Sometimes it's hard to fathom how comics companies market their comics. This week, "True Believers #1" arrives to almost no visible fanfare. Featuring an all-new cast and an all-new concept, it's sad to say that you can guarantee, regardless of quality, that the book will sink almost without trace after being read by almost no-one. For previous entries in this category, see "B-Sides", "Loners," and "Livewires."
The concept of "True Believers" is an odd one â€"- a group of four superhero media-activists who eschew celebrity status, working behind-the-scenes to use their powers to dig up dirt on the big names behind the heroics, putting whatever they find on their blog to name and shame. Imagine Matt Drudge meets Rich Johnston, with superpowers, and you're pretty much there in terms of the plot.
Speaking of plot, there's a lot of it crammed into this issue. There's a lot of everything, in fact. Countless new faces, tons of panels per page, and word balloons which, by today's standards, read like virtual essays. You could argue that this dense storytelling represents good value for money, but I personally found myself being buried under the amount of new information I was being expected to absorb from long, dry monologues, not least the identity of the principal cast. Presumably Bates is aware of the "show, don't tell" maxim for storytelling, but if so he shows little hint of that here, describing the powers and identities of much of the team as a SHIELD briefing without the audience ever seeing most them in action.
With a brief example of what the True Believers actually do, and stock elements of a government conspiracy thrown in, the next issue tease promises to expose Reed Richards for some as-yet-unknown shady dealings. It makes an amusing cover parody, but it's the kind of story where the outcome seems predetermined -â€" after all, it's unlikely Marvel would let Reed be shown involved with anything as untoward as the bikini fight club shut down in this issue, and that in itself suggests the team are being set up to fail with only the second assignment we see them on. It's an odd choice of storytelling direction.
To its credit, "True Believers" is an original and timely concept, but the weak execution doesn't carry it well. Bates' craft seems to be a little rusty at best, and feels more than a little outdated at times. Meanwhile, Gulacy's art style varies wildly in tone, and his page compositions struggle to keep up with the demands being placed on him â€" though not to single him out, because any artist would struggle to fit 15 panels on one page and still maintain a good flow.
Unfortunately, when a miniseries as under-promoted as "True Believers" hits the shelves, it's got to grab every reader it can get and not let them go. The only way it's going to avoid becoming the next "B-Sides" or "Livewires" is through extremely good word of mouth. Without a major twist or hook to get people talking, the series seems already resigned to being nothing more than average, and at this level that's simply not enough.