Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Truth About Truth - Was It Good?

You would think that that would be the main question that anyone would ask about a comic book series, but somehow, that never really seemed to be the discussion regarding Robert Morales and Kyle Baker's 2002-03 Marvel series, Truth: Red, White & Black.

Instead, the main plot (the US government doing Super Soldier experiments on black soldiers) drew almost all the discussion of the series, taking away from the question that should really first be addressed before such matters are discussed, and that is, "Was the comic GOOD?"

Well, sadly (or I guess I should say, predictably), for a project launched with such pomp and circumstance, the ultimate result was that it was not so great.

What really sticks out (and does not speak well of Morales, to be frank) about the series is that it really appears as though Morales got the project approved based just on the high concept, and then really did not know where to go from there.

I say this because the series opens very strong.

Before I discuss the issue, please not that one of the divisive issues regarding this series was Kyle Baker's art. Phil Jiminez, he is not.

So if you only like artists who draw their characters with George Perez-like intricacy, then you will not enjoy Kyle Baker.

However, if you are open to artists trying different styles, then you will at least be open to Baker's art in Truth.

I really liked his work in #1, which depicts the home life of three black men in the time before World War II...Maurice Causfield, Isiah Bradley and Sergeant Lucas Evans...the way that Baker captures that time in American life (heck, you could almost call the style Americana!!), it is a pleasure to see.

Morales does a good job, I think, of quickly establishing the characterization of the three men, and with the setup of the three men headed off for the Army, the book was off to a strong start!

#2 continues the strong characterization work of #1, while Baker tries a different style on the book, much more cartoony, without the same richness of the first issue. It is a bit disappointing, but it is still strong work.

After an issue of seeing the characters interact in the Army, the "experiment" stage of the series starts up, with the government agents killing their commanding officer and taking 300 soldiers to experiment on, while massacring whatever soldiers remained.

#3, which contains the experiments, continues the strong characterization of the survivors of the experiments. In addition, I really enjoyed the reaction to the "deaths" of the characters, which is followed up well, I thought, at the beginning of #4. Baker's art is a little sketchier, but still strong.

#3 is what I would call the "Thelma & Louise" issue, in that the series really went off the cliff with that issue.

#4 had the nice bit with Isaiah Bradley's wife arguing for the army to release the body of her husband, but Morales at this point, for some odd reason, decided to just drop instantly the other two main characters, Causfield and Evans. This is why I doubt how well planned this series was, because they were dropped from the title SO abruptly, with almost zero characterization. It was quite weak.

#4 and 5 were also Baker's weakest art efforts. It looked really rushed to me.

The key to the book was characterizations and character interaction, and Morales pretty much dropped that in #4 and 5 in favor of the whole "Black Captain America in Europe" plot, and then abruptly switches to modern day to see Isaiah's wife discussing the matter with Captain America, and that is how the story was told after that.

I did not like the change in how the story was told - I do not think it helped the story any, and a change in the story should help the story, right? There should be a reason behind it.

Otherwise, the plots of #5 and 6 as well seemed so...odd. In #6, Isaiah meets up with Hitler and there is a lot of pages devoted to Hitler and Isaiah interacting. It did not fit to me, nor did the whole "Black French resistance member saves Isaiah." I think Morales really needed to temper his eagerness to put into the story every interesting "Blacks in World War II" tidbit that he read over the years. It do not think that it helped the story.

Luckily, #6 welcomed Baker back to putting his full ass into the project, as his art was much richer and fuller in #6. In particular, his portrayal of the scummy Merritt was top notch.

Likewise, Baker's art on #7 was the saving grace of an otherwise anti-climatic, not particularly interesting final issue that spends most of the time resolving all the loose ends of the story while leaving little room for the resolution of ISAIAH'S plot!!

Baker goes crazy on a drawing of Isaiah with every notable black celebrity of the past forty years, as Isaiah, the black Captain America, is a huge figure in the black community. The fact that Captain America has never heard a hint of this really did not serve any purpose to me beyond making Cap look like a moron. Really? Spike Lee and Denzel Washington wanted to do a movie about him, but no one ever mentioned anything to Cap over the years? Really? What was the point of THAT?

All in all, the series was okay, with an overall very impressive job by Baker (which is par for the course for Baker, he IS a really good artist, dontcha know). However, if Morales had not decided to treat this as the last comic he was ever going to write, and therefore, a good place to throw in everything except the kitchen sink, then I think this could have been a very strong series. #1-3 were quite good, and they deserved better than #4-7.

While I'm here, I might as well address the commonly discussed debate, about whether the IDEA behind the story was a good one.

Well, I am never a fan of "everything you know about ____'s origin is wrong!!!" stories. I did not like Dan Jurgens' similar (really, a bit TOO similar, seeing as how Jurgens' story was just three years earlier to this one) Protocide storyline either. However, one of the more annoying things about this story that Jurgens made a point to avoid is that Jurgens went out of his way (to an almost unhealthy degree) to make sure that his addition of Protocide did not reflect poorly upon Captain America's origin. Morales had an even easier opening to do the very same thing...and he actually went out of his way to NOT take that route, but rather, to make sure that Truth DID tarnish Captain America's origin.

If it had just been that a group of rogue Military intelligence officers had stolen the serum after Steve Rogers had become Captain America, then the story in Truth would have worked fine, without tainting Rogers' origin. Instead, Morales went out of his way to make it clear that the experiments on the black soldiers predated Steve Rogers (specifically disclaiming the problem of how could the soldiers in 1942 pre-date Rogers, who became Captain America before the war, by explaining that that origin for Rogers was false PR). I believe said stance will be disregarded in the future, but it still seems awfully silly for Morales to try to make such a major change to Steve Rogers' origin for, well, no real reason that I can see.

So, while I think the continuity issues that he intentionally tangled himself in were pretty silly (and that is the thing, it was intentional on Morales part to GET involved in continuity...I understand that people do not like to let continuity hamper stories, and that is fine, but Morales HIMSELF brought continuity into the discussion by going out of his way to mess with the doing so, he MADE it an issue), I think the idea behind the series is fine. And it gave us Justice from Priest's The Crew and Patriot from Young Avengers, so that is certainly a good legacy for the project.

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Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the decision to make this story part of continuity came after it was greenlit, and not from Morales, partly explaining the awkward shift towards the end. I'll see if I can track down where I read it tomorrow.

7/25/2005 12:05:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Yes, Guy, initially this was proposed as an out of continuity project, but Marvel liked it well enough that they made it in continuity.

But that was before the project began.

And like I mentioned, the comic could have easily blended into continuity, but Morales went out of his way to make sure that it did not...which I thought was odd at best.

7/25/2005 02:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Brian.

Keep in mind that TRUTH is the only Marvel series which I've ever read. So, I really have no attachment to Captain America.

That said, I still largely agree with you. The series started very strong. #1 was one of the better mainstream first issues I've read in recent years. The middle of the series, though, was almost dreadful. I didn't enjoy it much at all. The final issue, though, #7, I recall enjoying (maybe it was just Baker's art), although I'm not sure why. I'm at the library and can't skim the issue.

However, I do have to disagree slightly, mostly with your evaluation of Morales's entaglement with continuity. For example, the pictures of Isiah with the celebrities I don't think was really done to make Cap look like a moron, but rather as just a fun little scene for the readers.

As for the "tainting" of Captain America's origin...I just don't see that as an issue either. First of all, I highly doubt that it's been brought up(or will be brought up) with any frequency at all (as you even say). Secondly, that was an important part of the story...the government, our government (not some "rogue faction") royally screwed these guys. That idea strengthened the story in my opinion.

--Eliot Johnson (whose computer is down and is at the library)

7/27/2005 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Brian Cronin said...

Eliot, I think Blogger allows you to sign in as "Other," so it would still show up as "Eliot Johnson". Like I just did.

As for the points, does it matter WHO in the American government screwed them over? It was still the American government, right? So I think it was silly of Morales to make the guys involved in Cap's experiment who, up until this point, have always been shown as good guys, and have them seen as monsters.

I am really not a fan of "You know that guy you always thought was good? He was really an asshole!" writing.

As for the photos, I was fine with them. That WAS a nice little fun thing.

I'm talking about the scene in #6, where the black FBI agent says, "What?! THAT'S the costume Isaiah Bradley wore...!?"

And Cap says, "Who?"

And the agent says, "Don't tell me you haven't heard of Isaiah Bradley...the black Captain America!?"

And the panel is a zoom in of Cap's face, with his mouth agape, astonished.

Not Cap's finest moment.

Beyond that...Kyle Baker sure is a good artist, huh?

7/27/2005 07:07:00 PM  
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