The Last Fall 1

last fall 1

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing The Last Fall 1, originally released July 16th, 2014.

Patrick: You know what’s wrong with the narrative in the Star Wars prequels? I mean, beyond “everything” — if you had to pin-point what’s so awful about the story itself, what overarching storytelling philosophy leads that series astray? I’m sure everyone has their own answer to this, but for me, the biggest culprit is Lucas’ refusal to make the interstellar conflict personal. All the motivating factors for going to war are tariffs and alliances — which could be effective if only our characters had some sort of relationship to how futile and trivial their efforts are. That’s a damn shame: there’s a lot of compelling mileage to mine from the futility of war. Tom Waltz and Casey Malone’s The Last Fall is set to explore just that thematic territory.

The issue opens with a wearing history of two planets at war with each other. It’s six paragraphs of characterless back-story that essentially amounts to “Merkona and Krovin are fighting each other.” Waltz characterizes the conflict as sort of a pastiche of conflicts from the last 1000 years or so, with notes of Imperialism, the Slave Trade, the Crusades, and modern war in the Middle East. The hook — and what breaks the whole thing away from a ripped-from-the-(albeit-ancient)-headlines story — is that both planets will be swallowed by the exploding sun if they don’t resolve their conflict, mine the resources from Krovin, and escape the solar system.

But, blah blah blah, that background hardly matters once the storytelling kicks in. Meet Sergeant Marcus Fall.

The titular Last FallWe’re introduced to the Sergeant on the battlefield, where he’s belligerent, reckless, and disobeys orders in the heat of combat. He’s also an unrepentant bad-ass, seemingly single-handedly turning the tide in favor of the Merkonians. He’s acting against orders, and his voice over during his kill-a-thon makes it clear that he doesn’t give a shit about the causes for which his military is fighting. It’s a rough introduction to the series and its main character. Fall is an asshole to his commanding officer and then continues to be a violent dick to Priest-Major Roland, despite their implied shared history. I was about ready to throw in the towel and give up on Fall as a sympathetic character when Roland seemed to address my concerns directly by saying:

I will forgive you for your blasphemy and your cynicism, Marcus. You are battle-weary, after all.

He’s not referring to the specific battle we just spent the last 15 pages reading, but to the toll war has taken on Fall’s life. It’s only at this point that the story snaps back to Fall’s life in peace-time. It’s a little cute story that manages a perfect balance between Marcus’ current attitude toward religion with the happier man he must have been before he lost everything. Especially after being inundated with religious rhetoric throughout the first section of the issue, we can see an instant bond between father and son as they both quietly agree that church is boring.

Fall wakes with a start before we get any resolution on that memory, but we all come to this series with enough cultural baggage to draw our own conclusions about what happened. The dream ends with an evocative set of images, refusing to elucidate the specific tragedy that befalls the Falls that afternoon, but letting our own paranoia inform our expectations.

Krovanite terroristNothing here is too explicit: small details like the stranger’s hood, or his beard, or those decorative rings on his boots all call to mind modern extremist terrorists. The stranger’s face is all the more unnerving for that thing coming out of his nose — is it medical? is it jewelry? — giving the overriding impression that this man is alien, and should not be there.

Which finally leads us back to the present, and the kind of anti-motivation that drives Marcus Fall to make idiotic decisions like charging headlong into an enemy base. Fall is a man who has already lost everything, and he participates in the war, not because he believes in the right god or the right planet, but because he has nothing left to lose.

This isn’t a story about a war, but a story about a soldier. By those terms, this issue is successful, but not until the final pages where we’re introduced to what makes Fall tick. Drew, you and I have gone back and forth about which is more compelling storytelling: showing action and then revealing motivation; or showing motivation and then revealing how the character acts upon it. In a way, this issue shoots first and asks questions later, which allows the issue’s final panel a genuinely heartfelt moment.

What drives Marcus FallAs beautiful as those last couple pages are, I can’t say that I’m totally in love with Malone’s art in this issue. I can’t get over how big and crazy Fall’s eyes are, and he always sorta looks like he’s 16 years old (or however old Hank Venture is supposed to be). Additionally, I found the battle sequences hard to follow, but that might also be because we weren’t very familiar with the character we were following beforehand. That’s the tradeoff, I guess, of getting that introduction at the end of the issue.

Drew: Boy, for me, when that backstory lands doesn’t matter even a little — I was so bored with both the Top Gun rogue soldier-iness and the Punisher absurd revenge-iness that I don’t think learning about one before the other would have made even the slightest difference. I know I can be over-sensitive to tropiness from time to time (especially when it comes to first issues), but man, I really feel like I’ve seen the rogue soldier/cop stories to last a lifetime, and I’m kind of at a loss for modern heroes who aren’t motivated by the death of their wife and children. The Gladiator from Gladiator? Braveheart from Braveheart? The Patriot from The Patriot? Heck, even heroes that used to be motivated by, you know, heroism, are now inexplicably motivated by vengeance. My point is, Fall slides right into the intersection of two incredibly popular tropes, but that fails to really distinguish him from any of those other heroes I mentioned.

Sure, the background that the cultures are in a race against time to make peace is a novel detail, but that expository opening crawl explicitly states that this is Fall’s story. On the one hand, I can see why that personal focus would invest us in the characters — as Patrick mentioned, this series certainly isn’t going to fall into the same traps as The Phantom Menace. For me, though, that assertion that this is Fall’s story only denies me the actual interesting aspects in play here. That is, the situation is intriguingly unfamiliar, where the vengeance-seeking loose cannon is about as overdone as heroes can get. I think I would actually prefer the “all politics, no characters” approach to this story than the tight character focus we’re getting.

BUT, I will admit that I tend to be a little too quick to dismiss tropiness. First issues tend to lean a little bit more on archetypes to sketch out their characters, and I do anticipate that subsequent issues will give us a much better sense of who this character is and what writer Tom Waltz hopes to do with him. Still, this issue fails to find even interesting archetypes to start from, mashing up Frank Castle and Hal Jordan to effectively manifest all of today’s trends in hero affects in one extra-boring non-hero. Actually, he’s the biggest jerk in the whole issue, recklessly ignoring orders and acting for wholly selfish reasons. That he’s effective at killing is his only virtue, which is particularly monstrous given that he doesn’t even believe in the holy war he’s fighting. Indeed, the fact that he doesn’t buy into the religious reasons for this war isn’t remarkable in any intellectual way — we understand them to be made up nonsense even without the introduction explicitly detailing that the “holy war” is a front for a war over resources — but it does suggest that he might have a better idea what the war is about…only his actions fail to acknowledge the importance of peace. This is a strictly racist vendetta that he’s acting out, working against the best interests of both planets as laid out in the introduction.

So what do you do when you don’t like the character at the center of a character-driven work? I know and trust Waltz’s work enough to give this series another shot, but man, it’s going to be hard to approach it with a neutral attitude. Patrick, I’m with you on not loving the art — beyond the cartoony faces, I’m extra bored by cookie-cutter space armor. You want to make me zone out of your comic quickly? Dress everyone up like they’re a character in a videogame. Dusty Yee knocks the coloring out of the park (seriously, take another look at the last image Patrick posted), but I could take or leave the pencils.

Ick. I’d be ready to say that I should be taken off of first issues altogether, but there’s enough that I’ve liked to know that it is possible. Just not with the kinds of tropes writers tend to lean on in most first issues. I look forward to seeing how Waltz makes this a bit less generic next month.

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?

10 comments on “The Last Fall 1

  1. I didn’t see this as a revenge narrative at all. Fall is motivated by his loss, for sure, but not in any score-evening kind of way. None of his rhetoric focuses on making the enemy pay or anything like that — in fact, he is able to quietly reflect on how beautiful the planet is at the end of the issue. I don’t know if that makes it better for Drew — the guy who goes on a violent rampage because he’s a shell of his former self is its own kind of trope — but that’s certainly more compelling to me than the character as interpreted by Drew.

    • But, like, he says he’ll never kill enough Krovinites, presumably because he wants to kill them all. He wants revenge the same way Punisher or Batman wants revenge, taking it out on anyone that bears a similarity to the person who killed their loved ones, only this has the added ickiness of being defined by race rather than behavior.

  2. Gotta say, I ALWAYS love reading your reviews/analysis, folks. Always well-written and thought out and balanced. You touch on some very apt critiques here — ironically zeroing in on some things (“tropes”) Casey and I are deliberately looking to exploit and hopefully twist, turn and bend with our series. Fall, as the story begins, is most definitely many of the things Drew mentions in his comment above (just as he is the “empty shell” Patrick describes in his). Really, there isn’t much redeeming about him… but does that mean he can’t be redeemed? I really hope you good folks keeps reading to find out. All is not as it seems…

    Thanks again for taking the time to talk about our book. Truly appreciated by Casey, Dusty and Yours Truly!

    Tom Waltz

    • Thanks so much for chiming in! I definitely have the tendency to dismiss trope-laden media too quickly — often before they have an opportunity to subvert the conclusions I’m already jumping to. Knowing that this story will be about subverting those tropes makes me MUCH more interested in reading on.

      Just to keep the discussion going — it must be really tough to tell a story that focuses on a character that starts as a total jerk, right? Like, it basically dares the audience to lose interest. I appreciate stories of character growth, but how do you hook an audience if the point is that your character is about as unlikable as can be? More specific to this story: is whatever we think happened to Fall’s family enough to make him sympathetic? Does the order of those details matter?

      • For me, the question of what we’re supposed to do with a character who is a total jerk always comes down to how is that jerk-behavior treated within the story. This issue is pretty ambiguous – Fall gets chewed out by his superiors, but then ultimately gets a pass (plus, his brash decision-making did lead to success). It’s kind of a mixed bag, which is sorta refreshing: there’s no sense of absolute karma there.

        That said, I’d also like to hear more from Tom if he’s willing to elaborate on what he sees the challenges to be.

  3. Actually, the biggest challenge in this specific case, I believe, is getting readers through to that last scene. Fall starts out rampaging, wild-eyed, belligerent, reckless, you name it… and that would seem to be his true nature — a nature that would (and should) turn off most folks, because all we see is Fall lashing out at others. But, in that last scene, in the dark, lonely Krovin night, Fall has no choice but to face himself… and what he sees (and the reader sees) is not fearless or strong. He is vulnerable and as weak as any other heartbroken person. I love that moment and couldn’t be happier with how Casey Maloney and Dusty Yee rendered it.

    And we see hints throughout that whatever kind of soldier Fall was when he first joined the military — no matter how motivated and loyal he was to the “holy” cause — he became a man simply fighting to finish his service and get home to what really matters: his family (we see this in flashback when he tells his wife, Oleta, that getting home safe to them meant more than any prayer her ever said; and later when he talks about the importance of the sat-mail satellite to the soldiers far from home, etc.). But all that gets ripped away from Fall (we’ll see how in issue #2) and all he’s left with is himself. And, after what’s happened, he hates himself.

    So, it only makes sense that the reader will, too. At the risk of turning away readers, it’s exactly what I intended. I want the dark side of Fall to resonate — it only makes his potential redemption that much brighter. He’s gonna have to face some very hard truths soon — about himself and about the war he’s in the middle of and the superiors he serves — ones he can’t kill with a gun.

    Like the back of the book says, everything he’s been fighting for is gone and all he’s left with now is the fight. He just has to decide if that fight will be a good or a bad one.

    You guys know me — I like to tell stories in layers. This is just the first layer of the onion… the paper thin part. Stick with Casey, Dusty and me and we’ll get you to the crying part yet.

    🙂

    Thanks!

    Tom

    • Oh we definitely have faith in the Waltz. I know I only came to TMNT after the first like 8 or 9 issues were out, and the I’m CERTAIN that I would have griped about issue 1, without the context of 2-4. Taken as a whole, that first trade is amazing, but also takes its time setting up the less complicated dominoes before revealing that the whole picture is nuanced and clever and subtle.

      Also, just personally, as someone with a fair amount of family in the military, I’m interested in psychological effects engaging in warfare has on the soldiers, particularly when they don’t really believe in the cause they’re fighting for. Understanding the personal motivation to fight as distinct from the institution motivation for fighting is really deep and compelling. I look forward to seeing how it all develops in the next issues!

  4. Drew, I know you and I are both categorically tired of beginnings of stories (such a weird thing to complain about), but I wonder if we can maybe generate a list of really good first issues of series — and then go on to discuss how they did or did not accurate represent what the rest of the series would become.

    The first example that leaps to mind for me is Manifest Destiny, which has an amazing, imaginative, crazy first issue, but has yet to match that kind of inventive fervor in any of the subsequent issues.

    Hawkeye and Sex Criminals are both pretty good examples of series with super strong #1s that establish the tone and pace of the rest of the series (Fraction has a knack for it, I guess). What else we got?

    • I can’t help but disagree on Manifest Destiny as I’ve gotten several people to read the first trade who just love it. I’m enjoying Manifest Destiny right now as much as any other comic. I understand my likes are different than others, but this is (to me) definitely the weird and wild exploration of Lewis and Clark’s venture.

      I also disagree on Sex Criminals, as the first issue sucked me in and I’m still unable to get past issue three. I think it gets SO boring. In spite of this cool power/trick, damn these are boring people.

      Great First that represented their future tone…
      Manhattan Projects first issue was great – it has maybe even surpassed that level of insanity over the past two years.

      Saga – Repeat everything I said about Manhattan Projects.

      New 52 Jonah Hex: I think the first issue of that was really pretty good and established a tone visually and storywise that they maintained for a good two years before switching artists.

      (On my way to Indiana Toy and Comic Expo, no time for more. Look forward to reading your other titles that should be on this list – I really think there are a ton of them)

    • I don’t know if it’s that we’re tired of beginnings of stories so much as we’re tired of the storytelling shortcuts that are often used at the beginnings of stories. I have no objection to knowing nothing about the world of a story — it’s just when clunky exposition and an over-reliance on archetypes to establish motivations crowds out the storytelling, I wonder if it would be better to just start with issue 2.

      BKV is very good at first issues. Same with Warren Ellis. They’re able to establish worlds and characters without relying to heavily on archetypes, and manage to turn their exposition into its own kind of storytelling.

      Daredevil 1 (both this volume and the previous one) had a very strong first issue, though I suppose it’s much easier to “introduce” a character and his world if he’s already an established property.

      To this day, I’m impressed at how much I enjoyed the first issue of Birds of Prey, even if I lost interest after issue 6.

      But the king of first issues has to be Watchmen — we get a brief intro to the world of the story, meet all of the key players, and even get a few hints as to the ultimate resolution, all without feeling tired or trite. Indeed, it’s invigorating from the very first panel.

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