The one thing I always remember about Star Wars: A New Hope — more than the fact that it's a beloved childhood obsession and I still have an entire collection of Tazos nestled lovingly in my bookcase — is that the characters are GRUMPY AS HELL. Throughout the first film, barely anybody has a kind word to say about anybody else, with each character trying valiantly to be the most obnoxious. Even C-3PO and R2-D2 hate each other in the film. But for some reason, we all forget that when we talk about the film, as some kind of worldwide amnesia.
I mention that because Threshold #1 gives me that same vibe. And I wrote that opening paragraph because I don't want you to think it's as good as Star Wars — it's certainly not — but because it does manage to nail that same tone which is in the first film. Everybody in this book is angry, and they all exchange stinging abuse with each other while racing around avoiding the paper-thin plot.
The premise of Keith Giffen and Tom Raney's new series for DC — and it is NEW, which we should at least softly applaud the company for — is that a former Green Lantern, Jediah Caul, is captured whilst under deep cover. Instead of simply killing him, though, his captors set him free but force him into a reality game of sorts. After giving him one day to escape, they broadcast his name and image to the galaxy and put a price on his head. From now on, anybody who kills him will reap that reward. And many, many people want the reward.
It's a simply, flimsy premise, but an effective one, especially in a series set in space. Giffen manages, more than anything else, to convey the idea that outer space truly is something strange and bizarre, and unearthly. Unlike the Green Lantern books, which have always felt to me like they're set in smaller versions of America, Threshold #1 actually creates an idea of outside society and rules. There are in-jokes and strange references, and the way things are structured is unusual. Tom Raney's art is great in this respect, as his designs and locations seem different and unique.
If there's one thing Threshold does right, it's the world-building.
The characters are a little more difficult, mainly because they all have Keith Giffen's sense of humor. And while the writer has an undeniable ability to pace an action scene or joke (he's one of the most gifted storyboarders in comic book history), his characters are all somewhat similar to one another. Here we focus mainly on Jediah, who is grumpy, and then fights some grumpy people and meets a grumpy ally. The tone of the book is sarcastic and tough — but in a fairly enjoyable fashion — but that means everybody sounds exactly the same. There's a distinctive and alien way of speaking used in the book… the trouble is that everybody uses it.
The story is so slight as to be non-existent, which is fine, because mostly we're here to enjoy the sniping and chasing around. Raney is less successful at depicting these, as his sense of anatomy is fairly poor. His women all have slightly too big heads, and legs and arms change shape wildly, depending on what they need to be hitting. While the story is told well, the individual panels show a poor sense of shape and composition. As a whole, each page gets a point across. But that point is sloppily drawn.
I did enjoy it though, for all the flaws. This is probably because I do like books which just get on with it and have some fun, and probably because the creative team do make the most of their setting. There are some fun jokes, and a range of different ideas thrown into the script. It's an inventive series above all, and I always appreciate a book which tries something different.
Andrew Dalhouse's colors help, especially in the back-up feature drawn by Scott Kolins. For some reason Threshold currently has a back-up story about Orange Lantern Larfleeze, which is written like a kid's story. It's colorful and silly, poking fun at the character whilst showing him off. Kolins makes everything into a song and dance, which fits the characters very well, and again Giffen enjoys his silly jokes.
Threshold #1 is a curious little book. It's light hearted and fast-paced, with not very much going on. But the world is involving, and the cardboard characters provide a lot of entertaining moments. It is, I say, quite a lot like Star Wars.
(but not as good)
Steve Morris writes for Comics Bulletin and The Beat. He has a webcomic called Stardark City which is well lush, he's on Twitter @stevewmorris, and now he has a blog too — so you can spend every waking second thinking his thoughts and reading his words. Whew!