Writer: Troy Hickman
Artists: Dan Jurgens & Al Vey/Michael Avon Oeming
Publisher: Top Cow/Image
A new series taking place at a chain of coffee shops that cater to superhumans, ‘Common Grounds’ tells stories about heroes and villains when they’re not fighting. In this issue, a reporter learns the dark side of life at super-speed, and a hero and villain shoot the bull in the bathroom.
I met Troy Hickman back in the late 90s. He’d been getting some press over his mini-comic, ‘Holy Crullers’, a series about a chain of coffee shops for superheroes. It was a funny take on comic book clichés with an average man point of view and a penchant for puns. It’s nice to see Hickman’s book published on a national scale with some of the industry’s best artists illustrating the series.
The stories in this issue are repeated, almost verbatim, from ‘Holy Crullers’ #1. In “Beyond the Speed of Life”, the popular hero Speeding Bullet reveals how miserable he really is. Constantly moving at high speed means he’s always bored and alone. It’s driven him to the point of suicide. Drawn by Jurgens and Vey, it looks like a typical superhero comic. It uses several “stock shots”, images and panels seen in almost any comic. I think this hurts the story as it undermines the point: The hero’s life is not as nice or as simple as a comic book. I’d have liked to see the art grow more realistic or take on a darker tone to match the story. It’s hard to complain about Jurgen’s penciling, and Vey’s inks and shading are well-suited to the work. I just wish it looked less like a comic book, and more like a graphic narrative.
“Head Games”, drawn by Oeming, is one of my favorite stories of all time! The telepathic Mental Midget finds himself in a restroom stall next to the Man-Witch, one of his worst enemies. (Not his arch-enemy, as Man-Witch is disappointed to learn.) The two of them swap origins and other stories about their lives. It’s an incredibly off-beat story that comes from a great idea. “Hero and villain meet in a bathroom.” The story practically writes itself! Oeming’s cartooning is simple and straightforward which allows for a wide range of emotional expressions. The coloring of Peter Pantazis also helps lend texture to the scene.
“Head Games” demonstrates ‘Common Grounds’ best qualities. The dialogue is natural and honest. The story of Speeding Bullet is as tragic as the exchange between Mental Midget and Man-Witch is funny. The characters’ origins aren’t dramatic. Oftentimes, their powers “just appear”. Hickman isn’t interested in giving these characters a detailed life story, or creating an entire universe. What matters is who these people are when they’re not being larger than life. The characters are ordinary people first and super-whatever second.
A book where superheroes just talk was a novelty in 1998. While such books are more common, they lack the ground-level perspective of ‘Common Grounds’. I’m looking forward to future issues, which include the Acidic Jew, and a waitress who must literally act to save her life.
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