"The Crooked Comic Con Caper: Part 1 of 3"
After their adventures in Europe and Africa, the gang is invited to Hollywood by blowhard producer Jerry Bigg of Bigg Pictures. A movie deal, the "Mega Cali Comic Con," and a series of robberies by the "Stop Watch Bandits" all add up to – well nothing special. The first installment of Alex Simmons' follow-up to the excellent "World Tour" storyline is disappointing. After the clever Alex Rider-type plotting and scripting of that story, "Crooked Comic" reads like a standard Archie story that has gone flat.
With a cast of characters that includes Hugh Sayles, Marketing; Lenny Capp, Cameraman; Dee Dials, Sound Engineer; and Albert Bindtyme (Behind time), Director, Simmons is obviously going for a Dick Tracy-Charles Dickens type satire. But after the relatively realistic take of the previous issues, this is a jarring change. Hollywood and comic cons are easy targets and Simmons makes some smart observations on the commercialism that has come to dominate both, but it's at the expense of the story.
In an odd bit of scripting, the explanation for why the kids are in Hollywood is never given – not even in an editor's footnote. This is an unexpected bit of thoughtlessness from a company that's usually new reader friendly.
Also, there's no flow between scenes. It's almost like panels have been dropped out. The characterization is practically non-existent. It never goes beyond the surface. That's acceptable in the usual five or six page Archie story, but not in a twenty-two pager. The one exception to this is the two page scene involving Chuck, Moose, and the chauffer. Here Simmons provides information, allows us to see that Chuck and Moose are more than just window-dressing, and presents some action. If the rest of the book had had this kind of rhythm, it would have been much more enjoyable.
Artist Fernando Ruiz obviously enjoyed doing the Comicon scenes, throwing in background details that are fun for both comic fans and casual readers. While the panel featuring a character in a Fantastic Four costume wearing a paper bag over his head works as a loving tribute for certain readers, younger readers will just enjoy the silly visual. The "Iron Dog" poster in the same panel and the later appearance by Captain Jelly Jack and his crew are also well done and work in the same way.
However, in a rare occurrence for Ruiz, a key sequence is rendered in a confusing fashion. We never see the payoff to a particular action, and at first reading, it almost seems like the effect happens before the cause. In a second panel in the same sequence, the gang is caught in a tear gas attack. While Betty and Moose are drawn responding in an appropriate manner, Veronica looks like she's posing for a fashion shoot. Her actions very obviously don't go with the mood the script is trying to establish. Actually, the whole scene is somewhat schizophrenic in style.
The first installment of "The Crooked Comic Con Caper" reads like a standard six-pager that has been over-inflated to twenty-two pages. Though it pains me to say it, while there are some good bits, you wouldn't miss anything by skipping it.
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