Friday, November 27, 2015

Second Rate Heroes #1

More like “Failed to Rate” Heroes

When Foundation Comics existed it was literally next door to me. Although they folded up shop some time ago, these guys (actually guys and gal) were based out of Grapevine. Grapevine is my backyard. Foundation Comics and the Second Rate Heroes title are both so obscure that all my normal channels of info-finding have come up dry. Like Rabid Rachel before it, this is a book that comic history erased from its collective memory. And again maybe that’s for the best.

What I do know about the book and the company is that there only appears to have been two issues printed. Information provided in the back pages of the first issue reveal that the company was founded in 1994. The group was approached by “several” independent companies to print Second Rate Heroes, but all of them were rejected while writer Christopher Gronlund and artist Cynthia Faye Griffith (later to be husband and wife, so at least something good came out of this) of Foundation Comics got a few issues in the can. The group didn’t want to move too fast or grow too large too soon, preferring to make good with one book before moving on to others. All this sounds like an excellent business philosophy.

Sadly the product they were going to produce wasn’t all that great. The first issue was all art/no ads at premium price for books in 1995. The plotline moved agonizingly slow, even when compared to today’s decompressed story crawlers. I’ve watched glaciers that moved faster than the tale in this book. There are NO villains in the first issue. No fighting either. The most exciting thing that happens is a car crash on an icy road, and even that is pretty tame. The entire book is dull, dull, DULL.

Worse yet, Gronlund feels compelled to introduce eight characters and then give them absolutely nothing to do. The back pages let us in on a little secret that might explain why there is so little going on:

We came up with The Mighty Mighty Lemur and Nicole first. They were characters we created for a role playing game and when we decided to do an ongoing series, we couldn’t wait to use them in the book.

Ugh! The major problem I have with using characters from a role playing game is that this leads to the writer having a degree of familiarity with those characters that may not translated to the audience. It’s easy to know what superguy X’s origin is when you’ve played that character for the last 3 years. What ends up happening is that instead of showing us background on these two characters, the writer assumes that we know as much about them as he does. This leaves a huge gap in the storytelling that no one gets around to filling.

The second problem I have with the book is that when it isn’t less interesting than plucking belly-button lint or introducing characters without providing info on them is that it’s painfully unfunny. It has a cleverness that kicks you repeatedly in the balls without any remorse. Badly done transitions, over-the-top scene setting and characters uttering lines that make you want to disavow knowledge of the book. Don’t believe me? Take gander at our intro to the issue and see if you think anyone older than ten would find it witty.

The first two text boxes are fine and would have made a worthy intro. Next up could have come some location setup and badly, badly needed background narration or story direction. Instead we get a stream of consciousness that sounds like it came from a 12 year-old. The art here, as elsewhere in the book, is clear and shows a bit of promise. Unfortunately the panels that follow aren’t given enough action to keep them interesting or show us anything new. There’s no breaking with standard comic conventions happening here. Like a bland soup, they appear to be missing something. Salt maybe? Who knows? Here is our first contestant on “characters who might actually do something by our fifth issue”: Nicole Claudel, the female pro-hockey player.

I guess Darcy Wakaluk let another one get past him. And yes, you read that correctly. Nicole’s a female pro athlete playing in the male league. And as the first ever female pro hockey player, she’s treated as a class act all the way around by the writer. A true sportsman’s sportswoman. Here she is showing that sportman-like conduct while answering the age-old question “How hard is it being the first woman in the NHL?”

That’s true grace right there. So glad the author didn’t take the opportunity to portray the character as some kind of “fly off the handle” nutjob. That might end up ruining any chance of the audience connecting with the first and only character in the book up to this point. Ugh! Professional athletes don’t act like this. Except maybe Mike Tyson. And nobody wants to read about a female Mike Tyson.

We need a second character to take our attention away from Nichole, and fast. Enter The Mighty, Mighty Lemur. Lemur dresses like an American Indian covered in tribal tats while sporting dreadlocks and a giant furry striped tail. He’s a trombone player in the hockey rink’s ska band and I guess an ex-superhero. That part’s not explained. So, Nichole asks the question that would be on everyone’s minds at this point: What’s his deal?

And she gets an answer in the form of a lame punchline. One of the two characters that actually might have some background worth showing us and that’s about all the explanation we get. That and this little gem of wisdom.

So apparently this guy has a rich superhero history and exploring it gets dismissed with that line. All I can say is that they better be leading up to something good if we are going to just gloss over who raccoon tail is and what’s in his past. Sadly they aren’t.

All we get is a lame buildup to how Lemur decides to start his own superhero team. The more I think about the high-sticking chick and the fluffy-butted wannabe Flea reject, the less I care about them. As if the writer heard my prayers, we switch to Kate Stuart who has recently transplanted from Texas to Chicago. Sadly, like all Texans, she has no concept of how to use a car’s window defroster correctly (hint: turn on the air conditioner).

No, Texan’s aren’t this dumb. We can use ice scrapers too! (Most of us, anyway.) Poor Kate’s truck tumbles down a hill in a scene that could almost count as action, except it’s too short and lacks detail. Then, with her truck pinned to a tree she sits immobilized while her legs catch on fire. No, I have no idea why ramming the front of your car into a tree would result in a fire in the passenger compartment of any car made since the late 1920’s. There’s a whole host of safety features to prevent this, but I’m not going to bore you with details. Let’s just work with the writer here, people. 

So, with cuts on both cheeks (from what? Never mind. Letting it go and working with the writer...), Kate uses a newfound awesome power of looking constipated to break her truck free of the tree. Look at this! An actual superpower! Woo Hoo!

Mental powers do make for lametastic viewing. Not only that, but Kate’s little push frees the front of the car from the tree only to have the trunk fall and crush the truck’s cab. She’s killed instantly and spared from having to appear next issue. 


She could only wish to be so lucky. No thanks to this passing superhero who tries to get her out.

That’s Sigma Chi-Guy folks. I’m not sure if he’s a flying math geek or a frat boy uberman. What I am sure of is that the author won’t be providing any background on him this issue. Surprise! I’m right. I don’t even have a clue what his superhero handle is because…wait for it…THE AUTHOR HASN'T TOLD US WHAT IT IS BY THE END OF ISSUE 1!!! I’m also right in thinking that making it this far into the book without some kind of inappropriate dick joke was just too long.

Sigma Chi, who’s first name is Brian (whoever heard of a supe giving out their secret identity instead of saying “I’m Batman” or whatever?), is completely ineffectual. He flies, yes, but he can’t figure out simple physics. Things like trying a car’s door before attempting to, and failing miserably at, move the huge tree trunk out of the way so he can break in the front windshield. He’s suppose to be their “joke” character, but in the end the joke is on the audience.

Our newest Jean Grey wannabe is a bit smarter than that and exits the car via a door. This begs the question “why didn’t she do this before he arrived?” I have no answer and I’m certain the artist and writer have none either. It might have been painful or something. To be completely fair, there are two sound effects, namely “AAAAA!” and “Shrack!”, in the panel before she appears outside the car, neither of which makes it clear what happened. I can’t figure out if I should blame the artist for not giving us a visual clue as to what happened or the writer for expecting us to make an inference as to what occurred. I’m splitting the blame and cursing them both. Sigma Chi flies off with the young lady who complains that she can’t feel her legs although she appears to be walking just fine.

Next we shift to Colonel Courageous, who is Gronlund’s “tip of the hat” to Golden Age Characters. When we first encounter him, he’s been retired for several years and is vegging out watching Wheel of Fortune. His background is established on our intro shots, which is shockingly well done for once.

Then these guys in hats show up and tell him they have work for him to do. “One last job” or some such. Whatever it is they want is kept secret from us, they don’t have names and aren’t identified as “good guys” or “bad guys” through their actions. While this is suppose to make the whole meeting sinister and intrigue us, just the opposite happens. The whole scene is written so sparsely that it appears even the author doesn’t know what he’s going to do with these walking hat stands and so he’s keeping them purposely vague until he can invent a reason for them to be in the story.

Whoa! A character with a backstory, motivation and the thinnest bit of characterization. Things are looking up for the book. Quick, we can’t have that. Let’s introduce two characters with the barest of details. How? Let’s start with an airport.

Ok, I’m already developing a “who cares” attitude to all this. Now give me a new character and throw in an obligatory swear word so we know the book is pretentiously adult and edgy. To make it better, have it be ambiguous as to whether the text boxes are the character’s assessment or the narrators. Also, try to move the plot along as little as possible.

Good, good. I’m beginning to drift in and out of consciousness. Maybe another curse word and just leaving the chick in the airport for a whole page will do it for me.

Almost went under there. Add in someone equally boring and you might have me.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Success! I’m in a coma! 

These two ladies talk about how they like fairy tales, one complements the other on her new car and then on the drive to Mary’s apartment, Shelly discovers Lemurs ad for a new superhero team in the newspaper. There’s also some conversation about how good Mary is doing at her job and whether Shelly should apply to work with her at her coffee shop. It’s three pages of sheer boredom. Luckily the issue ends at that point.

I’m really sorry that Second Rate Heroes doesn't rate any higher with me. I’m sure that my assessment was common. While I have no knowledge of how long it lasted, I can surmise that it didn’t make it to issue 3. Remember how careful the author/artist team were being about having enough issues ready to go? I think they took that a bit too far. The back page mentions that readers should look for the next issue to be in their shops IN THE NEXT 90 DAYS! Can you imagine waiting three months for a book with a story that dragged along this slowly. No way what little audience the book did garner was going to wait around for something delivered quarterly.

1 comment:

  1. The art for this one was pretty nice, for a micro-press outfit... I detect a Dodson influence in some of the faces. They may have perhaps been best served just releasing a graphic novel when they finished the story they wanted to tell. If the big companies can't get away with a quarterly... there's no way a micro-press would.


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