If you mix "The Iron Giant" with "The Rocketeer," you think you'd be in for a pretty good ride. You would, if only you'd nail the ending. Unfortunately, Royden Lepp's "Rust" fails to do that, in a spectacular way.
"Rust" starts off nearly 50 years in the past, with a World War II-like battle sequence between man and machine, interrupted only by a mysterious squadron of jet-packed fly boys who swoop in to save the day. Then, we cut to the present where a man is tending to his farm, writing a letter to his father, and trying to rebuild a machine that (I assumed at the start) is something like we saw in the opening battle sequence.
He lives on the farm with his mother and two kids. I'm not sure if those two kids are his or not. They refer to him by his first name. He never refers to them as his children. And, heck, I'm not even sure if the letter he's writing is purely therapeutic or if his father really is still alive and somewhere else. Divorced? Assisted living? In a long-term coma?
So the questions begin to pile up. The frustrating thing about this book is that these questions -- even the most basic, simplest ones -- continue to pile up throughout the book, unnecessarily. And by the time you get to the end of the book, none of them are answered. Not a single one. "Rust" is nearly 200 pages of teasing. It makes "Morning Glories" and "Lost" look like open books, filled with detailed explanations of every plot point.
It gets so bad that a new character is added in the last twenty pages. She's quickly established, something happens to her, and then the book ends. It's the final nail in the coffin for me. This is not a book meant to be enjoyed on its own, but rather as the first frustrating installment of a larger thing that might eventually make clear what it is.
It's a shame, because I do want to know more. I just don't want to waste my time again like this. The main story is about Jet, the new kid on the farm who came roaring in on a jetpack, being chased by an aggressive machine that keeps picking him up and throwing him great distances without injuring Jet. Mystery builds on mystery, though this one is half-answered at one point in a "twist" that's kind of obvious from the start. But the action sequences are mostly well-constructed, with tension rising throughout, and the dramatic moments told with full gusto. Lepp doesn't cheat on the art when it's needed.
Other than that, Lepp's art feels limited. The sepia toned treatment does a great job in giving the book a proper "feel," but his faces are grotesque caricatures, with bodies that look stiff and under-rendered. Backgrounds are simple or absent most of the time, though you can't fault a book for that so much when much of the action happens in a wheat field on flat land.
The lettering is OK, but nothing special. Most dialogue is in squished ovals, probably in an attempt to squeeze them into the wide panels on smaller pages. But there are a number of odd-looking issues with white spacing around the lettering and balloons breaking panel borders for no reason that call attention to themselves.
"Rust" might work if you also have volumes two and three of the series ready to go right afterwards, but there's not even a volume number on the side of the book, so there's no warning that this is just the beginning. You're on your own. It's published as a hardcover by Archaia for $24.99, and is available now.
On the CBR Reviews scale, I'd probably only give it two stars, though there's the possibility that a well-constructed second volume could easily get four stars, even if the overall pacing effect would be awkward. It's just a shame that you need a second volume to explain so much of the first.
In reviewing "Monkeyman and O'Brien" a few weeks back, I found the book to be not as good as I had hoped or remembered. It wasn't just the story, though. It was also the logo on the front cover. For the sake of being a lettering pedant in a bold new ways, let me go over the flaws, as I see them, in the logo.
But, first, The Good Stuff: It's a classic comic book style logo, done for a comic book that's very rooted in comic booky things. It's a monster book with superheroics of a sort and mad science and crazy anthropomorphic creatures. Having the logo look like something you might have seen in a 50s genre book is a good idea. The telescoping logo and swooping letters re things you'd see someplace like in the Superman logo, which it recalls in my mind.
It also spells the characters' names right.
After that, I run out of things nice to say.
The letters are inconsistent. I love hand lettering, and I'm sure this logo was designed by hand. The little inconsistencies are what make hand lettering feel more organic and natural. That's a good thing. This, though, goes too far. The lead "M" in "Monkeyman" is pointed and tall, though the second is flat and wide. We can chalk that up to being a capital letter, I suppose. It happens to the two "O" characters in there, also. But then there are the bottoms of the letters. They never look like any two are on the exact same plane. It might be a visual illusion, but the bottom of the "K" points in a different direction from the bottom of the "Y," which looks to go in the opposite direction.
Where do the letters sit? You'd expect the letters to sit on a single sloping line, but I don't think they do. The angled edges along the bottom of the letterforms don't help any, for sure, but even if you line up their bottom most points, it still feels as if the letters rise up and down at random along that line. I went ahead and drew the line. It looks like the first "M" dips down too low, while the "O" right after it is floating above it. The bottom of the "Y" looks out of perspective, as if it's sitting straight across a line that it doesn't realize is curving beneath it. The bottom of the "N" folds in to accommodate the large "O" underneath it, but that throws off the line on which the letters are sitting. It's too jarring.
And if "O'BRIEN" is meant to sit on a line running straight across the page, then the "B" is sitting too low, and the "N" is doing much the same.
Why are some letters squished together? In the middle of "MONKEYMAN," three characters are joined up -- the "EYM" combo. That's the only time it happens in the logo. It doesn't look good at all. The way the "E" and "Y" blend together, in particular, looks unbalanced. The top of the "E" is fat, and it looks like the bottom half of the "Y" is getting narrower as it gets lower.
The "AND" looks like an afterthought. The "D" looks shorter than the "N," which destroys the zooming effect. Overall, the whole thing is so small that it's likely unnoticeable, but I saw it amidst the sea of everything else going on. The down strokes on the "A" have a different weight from those on the "N" which are fatter than those on the "D." The middle line in the "N" is wider than either upright.
The three dimension part breaks down in "O'BRIEN." Is it just me, or does "IEN" look like it's completely separate from the "BR" in front of it? Those last three letters look huge.
The telescoping doesn't feel consistent. The "K" is the worst offender, perhaps because it's the most exposed. It looks twisted. Check out the way the "N" at the end of "MONKEYMAN" zooms out. It doesn't work. The top line doesn't run parallel to the bottom right corner.
It's not that it's a badly designed logo. I like the idea and the colors, but the execution feels off. It's the death of a thousand papercuts. Given the period of comics it was created in, maybe it was a rush job meant to get the book out in time? Maybe there was no time to go back and clean it up? Maybe a computer-rendered version of it might clean up the glaring imperfections and inconsistencies and technical shortcomings? I hope so.
I'm probably overthinking all of this, but I also know there are people reading this column who aspire to create comics of their own. Maybe one of the ideas in here will help them out somewhere along the line. At least make it this: If you're going to go for an effect, go for it and make it consistent.
The best place to learn all of this type of thing is through Todd Klein's blog and his various Logo Studies. Anyone thinking about designing a logo should read all of those entries first to get an idea for the vocabulary and the concepts behind strong logo design. Klein is the master.
This might come as shocking news to some, so I'll jump right to it: The guy who drew Batman and Catwoman having sex in "Catwoman" #1 has a background drawing erotic comics in Europe.
"Cover Girls" is the new oversized hardcover art book collecting the European works of Guillem March. The nipple count on the book is very high, so it's not for the little ones. But March is a talented illustrator, whose work seems far more inspired by manga and anime than I ever gave it credit for before this. The color work, in particular, reminds me of that style, but it's also apparent in facial features, like some of the bigger eyes.
The problem with the book, though, is that it feels so random. There's cover work, interior work, illustrative work, bits in black and white, some unfinished, some scanned right off the printed page. There's lot of extreme close-ups of panels or images that feel like they're stuck in to fill out pages. Some of it is clearly photo referenced, but there's lot of looser-feeling stuff in here, too. There's an attempt to break it up into a few sections, but by the time I put the book down, I couldn't tell you what they were anymore.
I don't feel like I learned anything about the artist from the book. I want something more substantive. Maybe a reprinting of some of the shorter stories he's done would have worked better, but this book is really only going to be for the die-hard "Catwoman" fans who are interested in seeing what else that series' artist can do with the female form.
The book is nicely printed. The larger size serves the art well. The pages are white and glossy and the art pops off them. The hardcover makes it feel heavier than it really is. The book is listed as 80 pages, though it feels shorter than that.
It should be in stores this week, and carries a $25 price tag.
AND IN CONCLUSION
Next week, maybe I'll like something.
Yes, I'm still enjoying the iPad (third generation), though I haven't done much comic reading with it. I did write part of this column on it, though, thanks to a Blu-Tooth keyboard. I have a lot more comics to explore, though, so I'm sure I'll write about that again soon.
And, of course, the morning my column came out, Comixology did have an update to start recreating its library in a format that's better suited for the Retina Display on the new iPad. We knew it was coming. I'm just happy it came so soon. It's fun to watch the tech press covering comic books, too.
Keep an eye out on the CBR Reviews section this week, as I'm slated to review "The Walking Dead" #95 over there this week.
See you next week!