Writer: Rich Johnston
Artists: Johnston & various guest artists
Publisher: Brain Scan Studios
In my experience, self-published comics are either very well-drawn with weak stories, or very poorly-drawn with great stories. Civil Wardrobe is neither; It’s poorly drawn with a weak story.
Five old fanboys are angry that Civil War has delayed their favorite Marvel Comics and perpetuated the plague of decompressed storytelling. Suddenly, they are killed by a mysterious being. Their shocking deaths somehow lead the President to pass the Decompression Act. All comic book stories must be a minimum 6-issues in length. So Iron Man begins redesigning the Marvel heroes in “funny” new ways.
The biggest problem is with the premise. It’s inspired by an event few people will remember after Civil War has concluded. Does anyone remember how late Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns were? Five years down the road, will anyone care how Civil War held up the Marvel Universe for a few weeks? Of course not. All that matters is the story. And except for the first few pages and the Thor revamp, we don’t get any jokes about Civil War itself. In fact, the closing pages reference The Ultimates, Watchmen, Infinite Crisis, and 52. Civil Wardrobe is not a parody of Civil War; it’s a collection of random digs at the comics industry and recent trends in comics. That’s false advertising!
As bad as the story is, the art is worse. Rich Johnston should not draw. Ever. I mean it. His art is that lumpy, thick-inked, ugly cartooning style you only find in a high-schooler’s first mini-comic. Awful. I can’t compare it to anybody else’s style because nobody who draws this badly ever became famous. Just head down to the next small-press convention and look for the ugliest comic you can find. (Actually, you should go to small-press cons anyway. There’s a lot of undiscovered talent in those places.)
Of course, the big draw for this book isn’t Johnston’s art and story; it’s the pin-up pages that comically re-imagine the Marvel heroes. Now if Johnston had stripped away the Civil War framing story and just sold this as a humor jam book, I’d have given it a better rating. We get art from Kaare Andrews, Ashley Wood, Darick Robertson, Fred Hembeck, and Frazer Irving. The other less-famous artists also do a good job. This raises the question: If Johnston can recruit talent like this, why didn’t he ask one of these artists to draw his framing story? Most of the “new” Marvel heroes are funny, and even insightful criticisms on industry trends. “Black Panda” comments on racism with non-white characters. “Deaddevil” is just a funny visual gag. But “Fantastic Foursome” is just wrong. And “Jailbait Avengers” falls flat. I mean, does Young Avengers play up the teenagers’ sexuality? And doing a Brokeback Montain parody inspired by a somewhat gay scene in X-Men 3 is really stretching it. But these pin-ups are more hit than miss.
The tipping point for me was the price. I don’t mind paying $3.50 for a b&w small-press comic. Economic realities demand it. But when I am less entertained that a color comic that costs $2.99; when the comic Johnston has been hyping on his website for months turns out to be…this, well it’s just not worth anybody’s time or money.
Better luck next time, Rich.
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