Today, Mikyzptlk and Patrick are discussing Threshold 1, originally released January 16th, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: When I first learned I’d be writing about Threshold, I was intrigued because I’m always excited to try out new comics. Unfortunately, Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual 1 happened and I suddenly began dreading this write-up. The GL:NG Annual was essentially the prologue of the main feature in Threshold, and even though I kept an open mind when reading it, I couldn’t help but remember the disappointment and frustration I felt just a short week ago. Those things are easy to remember as this series continues to have the same problem that the Annual had in that it’s WAY too wordy. Worst of all, the issue begins by committing the cardinal story telling sin of telling instead of showing.
The full title of this book (at least during this first arc) is actually Threshold: The Hunted. It’s a kind of game that is played on this alien planet where most of the action of the book takes place. I think it might be called the planet Hoogivsafuck, but I could be wrong. Anyway, “The Hunted” is a game, and the issue starts with the most fun part of ANY game, the rules! That’s right, the rules. Here, just take a look.
Are you done reading it? Oh, you didn’t read it? Well, don’t worry about it because it has absolutely NO BEARING on the rest of the issue. But I’ll get into that later. We find the “deep cover” Green Lantern, Jedia Caul on a busy city street when he’s immediately recognized even though he’s out of costume and has changed his appearance somewhat. While on the run he meets a woman by the name of Ember who offers her assistance They run off together narrowly escaping various hunting parties. I guess Ember starts asking too many questions so Caul runs her off but feels bad about it afterwards. Then the story is interrupted by some commercials playing on the space-internet because, I’m assuming, there was no better way to transition to the other space characters featured in this book. Those characters being “Stealth” and “Ric Starr, Space Ranger.” Starr is gathering the various “Hunted” in hopes of working together to escape the game unscathed. They’ve started chipping away at the planet’s defenses and he is confident that they’ll find a way out alive. Unfortunately for them, they’ve already been surrounded by a gang of hunters.
Right, so this issue starts off on the wrong foot as Keith Giffen dedicates an entire page to boring rules that could have easily been shown to us instead of told. Except, these particular rules of the game don’t actually apply to ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THIS ISSUE. By the time the issue has started, Caul has already been on the planet long enough that he’s passed the “grace period” mentioned in the rules. The rules even go so far as to explain that if one actually does find a “contestant” before the grace period ends that they end up taking their place. As I forced myself to read the rules, I assumed that this would be a way that Caul would at least attempt to use to escape. But, as I just explained, Caul’s already past the grace period. SO WHAT WAS THE POINT??? The other contestants are also past the grace period so they can’t use it either. Granted, Giffen could be planning on introducing a character that would be able to take advantage of that rule, but then what? Would they just free themselves from the game? How would that help Caul or the others? Seriously Mr. Giffen, why force me to read through your boring rules if you aren’t even going to play around with them? And if you are planning to, why not introduce the rules to us organically throughout the course of the story?
The other problem I had with this issue is its wordiness. Giffen’s word balloons are nearly bursting to pieces with all the words he’s cramming into them. By the time I’m done reading a single page, I feel like I need to take a break! Okay, that may be an exaggeration but he’s simply putting too many words into the mouths of his characters. And who likes to have words put in their mouths? NOBODY. Take the following page for example.
Is ALL that dialog really necessary to get the point across? I submit that it isn’t. There is even a page proceeding this that also needlessly drags out this entire scene, which is simply to introduce this slug-like character who is in cahoots with Lady Styx. If this character was interesting or even funny in some way (other than his appearance), then I could see the point of wanting to spend some time with the character. As is, however, I couldn’t wait to be done with these pages, and I really couldn’t care less about the character. I mean, I should at least hate this guy right? Speaking of words, another problem that was carried over from the GL:NG Annual was the alien slang that’s being used. At one point in the book, the character Ember utters the following phrase: “You ever clap an orb on their top muck?” WTF does that mean?!? It’s completely indecipherable as far as I can tell, and all of this alien slang is making the story that much harder to read.
Tom Raney is about the only thing I enjoyed in the main feature. He immediately redesigns Caul into a character that at least looks more endearing than he did when he was first introduced. Take a look at how he was drawn in GL:NG (left) versus Threshold (right).
Giffen is definitely trying to get us on board with this character by implying that there is more going on underneath Caul’s gruff exterior and Raney does a decent job of illustrating that here. His other characters also have a lot of visual variety so it’s clear who is who and what is going on. Unfortunately, none of that is really going to matter unless Giffen starts to home in on what really matters. He’s clearly got a story to tell with Caul (what the hell does a “deep cover” Lantern actually DO and why is a ring lodged in his chest?), but he’s wasting time with the green slug guy, Lady Styx, too much dialog and USELESS RULES.
Patrick, I imagine you felt similarly towards Threshold but feel free to surprise me. Being the nice guy that I am, I left the only thing about this series that may actually entice people into picking it up. That being the backup of this issue, Larfleeze: The Ultimate Hoarder! Your thoughts?
Patrick: Oh, let me address that possibility of me surprising you right off that bat. No surprises here: my thoughts on this issue could basically just be copied and pasted from our conversation on the New Guardians Annual from a few days ago. Giffen’s got some neat ideas, but I’m starting to suspect that he’s just stealing them. “Stealing” might be too harsh a term… he’s certainly borrowing liberally from every significant science fiction narrative of the last 30 years, but somehow failing to realize what made those narratives interesting in the first place. The Hunted video/internet/reality show game is a tried-n-true sci-fi trope (Battle Royale, Hunger Games, Death Race). But in the case of all of those examples, the competition is representative of some greater oppressive nature of the society. On Tolerance, the game is ordered and directed by Lady Styxx to fund… god knows what — it doesn’t matter. I was so excited in the GL:NG Annual to see parallels to the way we take in media in the digital age, but any connection between “The Hunted” and our media consumption habits DISAPPEARS in favor of incoherent action sequences.
Another big influence I noticed was Starship Troopers. You know how that film is framed by internet propaganda films that always prompt the viewer: “would you like to know more?” That’s what the military advertisement in the middle of the issue is supposed to be — an example of fascist propaganda. But Giffen is WAY TOO EAGER to give away the joke — as if to suggest he’s unfamiliar with the concept of satire entirely, he make the URL (or alien equivalent thereof) “Glim.CannonFodder/Mil.” That’s right: CANNON FODDER. No need to unpack that one.
And as long as we’re stealing well-known sci-fi tropes let’s acknowledge that Ember says “Follow me if you want to live” (which may as well be “Come with me if you want to live”) upon meeting Caul AND that they escape from danger by jumping down a garbage chute. Look, I like Terminator and Star Wars as much as the next guy, but that also means that I can spot the cribbing from a mile away. If the series did anything to convince me that it was intelligent, I might be able to accept these borrowed elements as homage or pastiche, but in the absence of that intelligence, it just seems lazy.
Speaking of a lack of intelligence, let’s talk about Ember. Ember is the girl of your psychotic little boy dreams. She can change from sexy blonde to sexy goth chick in the blink of an eye! Whichever you like more! Plus her body can do this:
I mean, it doesn’t matter. Every single one of these characters is simply an excuse for Giffen to talk to himself. All of this characters suffer from the same weird habit: they all call each other out on odd behavior instead of dealing with the reality as revealed by this behavior. (I’ve been taking improv classes at UCB, so forgive me this digression.) It may be tempting to break the reality of a scene to point to something and say its ridiculous — it may even get a laugh — but the reality is irrevocably shattered. Take this exchange as our heroes travel through the trash chute.
Instead of one character responding to what the other is saying, each of these assholes makes a point to talk about how the other person expressed what they just said. In a reality as fragile as this, that’s a fatal mistake.
There’s a Larfleeze back-up here and it doesn’t fare much better. It’s the story of Larfleeze trying to get his slave-scribe, Stargrave, to write his Book of Orange. Larfleeze is envious of the Guardians’ Book of Oa, so he’s stolen a writer to help him — so far, so good. There’s even this sad moment when Larfleeze’s delusion breaks through his verbose narration, and the desperation that drives the Orange Lantern becomes a little more obvious. But that’s immediately undercut by a joke about Larfleeze forgetting Stargrave’s name (and for the record, “Starblade” is close enough in my book). Plus there’s an overly complicated plot about someone luring Larfleeze out of his cave to steal all his shit that just doesn’t jive with the his struggles to write an honest memoir. Just when you thought you might get an honest emotional exploration of a character — BAM, there’s got to be a stupid heist!
Also, I like 90% of Scott Kolin’s art in this portion of the issue, but his drawings of Larfleeze land on the wrong side of cartoony. And that’s such a hard balance to strike: the character is an exaggeration as it is. The best drawings you’ll see of Larfleeze make him scary, with the ridiculous greed as hilarious subtext. Kolins just hits that “hilarious” button over and over again. The result is, well, a cartoon. But I did want to share this page of Larfleeze’s layer, which has a bunch of fun Easter Eggs in it.
I think that giant Larfleeze coin and the stegosaurus are sly references to the cooler versions of those things in the Batcave, and I’m pretty sure that’s a Guardian corpse in the lower left corner. And maybe that’s TARDIS and the bridge of a Firefly near the upper right corner? It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s fun. Which is more than I can say for the rest of this issue.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?