with their first words. Second, how could anyone expect dawn’s light to grow brighter than anything known to man? And really, “known to man”? That tired phrase says it all, and would in fact make for a better blanket title for all these stories than Myriad. If any of these characters had anticipated the arrival of the comet-bomb-thing described in the opening captions, which turns out to be an elf whose arrival coincides with the replacement of 22 million people’s worth of city by a magical rain forest, then surely they’d have prevented it from happening in the first place, which would make them the greatest heroes in comic book history, if only because they’d have spared me the tiresome duty of reading this uninspired retread of every science fiction cliché “known to man.”
Next is Richard Nelson and Eli Ivory’s pirate tale, “The Adventures of the Molly Be Damned: A Tale of Seafaring, Swordplay and Sorcery.” Ivory employs a swift, clean line in his illustrations to provide some meager cartoon charm to an otherwise insipid yarn. Pirates are hot right now, so I suppose something like this bland entry to the genre was inevitable.
John P. Ward and Steve Doty contribute “Discount Stories,” wherein a Wal-Mart greeter narrates a day in his life with all the good cheer and insight you’d expect from a Wal-Mart greeter. See, he works in a discount store, and the story is called… yeah. I take it back, Myriad shouldn’t be called Known to Man, but rather Discount Stories.
Finally, Chris J. O’Bryant, James Sandman and Brian Laframbiose bring us “Frail.” Compared to Myriad’s other offerings, “Frail” almost shows promise. It’s a quiet little story: older boy meets younger girl, they share a pleasant conversation over coffee, she is shot in the face by a man who’s had a crush on her since junior high… perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the one quiet tale, the lone story not desperate to convince us how tough or irreverent it is, would close with such a silly “shock ending.”
I should disclose to you that, whatever the heading of this review might imply, this is not a review of Myriad 1-4; I lacked the heart to open the second issue. Approbation Comics apparently exists solely to make Avatar appear classy and professional by comparison, and huzzah to them on a mission accomplished.