What follows is an extensive examination of the first two issues of The Rise of Arsenal, published by DC Comics, with special guest Benjamin Marra. Due to the length, it lies underneath the break.
Benjamin Marra: Haha. Yeah, I'm a fan. His art was what intrigued me the most initially. After issue two though...I have some complaints. But those first flashback pages from the first issue are awesome!
TFO: I liked that Arsenal immediately slinked away to "warn...others..." after losing a limb.
Marra: Yeah! That's kind of a weird panel. It felt like it was a bit forced.
TFO: I was surprised to see that Promethus uses magic orange compact discs as weapons. That reminded me of those old plastic disc guns they used to sell when I was a child.
TFO: It's odd to see those discs prefaced by the line "I don't need tricks to beat you". Wouldn't orange compact discs be considered a trick?
Marra: They're not really intimidating as a weapon, no. However, those discs did a great job fucking up Arsenal.
TFO: Good point. If it works, I guess you can do what you like.
Marra: Yeah, but your point is sharper. Compact disc-based weapons remind me of the old G.I. Joe cartoon. They would have been state-of-the-art tech back then. To use them now as some kind of ultra-villainous weapon...it just makes me think of Shipwreck, in a Cobra base, during a Pyramid of Darkness episode.
TFO: Everything about Promethus seems dated to me, from his costume design to weapons, right up to his "i'm evil just cuz" mentality. He would fit right in amongst the old G.I. Joe cartoons. To be perfectly frank, I"m still confused by what it was he wanted in Cry For Justice. Money? Was that it?
Marra: Man, I'm not that up on my Cry For Justice info. I just read that one for the outrageous art, but a lot of the words just bounced off of my brain. Money sounds like a good enough reason.
Doesn't Prometheus look like that character Grant Morrison is obsessed with? Knight, I think is his name? They both have that same portcullis face mask thing.
TFO: Ah, the iron grill mask. Wait, did you say portcullis?
Marra: Exactly. I learned that word from devouring the Song of Ice and Fire.
TFO: Shit, I just realized they used a lens flare effect on the Greg Horn cover where Arsenal's stump is. Amazing choices are being made here.
Marra: Ha! I didn't know it was Greg Horn until today!! Greg Horn is incredible. These covers aren't his best work, however.
TFO: I had to look it up to figure out it was him. Without ass shots, I can't make that kind of connection.
Marra: Looks like they had some other guys coloring his drawings or something. We definitely needed more Arsenal showing his ass. Maybe Black Canary or Chesire too. We was robbed.
TFO: Going through this again, I remain blown away by the two page spread when Arsenal first realizes his daughter is dead. That sequence of everybody crying should be a poster, available for purchase.
Marra: No doubt! Cyborg looks kind of dispassionate, you notice that? Kind of like, "whatever".
TFO: The weird thing about Cyborg in this story is that he's always in the room when people are talking about how completely fucked Arsenal's entire life is by the loss of his arm. Losing limbs and having a fucked up body is, essentially, Cyborg's entire life. I could see him being a little "eh" about the whole thing.
Marra: Yeah, I guess Cyborg has been through a lot. He's persevered, so he knows this is just a down time for Ars.
TFO: Looking at the silent panels page, where Arsenal throws that piece of bed through the glass--did you notice that Hal looks like he's going to kiss Donna? And that Cyborg is more concerned with covering his ears than anything else?
Marra: He's got that bionic hearing, remember? The only way he can modulate its intake is by putting his hands over his ears. I always knew Green Lantern was into Donna.
TFO: But this is clearly not the time or place!
Marra: Donna's foxy, but it's definitely inappropriate. Still, we're talking about a Green Lantern with no moral compass. He's into orgies. And scents. And oils.
TFO: Speaking of Donna's foxiness, there's a portion in issue two where Roy claims she was "whoring around" and she responds by squeezing her breasts together.
Marra: Haahahahahhaha! That was a very powerful scene.
TFO: That's what has me concerned for the series as a whole. They've got to keep topping all these heavy emo-power scenes, and there's just no way that's possible.
Marra: These first two issues are just one big drag of a scene, I agree. It can't be sustained. The issues just have Roy blasting everyone around him in different environments...I feel like the entirety of these two issues could have occupied six pages of one.
TFO: Do you want an actual story to go along with this thing? Because I'm enjoying it mostly because it's a straight delivery of page-after-page of sleazy mean shit, wrecked upon the head of our man Roy Harper. There's no redemption, no lesson, no moral, no look-at-the-hero...it's just cruelty and ridiculous emotional beats, like some kind of action movie that's replaced the big explosions with soap opera twists of fate. If it was six pages of this particular plot, I don't think I'd like it at all. But doing it in this extended way, where they have the time to stop and show me a guy fantasizing about his daughter dying while she's saying his name and begging for his help, and then cutting to a full splash of him rubbing her dead face inside a ridiculously oversized morgue, and then following that issue with ANOTHER fantasy about his daughter dying, but this time she's wearing Crocs and ripping off his arm to reveal that his arm is full of cotton stuffing...good God, that's just an insane way to tell a story, you couldn't exaggerate it further, you can't make it any more horrible.
Marra: Well, when you put it in that frame, I do really enjoy it. I love the melodrama. I love the soap opera aspect of it, it's kind of like a romance comic. Except it has Cyborg in it.
TFO: I can get behind the idea of Rise of Arsenal as a romance comic.
Marra: Yeah, but there's not much romance, other than his romance with his fantasy version of his daughter's death, and a romance with Oxycontin. I just think, when it comes to the amount of pages devoted to one point, the creative economist in me starts barking in my head. Part of me just wishes the whole series would be this exact same note of death and misery and despair. But that "Rise" in the title leads me to believe that Roy is eventually going to fight his way out of it. I kind of don't want him too.
TFO: Did you ever read that DC/Wildstorm crossover by Keith Giffen? Where Zealot decapitates Batman with a sword, and the JSA kills some of the Gen13 people sorta by accident but not really?
Marrra: Whaaat? No, I missed that one!
TFO: I told myself to stop reading that at issue 4, when it became clear they were going to reveal the super-hero team-up aspect and retcon the previous issues, but I fucked up and kept reading, and that's exactly what it did. But for the first 3, it was like this--all mean, all violent.
Marra: Fuuuuck. That sounds awesome. Not the retcon part.
TFO: I'm probably too invested in Rise of Arsenal at this point, because I'm honestly looking forward to him shooting up heroin, but I bet you could skip the last issue and have (hopefully) three perfect sleazeball comics.
Marra: Yeah, you're probably right. Sometimes it's better to just read the books of a series that are the best parts, that are a perfect diamond, before they get erased by future issues. I think that if Rise of Arsenal wasn't a super-hero book I'd like it even more.
TFO: Really? Because a big part of it's bizarre pleasure is that they can do shit like that two-page splash of all the super-heroes at the funeral.
Marra: Dude, I wanted to bring up that spread with you. I've seen that spread in so many comics.
TFO: Dr. Fate is floating in the air at a little girl's funeral. Who fucking does that? That really struck me as rude.
Marra: I know, just stand on the ground, like a man! Supes ain't floating.
TFO: If I had the time or inclination, I'd make a pie chart that showed how many DC Comics have prominently featured funerals over the last twelve months, and it would be a valuable tool.
Marra: I think they should do a book of just funeral shots.
TFO: Ah, like those 90's comics where all the female X-Men characters wear bathing suits.
Marra: I miss those swimsuit issues. So psychedelic. Some real legit artists were doing those things.
TFO: Adam Hughes was always in those.
Marra: Well, Adam Hughes is amazing.
TFO: Man, remember Adam Hughes? He used to do monthly comics all the time. Now it's just the occasional cover.
Marra: Yeah, those guys who get smart get out of the monthly thing as fast as possible. Nowlan. Bolland. I guess they get burned out or something. It seems like nobody can handle that schedule anymore.
TFO: Mark Bagley!
Marra: Bagley is amazing! I think he used to be a technical draftsman for Lockheed Martin, something like that.
TFO: He does remind me of a machine. You ever see the McMaster Carr catalog?
Marra: DUDE! I just ordered a new chair for my drafting table from them! Online though, but I've seen the catalog too and it's intense! They delivered the chair the next day, and shipping was only seven bucks. That's an amazing company. My friend is an architect/interior designer, and when he redid his whole house, he was using them a lot. I flipped through it at his house.
TFO: Yeah, I had to lie a bit to get a copy of the catalog. They don't like sending them out unless you're a big company. Me and this architect I worked with really wanted copies, so we made a fake website at my old job and had them deliver two copies to the office.
TFO: They've got those insanely detailed line drawings of the shit they sell in them, I've always wanted to see a cartoonist who obsessively used that catalog for reference.
Marra: It's an incredible manuscript, I'll bet somebody is using it. You can find all that hand-drawn stuff online. But the printed object is something to behold.
TFO: Yeah, the actual book is such a huge brick of information. It's the bible of industrial equipment.
TFO: They number them too, did you know that? Mine is version 111. I don't know what they're up to now.
Marra: Holy smokes, I didn't know that. Incredible. I continue to hold them in the highest esteem.
TFO: I'd love to find somebody who has an old warehouse, I bet you could find a complete library of these things in the supply office. I'd love to see early drawings of industrial tables and oil drums.
Marra: That would be pretty awesome.
TFO: Speaking of awesome, how fucking genius is it that the second issue of Arsenal references The Man With The Golden Arm?
Marra: Dude, that went over my head! What's the Man With The Golden Arm?
TFO: It's a Frank Sinatra movie where he's a guy trying to get clean off of heroin. Wikipedia!
Marra: Whoa. Interesting. Kind of random, right?
TFO: Yeah, I didn't catch it at first.
Marra: That whole Golden Arm situation, with the nanotech virus infecting Roy's wound...really doesn't jive with me. It's sort of like the more pain gravy on top of Roy. "Okay, we're giving you this new arm, but we've got to jam it right into your infected flesh."
TFO: The second issue is full of all kinds of random. It assumes you know the history of Donna Troy, but just so that you'll understand why Roy is calling her a whore, Ravager is hiding in a tree during the funeral, everybody is wearing a costume except Roy...
Marra: Yeah, it's set up so that Roy gets a chance to go off on the entire DC Universe, character by character. The everybody-but-Roy costume thing is pretty awesome.
TFO: The arm thing reads like an uncooked rip-off of Wolverine. Remember how they'll occasionally mention how much it hurts Logan to pop his claws?
Marra: That hurts Wolverine?! I had no idea.
TFO: I imagine you're supposed to feel like that's part of being a hero, causing oneself physical pain on a semi-regular basis. I'm not positive, but I believe there's a story where they claim that the constant pain is part of the reason he's so grumpy.
Marra: Definitely, that makes sense. Like self-flogging. Still, I kept wondering why they don't just amputate Arsenal's infected flesh. I guess that's asking the wrong question.
TFO: It's understandable to ask though. Arsenal takes the arm off and on a lot throughout the second issue.
Marra: Totally, it just slides right off. I hope that the next issue delves deeper into the darkness that surrounds Roy. I kind of hope he doesn't ever put on his costume again.
TFO: I guess this is supposed to be, in part, about him officially abandoning his Red Arrow identity? I can support that, because "Red Arrow" was always a horrible idea. Opened the door for a "Blue Arrow" or a "Golden Arrow". If he returns to the Arsenal identity full bore though...they're going to run right back into the problem that a guy is calling himself Arsenal and still not killing people. I can't stand it when a guy has lots and lots of guns but only shoots people in the legs, or uses rubber bullets.
Marra: Absolutely. He should just carry mace. I get the feeling that Arsenal is going to abandon his bow and arrow as primary weapon. There's a bit of foreshadowing when he was in the backyard. He's so disgusted with not being able to fire an arrow into the bullseye that he snaps his bow and throws that. And he hits the bullseye.
TFO: Man, if they had an issue where he only used broken bows as weapons, that would be incredible.
Marra: He'd have a quiver of bows that he snaps on his knee before he flings them at villains. All hopped up on Oxycontin.
TFO: Jesus. You know, that's the thing about these comics. They really can read like the end result of two guys goofing around and coming up with random weird shit for super-heroes to do.
TFO: "I've got it! Whenever he pulls off his golden arm, there's yellow goo everywhere!"
Marra: Yeah, there's no real explanation to that fluid. I assumed it was lubricant. Maybe the colorist was supposed to make it blood.
TFO: "He hallucinates that his daughter is falling into a pit, and she yanks his arm off, and get this: his arm is full of cotton candy and machine parts!"
Marra: Maybe the stuffed-with-cotton imagery is a reference to something specific?
TFO: I guess it must be, I'm just not sure what.
Marra: Maybe it represents how fragile Roy feels at this stage in his life.
TFO: That artist only handles the first four pages, so maybe it was just a weird choice on his end. And who knows whether the colorist did their job correctly, that kind of work seems like an afterthought with these sorts of comics.
Marra: Those first pages are all Mike Mayhew, he's another Greg Land-style guy. Heavy photo-referencing.
TFO: Mayhew did this New Avengers Annual that was one of the weirdest looking American comics I've ever seen.
Marra: Sometimes I really like heavy photo-referenced comic art, but sometimes it just grates on me.
TFO: I wish more art cartoonist/historian types would read these things and take a stab at explaining what they think they're trying to accomplish. Guys like Art Speigleman, people like that. I feel like there's a segment of comics readers that have no real idea how strange some of these gutter-model DC/Marvel books actually get.
Marra: Yeah, they just dismiss them outright. It's a weird result of editorial mandate and sincere attempt to create an emotionally powerful story.
TFO: The way these kinds of comics tell stories does strike me as being pretty unique. I can't think of any type of entertainment that has to do this kind of stuff. Maybe soap operas?
Marra: I think soap opera television is pretty close. I was just watching this Canadian primetime soap set in Calgary, Alberta, called Wild Roses. It's fucking awesome. Sort of a Dallas-type show about oil industrial espionage and teen angst. And family.
TFO: I don't know much about soap operas, but that sounds different than what I'd imagine they're about. Here, with Rise of Arsenal--these kind of jumps, from Mayhew to Borges to Sharpe--it makes me wonder what a soap opera would be like if it was directed by four different people who are using four different types of cameras.
Marra: Totally. That's all for practical purposes, I'll bet. But it does give it a strange aesthetic tone. I was reading this Modern Warfare book by David Lapham, where he shares art duties with a different guy who has the total opposite of his style...it feels weird, man. The art in Rise of Arsenal isn't as jarring, but it's very bizarre. I'd like it if your multi-director soap opera used different make-up, cinematography & art direction for all of its scenes.
There should be more straight up soap opera books, but I guess super-hero books like Rise of Arsenal fill that void.
TFO: Yeah, but this also has a definite end point, it seems clear that they want to take Arsenal somewhere. There's a specific place that he's supposed to arrive at, like this comic's story was created to introduce a splash page where you see his new costume. But that costume page is already drawn, it's framed above the writer's desk. "I have to get him to that picture."
Marra: Yeah, and the costume is designed by committee, no doubt. Or Alex Ross. The story is just a bridge, to get Roy from one place to another, where he'll play a specific role in future events.
TFO: I'm sure part of the goal is also to make the reader support the concept that Roy "matters", because there's always the underlying idea that these characters could support a monthly series.
Marra: Man, I hope there is! I just hope that Roy slips back into some serious relationship with drugs and depression, but masks it better from his fellow crime-fighters. He has, you know, a quiet relationship with heroin. He could configure that new arm of his to be a giant syringe. Why can't there be more super-drugs in super-hero comics? I guess Bane uses super-drugs.
TFO: Venom, yeah. The original Venom story is fucking awesome. Bruce Wayne getting sober in the cave, no help.
Marra: Duuuuude. I read those issues.
TFO: Alfred crying and wanting to help him.
Marra: Trevor Von Eden inked by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
TFO: He walks out, gigantic Santa Claus beard, still wearing the batsuit.
Marra: Perfect. That's a very, very, very underrated series.
TFO: It's underrated because people are stupid. Why wouldn't you want to see steroid Batman fight a fucking shark?
Marra: You put it any shark into a story and it instantly becomes awesome.
TFO: In a perfect world, most super-hero comics would be made up of things like that, a guy using Magic Steroids and fighting sharks, all because he's upset about the time he wasn't able to military press 500 pounds and save a little blond girl in a sewer. What are you looking for them to be, if not that? That should be considered the actual goal.
Marra: Dude, you're absolutely right. If I were an editor, I'd always be like "make it crazier, weirder, more intense, more sharks, etc."
TFO: I have books and movies and life if I want to study the human condition, there's nothing in life that I can learn about myself or humanity from a super-hero comic. I can watch Without Limits and Friday Night Lights another thousand times if I'm craving inspiration.
Marra: That's an interesting statement.
TFO: Would you say that you have? I didn't read these at a very young age, so that might just be my perspective.
Marra: No, I totally agree with you. But I never thought about it like that.
TFO: Morality plays never interested me. It was always the violence, the drawings. That comes first.
Marra: Totally, for me too. Images of violence and sex from comics are seared into my brain. It's hardly ever the ideas. Born Again was a pretty awesome idea though.
TFO: Definitely. Okay, Rise of Arsenal. One thing I'd like to hear more about from you is those complaints you alluded to earlier, regarding the second issue.
Marra: Yeah, the second issue. The art seemed a lot more rushed. Hurried. It just didn't sing the way the first pages did, the ones that sold me on the series in the first place. And I can see that the creatives are trying to push Arsenal to the brink, but it's kind of pedestrian when you consider the realm in which the characters are operating. Well...I guess blowing up a city is pretty big. But whatever, I can wrap my mind around that, and I want something that is going to blow my mind.
TFO: It's only big if you make me believe it's big. The way this comic provides information, my only concern about a city blowing up is that some little girl died at the bottom of an empty crater.
Marra: I keep thinking that, while I love the emotional exploitation, why do super-hero comics try so hard to show the worst behaviors in their heroes? I wish they could show the best we could be, or show some kind of fantasy like in the Death Wish movies when a Paul Kersey fucking regulates on all of crime when his family is butchered.
[Sidebar discussion regarding Charles Bronson films, including The Mechanic & 10 To Midnight. Agreement is reached: both are awesome, inspirational.]
TFO: But is Arsenal's behavior "bad"? He seems like he spent most of his recent time being a nice guy, and then his whole world collapsed. Last year, he was in love and working at a soup kitchen on the side. Now he's following up getting dumped by losing his arm and daughter. Or am I misunderstanding what you mean about "worst behaviors"?
Marra: Ah, see, I don't have much of a reference point for Arsenal since I wasn't too familiar with his character to date. I guess by "worst behaviors" I mean his lack of intestinal fortitude. Lashing out at all the folks around him. Turning to self-medication. Despairing, giving up hope. Giving up on power, instead of focusing on the next mission like a true warrior. Focusing hatred and anger in a way that makes him a more effective weapon against his enemies.
TFO: I don't know, if my little girl died and my arm was seeping yellow shit while Cyborg judged me and some girl showed up at my kid's funeral in her super-hooker outfit and started giving me "advice" while Dr. Fate flew around the cemetery in his silly banana toilet bowl hat, I'd be charlie crybaby too. And he did freak out at Green Arrow for stealing "his" kill.
They should have had a close up shot of spittle forming at the corner of his mouth when he was saying all that stuff.
Marra: Yeah, that was pretty cool, although it was another thing I didn't really understand. I guess Prometheus had it coming, but poor Ollie. It would have been cool if the other members of the JLA had said "Ollie, we understand why you did what you did, heck, we absolutely approve, but we can't approve of it in public, you know? So we're going to put on a little show, put you in jail for like....a week, then we'll let you out quietly and everything will be like it was."
TFO: Ah, you haven't read the Green Arrow issue where he gets out of jail, have you?
Marra: Nope. I can't keep up with all the threads. How did he get out? Break out?
TFO: He goes on trial for murder, and after all the testimony and evidence, the jury found him not guilty because they all totally agreed with what he did.
Marra: Awesome! That's exactly how it would shake it out in real life. He might have to pick up trash on the side of the highway for a little bit though.
TFO: Well, then the judge got mad and said "I won't reverse the jury's decision, even though we all know that the jury is ignoring this man's guilt, but I can BANISH YOU, OLIVER QUEEN." So he's banished from the city.
Marra: Oh, that's a bummer. Well, justice was served. Prometheus got served.
TFO: When he got outside, Hal Jordan said "This was a bad case, but I guess you sort of learned your lesson." That part didn't make any sense.
Marra: That's crazy. Like Hal Jordan can say that.
TFO: Ollie obviously didn't learn his lesson. But Hal Jordan is gross and has no real morals.
Marra: He's really into lava lamps. And blacklight posters. And spinning beds.
TFO: Seconded. So--are there levels at which you're enjoying these comics where you feel like you're kind of condescending to it, that you're enjoying it because of the weird badness of its choices? Is that your primary goal with them, or is it more of an even split, where you're genuinely enjoying it for some of its base qualities? For me, i'm only into how extreme it is, to the point where I'm not sure if it's even possible for this to be "taken seriously", where I can't really see that being the actual point. It feels like it was created with that sort of "so bad it's good" audience in mind, like a sleazy reality show that knowingly embraces the audience who only watches it to say "I can't believe these people, they're so fucked up and weird."
Marra: It's difficult for me, when I'm reading comics, not to deconstruct the methods and choices that went into making them, to not apply my own creative philosophies during the reading experience. I have a hard time looking at comics and not critiquing the decisions that went into their production. I love movies that are "so bad, they're good," like I love Russ Meyer's work, which might fall into that category, but I just think they're genius. I love Michael Bay's movies. Transformers 2 was my favorite movie of last year. But with comics, I guess because I make them too, it's hard for me to appreciate comics like Rise of Arsenal for the sheer badness of them.
I do think that the intent of Rise of Arsenal is very serious in its delivery sort of like an After School Special is serious in its motives. I dig all the unadulterated absurdity of the levels of punishment they put the character through. But I can't get into it the same way I can with Faster Pussy Cat, Kill Kill or Texacs Chainsaw Massacre. Rise of Arsenal seems seems overly thought out while appearing to think of itself as original in concept. And I know that the writer is following a larger outline created for him to follow by DC's upper level editors and writers, so while I'm reading it I see it's just a mess of too many cooks in the kitchen.
TFO: I see what you're saying, although I do question if there is a serious intent here. I don't get a sense that there's a clear exit point for any of this. Even if Arsenal "rises", that doesn't mean that there's a different type of story waiting for him on the other end. It's still going to be like this, I just suspect that it won't be anywhere near as extreme.
Marra: Definitely. His ride to the bottom is going to be far more extreme than whatever his rise is.
TFO: Even when he "rises", it's still going to be more degradation, more heroes arguing at funerals.
Marra: Totally. Even with a series like Rise, I know the same sort of torture awaits another B-list character down the road. Maybe I've just been burned too often by super-hero comics before?
TFO: That's the common response, the "got burned before", but I'd be curious to know if there really were that many super-hero funerals in previous years. It seems like these stories are exploding in number.
Marra: There should be a study done for how many double-page spreads there have been in the last ten years versus the previous fifty years in comics.
TFO: I'd read that. Do you actively seek out these Arsenal kinds of comics? Wolverine crying comics?
Marra: No, they repel me mostly. I can't stand it when heroes act like wimps.
TFO: It's not something I did before, but I'll admit it's become a thing in the last few years.
Marra: I think I could warm up to it.
TFO: It's sort of like watching the movie "The Happening". Horrible things, but delivered in a way that's fascinating to me because I don't understand what desires or needs the filmmakers were trying to meet with the choices that were made.
Marra: Is that the most recent M. Night movie?
TFO: Yeah, it's the one with Mark Wahlberg.
Marra: It looked pretty awesome. The marketing was strong for that one. But then I heard people say they were disappointed with it.
TFO: It's very strange, but totally compelling. "You stole my lemmin' drink!"
Marra: I love horrible things. Horribly executed things. They have an endearing quality to me. For some reason horribly-executed super-hero books from Marvel or DC are the exception and rarely endear themselves to me.
TFO: That's what sort of bugs me about blanket condemnations for super-hero comics. There's these specific books--Rise of Arsenal, Azrael, that New Avengers Annual--and they're sincerely weird in their badness, unusual enough that they merit a different lens than the generic "spandex sucks" remarks. These comics are bad in a very specific, contemporary way, they're behaving in a way that has no distinct parallel. Their audience is infinitesimal, and it seems to be made up mostly of people who are pursing a "what the fuck" kind of sensation.
Marra: I completely agree. It is hard to find them through the rest of the pile. I really enjoyed those last couple of issues of The Outsiders I read, the ones where Didio was the writer. Those were absolutely bizarre.
TFO: Oh, explain that. I gotta hear that, I've only read the first one he did.
Marra: Well, I'm not familiar with the characters, because my knowledge is just from casual reading. But it's just insane stuff, like a scene where a character creates the smell of a fart in a restaurant to embarrass another character. And some of the dialog is downright mind-numbingly awesome. Of course, there's the artwork, which is crazy.
TFO: Is it still Don Kramer?
Marra: Yeah. I really love that guy's stuff. It's all very stiff and sort of trying to be like John Cassady. It's not really getting there. I think he's developed his own voice though.
TFO: Do you read any of the super-hero stuff that's more generally accepted as being "good"? When we've talked about it before, it seems like your concerns with this genre are specific to these weirder, close-to-cancellation titles.
Marra: Yeah, I tend to like the fringe stuff. I don't really read much of the stuff that's considered "good" because I don't trust my tastes will be consistent with the overall consensus on super-hero books. I think I'll eventually check out Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, but in the meantime I'll just read Curt Swan-drawn 70's stuff. I also have picked up stuff that I've heard was really good, then I've read it and not connected with it at all. Nothing like that is immediately coming to mind.
TFO: What draws you to something like Outsiders? Rise of Arsenal?
Marra: Artwork is always my gateway into stuff like that. But that's because I connect with it immediately. Then I look for the concepts in the story, the story's construction, the execution.
TFO: What caught your eye in Rise of Arsenal # 1? Was it the arm-cut-off scene?
Marra: Yeah, I saw the preview pages and was like "I have to check out that book." I'm always hungry for a monthly super-hero book that has art I can get into. I just picked up a bunch of X-Factor back issues, recent ones, because I really liked the art. I haven't read the stories yet though.
TFO: What was it that burned you on the second issue's art?
Marra: That funeral scene, where Roy runs away from everybody and starts throwing pills into his mouth. It's very awkwardly staged. It doesn't feel right when he lunges off his feet at Mia. There was something that was right on with those first few pages of the first issue. The inking was nicely done, the artwork was tight, pretty well-staged, blocked. The rendering was cool, I really like self-indulgent rendering. All that stuff got pushed aside in the second issue. The intensity of the drawings were gone.
TFO: My favorite drawing so far that wasn't directly related to something sleazy/weird is the way Roy's face is depicted right after that funeral scene you're describing. The way he's got a shadowy Superman spit curl on his forehead while one eye bulges out, Edgar Allan Poe style, because he's staring at his daughter's coffin--it really pops, it's great.
Marra: There's a strange quality to these drawings that I do like a lot when the artist is really invested. It's hard finding artwork that appeals to me in the super-hero books in general, a lot of the time it's simply because of the subject matter in the story. Right now, there seems to be an imbalance between the power of the writers and the power of the artists. It's all about the writers. All these books are driven by writing talent and not by art. So you get all these talking heads.
Marra: It's the opposite of the early 90's. Not to mention that editorially, these stories are mapped out so rigidly in a way that makes them all connect, so the writers have to weave a story between plot points that they're required to establish. The resulting stories don't appeal to me.
TFO: I can barely comprehend what's happening in Spider-Man comics, but it's been a consistently gorgeous book. I haven't truly enjoyed, or really even understood, any of the writing, but Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido, Lee Weeks, Paul Azaceta, Bachalo are all doing amazing work....that's a good looking comic book.
Marra: Martin and Pulido are modern masters, those guys really know what the hell they're doing. Same goes for Lee Weeks, who's totally underrated. Good for the Spider-Man editors for recognizing that level of ability and putting them on the books.
TFO: Weeks is one of those guys who never seems to have been given credit for how good he really is.
Marra: He's unbelievably good! But he's not that flashy. He's all substance.
TFO: Part of the problem is that he's always getting stuck with geriatric stories, really banal, tedious shit.
Marra: Yeah, he doesn't get that much sexy shit to do.
TFO: We should probably try to finish this up, I'm thinking. What's your final statement on Rise of Arsenal # 1-2?
Marra: Rise of Arsenal is a totally awesome demonstration of the ridiculously outrageous levels of melodramatic despair and suffering endured by some super-heroes. While part of me loves the exploitative nature of it all, it ultimately rings hollow for exploring territory already well tread upon. Especially when the story takes place in a world where insane, bizarre ideas can and should be pursued. It just ends up being like a super-hero After School Special, shocking for the sake of moralizing instead of for entertainment.
I sound a little serious.
TFO: That's why I have images.
Marra: The art was awesome, but seems to have succumbed to the time pressure all comics artists feel.
TFO: Here look at this.
Marra: Dude. Is that something from Road Warrior?
TFO: Goddammit. Yep, hold on a second.
Marra: That guy is a tremendous visual! So scary!
TFO: I keep a picture of Lord Humungus from Road Warrior nearby at all times for moments just like this.
Marra: Road Warrior is a perfect film.
TFO: It's top ten, unimpeachable and brilliant. Here we go.