2016 is officially over, and 2017 is here bearing optimism and new beginnings. In the comic book universe, I am excited about the upcoming Super Sons, X-O Manowar relaunch, whatever that Marvel classified TPB is all about in the March solicit, Watchmen in Rebirth, and more cat cosplay covers. This is my third Fresh Frequency article for the CHU community, and for those unfamiliar it is designed to give perspective on some recent comic book releases both in terms of quality and investment potential.
**WARNING** There are likely spoilers. Read these books before proceeding if that sort of thing may be problematic.
This time around we will be talking about:
Hillbilly 1-3 (W)(A) Eric Powell
Clone Conspiracy #1-3 (W)Dan Slott (A)Jim Cheung
Hillbilly is fundamentally a comic detailing the fantastical adventures of Rondel, a blind man living in the mountains of Appalachia with a serious vendetta for witches. The comic mixes apocalyptic Bible Belt prognostications with Tolkien fantasy to create a universe where the truth is slippery at best. In fact, deception seems to be a central but subtle theme, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in future issues.
Powell’s classic blend of humor and melancholy make frequent appearances, and fans of The Goon will not be disappointed. In fact, Hillbilly resides in the same universe as The Goon, and The Buzzard makes a cameo in Issue #2. We get to learn more about his backstory, and he imparts some bonus sagacity, “I been around long enough to know that your will is rarely your own.” Per usual, Powell is a one-man show, and the art is wonderfully kinetic. The dichotomy of gritty yet cartoony style does a stellar job conveying equal parts truth and fiction. The coloring in this series takes full advantage of the comic book medium with grainy pencils giving the visual cues for past events and splashes of color heightening emotion.
Eric Powell’s skill as a storyteller really shines in the single-issue format. In the era of TPB and digital, creators far too often disregard the single-issue experience. It takes considerable effort and talent to tell a story clearly and concisely. One textbook example of this involves my favorite character of the story, Rondel’s companion bear, Lucille. Bears have a natural affinity for catching and eating fish. This expected and otherwise pedestrian detail turns into an amazingly artful interaction between Lucille and her dinner. This takes place on a total of two pages in Issue #3. It tells such a beautiful story; I can’t help but admire the ability to pack tremendous feeling in such a small space.
The ceiling on this title ranges from moderate to high. On one hand, I fully expect this to become a timeless cult classic. Cult classic status generally implies a devoted following and little to no mainstream appeal. Thus, Hillbilly should have a moderate and stable valuation similar to what is observed for The Goon. On the other hand, Eric Powell has alluded to plans for Rondel (the Hillbilly at the center of the story) to be a major character in future stories in the Albatross Funnybooks universe. It is abundantly clear that the universe of Hillbilly is one and the same as that of The Goon. Based on this, I think Powell is envisioning a connected universe that will encompass all of his creations. It’s difficult to say if this universe will seep into the mainstream consciousness, but the potential is there. For this reason, I think there is a high ceiling for Hillbilly 1, which is Rondel’s first appearance. I think the most likely scenario is success on the level of Hellboy, and his raw first appearance is hovering in the 90 dollar range currently (SDCC Comics #2). Keep in mind that there are some confounding factors with this comparison, including the fact that Hellboy had a movie released in 2004 and 2008, and the interest in this character has waned since.
Let me preface my impressions of Clone Conspiracy by being very clear that I am not a Spider-Man fan, but I am of the opinion that a good creative team can make any character work. For example, the Tangled Web story by Ennis was amazing, and I loved most of the Bendis Ultimate Spider-Man. I also really enjoyed Sins Past. However, tons of people hate Sins Past, and I understand why they do. Spider-Man has managed to become one of the most, if not the most, divisive characters in the comic book community.
To those sitting in the “I don’t like Spider-Man” camp with me, Clone Conspiracyexemplifies many of the features of Spider-Man that can be especially irritating. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit- Peter Parker’s sense of humor. This is no-doubt difficult for writer’s to do well, and Clone Conspiracy is a total cheese-fest. All of the quips in this comic made me roll my eyes and shake my head in pseudo-disbelief. I would say the humor is not done well, but those that enjoy the cheese-ball nature of Peter Parker may disagree.
Another annoying aspect of Spider-Man is the way he often wiggles out of bad situations by doing something behind the scenes. For every dilemma Parker faces, there is always an inextricably convenient way for him to surpass the obstacle. Again Clone Conspiracy provides many examples, and the most egregious is the revelation of the microscopic Spider-Tracer injected into Jerry Salteres to track his location. Does Spider-Man put a Tracer in everyone he comes into contact with? Talk about an invasion of privacy.
In Clone Conspiracy the sub-plot of someone finding out or revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity once again makes an appearance. *Eyes again rolling into the back of my head-I think they might be stuck there.* Parker has had just about everyone he is close to killed and revived at least once- what is the point of even hiding his identity much less getting all stressed about it? This doesn’t even take into account how many times his identity has been revealed.
The most vexing aspect of the Spider-Man character for me, though, may not be a complaint shared by my fellow Spidey-haters. My full-time gig is that of a bona fide biomedical researcher. I clone stuff in the real world, and the scientific backbone of the Clone Conspiracy is HORRENDOUS. The utter lack of research Slott did for this script is appalling. Dan Slott- I follow you on Twitter @villainsinpants – I’m happy to advise. For that matter, anyone writing scripts for the plethora of super-heroes that are also pipette warriors feel free to contact me to review your ideas and at least not insult the intelligence of your audience (Flash TV show script writers- I’m looking at you).
Marvel’s shenanigans also don’t help this title. The story is heavily dependent on knowledge ascertained from ASM. The story spills-over into the other Spidey family titles as well. The important events preceding the story are not at all summarized in Clone Conspiracy, which eliminates any depth this story has on its own. This is an intentional offense as one prong of Marvel’s business plan these days seems to be to suck every last dime out of any remaining true-believers. Marvel really wants you to buy everything that they release sucktastic or not. What I think Marvel hasn’t realized is that this makes some of us, like me, do completely the opposite. I am all-out on Spidey titles instead of all-in. It also repels any potential new readers. The maze of storytelling makes one title alone a bare-bones melodrama without context, and any apprehension concerning having to know information contained in other titles or past issues is clearly warranted.
There were some cool parts- the giant tube containing only Jerry’s nervous system was pretty disturbing. I happen to like disturbing. The reveals in the story are really entertaining if you are otherwise invested in the current Spidey family books. I was pleasantly surprised to see the heavy references to Sins Past story, which as I said above is one of my favorite Spidey stories of all time and is undeniably polarizing. I would love to see Gwen’s children become a bigger part of the Spider-Man story.
So far, there is nothing about this comic that I think warrants any long-term speculation. Maybe the first appearance of the female Electro, but I think that might be a stretch. There is potential for collectors of Dell’ Otto covers to be interested if Clone Conspiracy isn’t something they have in their collection. That market right now isn’t as strong as I think it should be based on how amazing his artwork is, but it might pick-up in the future. That being said, this might be a great quick-flip. In Marvel’s total failure at communicating what books are cross-overs and whatnot, the next year or so will likely see fans of the other Spider-Man related titles trying to fill-in the gaps. It’s an interesting paradox because Marvel does these crazy cross-overs to entice people into buying more titles, but they also do a terrible job marketing them in any comprehensible manner. For now, until Marvel has drained any remaining good-will from fans, this works out well for flippers. It may also be worth picking up Amazing Spider-Man #509 as this the Stacy twins’ first appearance and is a super cheap grab right now.
About Me: I am co-owner of Villain in Pants (VIP) Comics, which is a small but growing online and traveling comic book retailer specializing in rare comic books.