Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tales From the Dollar Bin: Worldwatch #1

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

Chuck Austen? Hoo Boy...
I haven't done a, "Tale from the Dollar Bin," in some time, so I was thinking if I were going to present one it had to be something especially noteworthy in its dollar-ness. I've talked about books that were so popular they are now worthless, but what about a comic so unpopular that some folk wouldn't even take it for free? What kind of comic would that be though? Perhaps a book with a writer so unpopular that it got to a point where even seeing his name on a cover made people want to stay far away? A writer who started out pretty well but burned out so astonishingly horrifically that the way his career ended would look worse than a 10-car pile-up on the freeway where every vehicle was a packed clown-car? I mean, who could possibly be that reviled that people...oh wait, yeah, Chuck Austen.

I've actually written about a comic from Chuck Austen before as a Dollar Bin yarn that was a God-awful sequel to an actually decent other series he did. Austen is someone who showed some skill and talent, but basically blew any goodwill he had built-up during a run on ,"X-Men," that could at best be described as, "An utter catastrophe," if we are being polite--if we're just being honest, "Goddamn fucking mess," works better. Austen came onto the X-Men book after Grant Morrison's incredible run (and wrote some, "Uncanny X-Men stuff," too that sucked), which is a change in quality equivalent to going to the house of someone who for months was giving you incredible and passionate love-making(X-Men under Morrison) and then suddenly one day you show-up at their house and they just start punching you repeatedly in the face while screaming, "This is what you like, right? X-Men stories where Nightcrawler is somehow revealed to be a demon-spawn, two X-men have sex in the sky in front of another character's mother, and other stories get shit-on repeatedly? Right? Tell me if you like this!"
Remember that time Austen tried to ruin Nightcrawler?
Clearly I have strong opinions on Chuck Austen's less-than-good work, and I'm actually someone who goes much easier on the guy and feels some of his stuff was good! Other people just like to label him as, "The Absolute Worst," and go on with their day, but the truth is far more complicated, because it always is. Austen is sometimes the absolute worst (his time on, "X-Men,"), but there are occasions he actually shows promise, talent, and otherwise is actually kinda good. His attempt at making-fun of super-heroes and the super-hero industry, "Worldwatch," is...sigh, well, it is not one of those times.

Satire is Hard
Everyone is so terrible.
Being satirical is a skill that is difficult to master. If you are trying to make fun of something by making a parody-version of it you walk a fine-line between being too obvious in your mockery or being so deadpan you just are another copy of the very thing you were trying to take the piss out of. "Worldwatch," was a comic with the kinda-clever idea that it was a graphic-novel adaptation of a super-heroine's tell-all book about her time on the team, "Worldwatch," a U.N sanctioned team of heroes presented to the public as great good guys, but who were actually terrible people--shocking, I know (yes, I'm being sarcastic)!

Austen essentially wanted to make a comic that poked at stuff like, "Stormwatch," or, "The Authority," who were themselves darker and edgy analogues of other comic-heroes. Austen did this by giving us a comic that is basically characters like, "The Authority," behaving terribly like folk in, "The Boys," with an attempt to do the political satire of, "The Ultimates," but failing miserably at it. This shit is a mess, in other words.
The closest the comic comes to making a statement, with boobs included.
All the heroes in, "Worldwatch," are terrible people with it clear an attempt is being made to write them as, "Edgy," but again, Satire is hard. We have a sexist and super-religious male, an Amazonian-type lady who is a real hard-ass, a young and naive speedster-lady, an older male hero whose ex-wife is on the team and basically just slightly different-versions of heroes that already exist, and everyone is a huge jerk. For real, everyone in this comic yells at each other, hits on one another in vain, or has sex with one another because, um, just because, I guess. All the female characters in the book seem to be in a constant state of undress, which is fine to me as someone who appreciates the naked female form as much as anyone else, but the comic's attempt to act like it is making some capital-S, "Statement!" about the sexualization of women in comics is just stupid. Oh, and we throw in a bit about racism that seems to go nowhere besides, "I'm a white lady and my parents hated black men, but you are a sexy black man so I want to have sex with you," as well as a shocking reveal that one of the heroes is hanging out with an enemy!

Austen clearly wanted to make some deep statement about how our fictional heroes we look up to would in fact be terrible people in reality, that heroes are a fascistic power-fantasy, how women in comics are treated as little more than sexual objects, and basically wanted to thumb his nose at the industry and fans that mistreated him (in his mind) so poorly. The thing is, he just made a really bad comic that is the epitome of everything he might be trying to mock. Austen perhaps wanted to show us how in his mind super-heroes were an adolescent power-fantasy...but he just made a comic that reads as if it was written by a violence and sex-obsessed 13-year-old who believes throwing a bunch of, "Fucks," into dialogue is mature. As I keep saying, satire is hard.

A Truncated Treatise
I'm attracted to you, so I can't be racist, right?
I only read the first issue of, "Worldwatch," and it apparently was supposed to be a seven-issue mini-series. It only went for three before ending prematurely due to lack of sales/sheer disinterest, with the publisher, "Wild and Wooly Press," never making anything else as far as I know. This is a treatise that ended-up quite truncated considering it didn't even reach a half-way point in regards to Austen telling his story. Other people out there recognize what Austen was attempting to do with, "Worldwatch," and also observe he kinda struggled to make it clear he was making fun of these sorts of comics, not just trafficking in them. They don't usually give awards for, "Trying really hard," however, so regardless of what Austen intended, we're left with this schlock.

One thing that is especially tragic here is that the pencils by Tom Derenick and inks by Norm Rapmund are quite good, this is some solid art! The problem is, this good art is accompanied by some God-awful writing. Chuck Austen was trying to say something deep and clever about the comic industry and its fans who he felt had treated him so poorly, but only ended-up basically continuing to prove his critics right. It's sad, but we unfortunately don't get too many happy stories when we share a...tale from the dollar bin!

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