Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lunchtime Reading

I read through A Bit Haywire and The Professor's Daughter on my lunch hour today, both of which I picked up from my LCS this week.

The Professor's Daughter is the story of 3000-year-old Imhotep IV and his love for a woman who reminds him of his long-dead wife. The two problems they run into are her father, Professor Bowell, and his father, Imhotep III; neither of whom are particularly keen on the partnership. There's a series of misunderstandings, the two lovers wind up in London Tower, Queen Victoria winds up in the Thames, and Imhotep III buggers off back to Egypt.

The story is actually French and was published over there about ten years ago. Why a Frenchmen is writing about an ancient Egyptian Pharoah falling in love with a Victorian English lady is beyond me, but it seems to work. What strikes me about the book generally is that it's very different. Certainly, the sepia wash makes it visually distinct, but the storytelling, too, is unusual for American standards. There were several instances where what appeared to be moment-to-moment transitions on first glance were in fact scene-to-scene transitions upon reading the dialogue. It's an interesting method of showing that larger chunks of time are passing that what would be otherwise indicated, but it took a little getting accustomed to. Some of that, I suspect, may be from the translation of the original French which, as I understand it in general, tends to be less directly linear than English language storytelling. (Try watching a literal translation of March of the Penguins and you'll see what I mean!)

Overall, it was an interesting look at how to do comics in a manner in which I'm generally unaccustomed. The story itself was okay, but I enjoyed the visuals more than anything else. Certainly worth a look, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend buying it unless you're actively looking for something different.

A Bit Haywire is the story of a young boy, Owen, who learns quite by accident that he has super powers. The story is largely his discovery of those powers and trying to get a handle on what exactly they are. Can he fly? Does he have super strength? Does he have laser vision? Further, his powers come with caveats. He has to pinch his nose, for example, to breath underwater. And he has to close his eyes in order to fly.

What's most charming about the book are Owen's reactions. When he discovers that he can breath underwater, but only when he holds his nose, he thinks, "How am I supposed to test that without drowning? Stupid retarded powers." He's repeatedly torn between the innate coolness of having super powers and the idiocy of how and why they work. It's a great concept, and seeing that learning curve through the eyes of a superhero worshipping young boy is very clever.

Clever only carries you so far, though. What takes this story the rest of the way is the brilliant collaboration between Courtney Huddleston (the creator and artist) and Scott Zirkel (the writer). They both seem to play to each others' strengths very well. Zirkel's dialogue is sharp and natural, and he never seems to overdo it. Huddleston's art is equally crisp and smooth, and he (yes, Courtney's a guy) is able to communicate a wide range of emotion, so that Zirkel never really needs to overly explain things verbally. It seems like a great symbiosis of talent.

As I was walking back from lunch, I was trying to think of how I might write up this review. It occurred to me that the book feels very much like The Incredibles. Which is a bit odd because it's a very different story with very different characters. What both stories do, though, is provide an extemely charming look at superheroes in a cartoony format using a familial atmosphere. The overall feel is not dissimilar between the two books, and it's not at all hard to imagine Haywire here teaming up with Mr. Incredible or meeting Dash at the local track meet. But Haywire is distinctly it's own animal and does not in any way feel like it's just an Incredibles knock-off.

I suspect Haywire will be harder to track down than Professor's Daughter (although I just ordered both from my Local Comic Shop) but it's a much more enjoyable read. And, maybe it's just me, but I think reading about superheroes ought to be enjoyable!

1 comment:

Scott Zirkel said...

Just noticed this review from comicbookdb.com.

Thanks for the kind words! I've added this to the list of reviews on abithaywire.com.