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Sunday Slugfest: Groom Lake #1

Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009
By: Thom Young

Chris Ryall
Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing
Editorís Note: Groom Lake #1 will be in stores on March 18, 2009. It is currently available for pre-order.

Troy Stith:

Paul Brian McCoy:

Matthew J. Brady:

Thom Young:




Troy Stith:

When I heard about the teaming up of Chris Ryall (Zombies vs Robots) and Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), I was on board Groom Lake before I even saw a teaser page. Thankfully, I can say that the pair didnít let me down with the first issue of this new series from IDW.

Ryall has added bio captions for each character that are hilarious at times and always informative. Overall, the story moves very quickly and left me anxiously awaiting the next issue. Ryall tackles all of the UFO theories head on, and then starts to blaze a path of his own in the genre. Karl Bauerís introduction tale into the world of aliens is both intriguing and hilarious. I really want to go into more on Karlís intro but I donít want to give away any details.

Templesmithís distinct style only compliments this off-beat tale of aliens and conspiracies. His facial expressions convey what the character is feeling--be it terror or the utmost seriousness. Furthermore, his color palette choices drive those moods home. I probably donít even need to mention the fact that his depictions of aliens and robots just make this tale that much more enjoyable, but I will anyway.

One thing I did find bothersome about this comic was that some of the font choices for the captions and balloons were a bit hard to read. Although, Iíll admit that I read this in digital format and the print copy may fix this problem, so that wonít be a huge penalty on my review.

Ryall and Templsmith have hooked me to continue on with this series. Iíll definitely be picking up a hard copy of this issue and impatiently awaiting the second issue.




Paul Brian McCoy:

Ben Templesmith is one of my favorite comic creators, ever. His work is brilliant on everything he gets his freaky fingers on, and I've read nearly everything he's had published. I was giddy the day I first read the teaser for Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse, which I think is the pinnacle of his work so far (because his work is even better when he's writing the story, too).

Chris Ryall, on the other hand, is a creator that I'm not all that familiar with (beyond his old columns on the Movie Poop Shoot (now, Quick Stop Entertainment) Web site). I have the adaptation of Shaun of the Dead that he wrote, but I don't remember a damned thing about it. I know he's done a few fan-favorite projects, particularly the Zombies Vs. Robots books with Ashley Wood, and the adaptations of Clive Barker's Great and Secret Show and George Romero's Land of the Dead. While I haven't read any of these, I have drooled over art samples.

So the one thing I do know, is that Ryall knows how to pick his collaborators and his projects.

I was able to find some preview pages of Zombies Vs. Robots Vs. Amazons, and while there were only three pages, the writing utilized a similar style of introducing characters the way he's doing in Groom Lake--i.e., short captions that try to cutely sum up the character. They're a bit tighter in Groom Lake, but he's trying a little too hard to be clever.

It doesn't help that the font being used makes it damn near impossible for my old eyes to make out what any of the introductory captions say (On his blog, Ryall says the font isn't a problem in the actual comic, so that's good news).

Anyway, I'm assuming that Groom Lake is Ryall's A-Game writing a project--one that he has complete control over (he's the editor-in-chief at IDW, in case you didn't know)--and also that heís working with his dream pick on the art duties. If this is the case, then I'm not impressed at all.

I want to be impressed. Believe me. But Iím not.

The writing is hampered by way too many attempts to cram pop-culture references into the dialogue and narration--a basic idea that is a slight tweaking of a full-blown clichť. There are also numerous jokes that aren't funny, as well as dialogue that is awkward and clumsy (especially when itís filled with crammed-in pop-culture references).

I probably would have enjoyed this issue more if I'd read it ten years ago.

Waitaminute. When did the Men in Black film hit? 1997? Okay, ten years ago I probably would have thought it was ripping off Men in Black.

If I'd read it 13 years ago and had never heard of the comic book Men in Black (which first came out in 1990), then I might have enjoyed Groom Lake. Of course, Templesmith wouldn't have been able to do the art 13 years ago, so there wouldn't be anything to keep my interest.

To be honest, though, it's really only slightly like Men in Black, in that it doesn't seem to have that work's imagination and humor. So far, our aliens are limited to the familiar Gray Aliens and a Giant Robot. There is one creative visual design but even it is hampered by silliness posing as edgy, raunchy humor.

However, even that panel (which involves the final fate of a family pet), still looks about as good as it possibly can.

In fact, if I were to give bullet scores separately, the art would get four bullets, but the writing, only one. Which is how I arrived at the disappointing 2.5 bullet score.

Templesmith's work here is exactly what you should expect from him at this point. The choices of color washes do a very effective job of setting the mood of each scene. The action moves smoothly from panel to panel and from page to page.

I'd even go so far as to say that the best scene in the book is the initial alien abduction scene, because there is no real dialogue cluttering up the creepy cinematic nature of Templesmith's staging.

He also does everything he can with the timing of Ryallís otherwise bad jokes. Yes, the jokes aren't funny, but that's not Templesmithís fault. He sets them up and knocks them around the field as though he were training Ryall how to play the game.

By the time I got to the end of this drearily boring opening chapter, I was ready to quit. There wasn't a single thing about the story that I found entertaining or original. Then I read the last line of dialogue in the comic, and thought, "That's interesting." Is it interesting enough to actually put my hard-earned dollars down for? That is the question, isn't it?

If Templesmith weren't providing the art, then without a doubt the answer would be "No." Resoundingly, no.

However, I do love me some Templesmith art, and even a bad story is still going to have his energy and creativity frantically trying to CPR the damn thing to life. Additionally, support for Templesmith's work here helps provide capital and possibilities for more of his completely independent work--like Singularity 7, Wormwood, and Welcome to Hoxford.

That's really what it's all about for me--supporting Templesmith. So I'll probably keep picking this series up.

If you love Templesmith, then you should too. If you're indifferent to Templesmith, then what's wrong with you?

Um, I mean, then you can skip this and not feel like you're missing anything. Go grab a trade of Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse, instead.




Matthew J. Brady:

Ben Templesmith has lent his art to plenty of comics about monstrous entities--like vampires (30 Days of Night), werewolves (Welcome to Hoxford), and demons (Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse), so why not go with one of the classics: Aliens?

With Groom Lake, we get to see his take on the little green men with bulbous heads and black eyes, and itís as enjoyable as you would expect. Heís helped by an amusing script from Chris Ryall, who is no stranger to goofy sci-fi/horror after having previously worked on Zombies vs. Robots with Ashley Wood.

Unsurprisingly, the two creators make a really good team, combining dry wit with shocking visuals to make something pretty unique, which is especially notable given the well-tread subject matter.

The story involves alien abductions, and a sort of government research lab that makes a good locale for freaky sights. However, as with Ryallís other work, the plot isnít really the point; itís more of a hook to hang Templesmithís rendition of weird sights and amusing moments. Maybe this approach will change in future issues, but even if it doesnít, it should be worth the journey since seeing Templesmith bring these scenes to life is definitely worth it.

Templesmith can make some foggy woods at night, a flying saucer, or a creepy lab all seem strange and sinister--and he does a great job in his linework of detailing the emotions of the characters, whether itís stoic resolve or repulsed confusion. As with all his comics, itís great fun to watch him work.

Interestingly, the series seems slightly similar to Maintenance, another book about a facility full of odd characters and rampaging monstrous entities. The potential is here to see Templesmithís rendition of plenty of other types of beasties, and with Ryallís humorous characters and their deadpan reactions to strange situations, youíve got a winning combination for a unique and enjoyable series. More, please.




Thom Young:

Until I read this first issue of Groom Lake I knew nothing of the work of either Chris Ryall or Ben Templesmith. What drew me to this book was not the creators involved, but the title (and the cover to some extent).

I was drawn to the book by the title because I have probably seen every quality documentary (as well as a few lacking in quality) that has ever been made of the supposed crashing of an extraterrestrial craft near Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947. One of the best is The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence narrated by Bryant Gumbel and aired by the SciFi Channel in 2002.

Yes, I believe.

Well, I have a low-key belief, anyway, that there actually was an extraterrestrial craft that crashed near Roswell almost 62 years ago. After all, the US Army openly admitted they they had recovered a ďflying saucerĒ near Roswell--before then retracting that admission the next day.

Iím not interested in proselytizing my belief in the Roswell Incident the way some ďUFO nutsĒ do. Iíve simply read the initial US Army reports, viewed the various documentaries, listened to the testimony of witnesses on those documentaries, and weighed the purported evidence--all of which has led me to my opinion that an extraterrestrial craft actually did crash near Roswell in 1947.

Okay, that gets my personal bias out there right up front as I begin to discuss Groom Lake #1.

First, I absolutely love Templesmithís illustrations--well, most of them anyway--especially the work that looks like he used charcoal and a wash on rough-textured Bristol board (thatís just my guess on the medium and technique). For instance, his panel showing the Bauer Family Farm at the top of page 8 is something I would love to have as a poster-sized print that I could hang on my wall near a watercolor by Jean ďMoebiusĒ Giraud that I have.

Not every panel is a gem. For instance, I donít like his depictions of the Grays that he draws on the interior pages (though the Gray on the cover is rather well done, but I could do without any cigarettes dangling from its mouth). Additionally, I donít particularly care for Templesmithís designs of:
  • The UFO on page 4,

  • Tthe grotesque deformed creature that Barnabus Bauer becomes on page 13, nor

  • The giant robot that breaks loose later in the story on page 17.
None of those things are drawn poorly. Quite the opposite, in fact. I just donít personally care for them.

Still, overall, Templesmithís work alone is worth the price of the issue. So . . . why am I only giving this book two and a half bullets?

Because I could not get into the story. Itís not that it's poorly written (at least on a technical level). For the most part, Ryall provides good transitions between scenes, and he doesnít give us any clunky exposition or dialog--which is not to say that the dialog is believable.

A lot of the dialog is not believable. However, itís obvious that itís supposed to be unbelievable, so thatís actually an indication of good writing (sort of)--the intentional scripting of implausible dialog in service to the story.

The problem is the story.

Or, more specifically, the problem is that that the story reads like a satire--but Iím not sure what the purpose of the satire is.

Ryall appears to be satirizing alien abduction stories--as well as such UFO-based science fiction stories as The Day the Earth Stood Still, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Blob, and probably others that I didnít bother to make sure I caught. There's also an allusion that seems to indicate that a certain Time Lord from Gallifrey is (or was) being held at the Groom Lake facility.

In fact, Ryall seems to have the facility at Groom Lake (otherwise known as Area 51) housing every creature from every UFO science fiction movie ever made--and that includes creatures mentioned in documentary films of the 1947 Roswell Incident.

Itís not that Iím such a staunch believer in the Roswell Incident and such a die-hard fan of UFO science fiction movies that I canít take a joke and appreciate a well-made satire (at least I donít think thatís it). Itís just that the attempts at satirical humor in this comic are very sophomoric.

First, we have a moronic abductee, Barnabus Bauer, who seems to be based on Calvin Parker and Charles Hickson (two rednecks from Gautier, Mississippi who reported being contacted by three Grays while fishing in 1973), and whose name may be an allusion to Barney and Betty Hill (a New Hampshire couple who reported being abducted in 1961). Like the Hills, Barnabus Bauer in Ryallís story is also from Portsmouth, New Hampshire--though he otherwise comes across as a Mississippi redneck like Parker and Hickson.

Second (and third and fourth as well), we have cigarette-smoking Grays, beer-drinking Grays (with those hats that hold two cans of beer and straws that run down to the mouth of the hat-wearer), and pot-bellied Grays (from all that beer, I guess), et cetera, et cetera. There are numerous other ďgagsĒ that arenít funny because itís not clear what Ryall is attempting to achieve with his satire--and, yes, satire is supposed to have a purpose. Satire is meant to expose social and political faults for the sake of critical evaluation of our behaviors, beliefs, and customs.

I guess Ryall might be trying to make fun of people who believe that the US Air Force facility at Groom Lake is housing aliens and reverse-engineering alien technology. Thatís not exactly my personal belief, but itís close enough. The problem is that I donít think itís possible to tell whether thatís Ryallís intention or not. He might just as easily have no satirical inclinations; he might just be someone with a sophomoric sense of humor who thinks itís funny to see New Hampshire rednecks be transformed into grotesque creatures that become so bloated with . . . alien pus, I guess . . . that they explode.

When Barnabusís son, Karl, is being hosed off after his father exploded all over him, one of the Groom Lake workers tells Karl that he has his fatherís eyes . . . ďTheyíre, uh, stuck on your shoulder. Let me get those off you.Ē Yeah, thatís sort of funny. My six-year-old daughter would probably crack up laughing. Of course, she also thinks a picture of a monkeyís butt is the funniest thing in the world.

I admit that Iím probably too old for this series. I find the comedy of Adam Sandler and most other contemporary comedians is similarly sophomoric. In fact, Iím showing my age when it comes to much of the contemporary comedy and music that I hear nowadays--that same complaint essentially dates back at least as far back as 2,400 years ago when Plato wrote of Socrates making similar complaints about the tastes of young people in ancient Greece. Thus, it really doesnít matter what I think of Groom Lake if it strikes the right chord with the sophomores at which itís aimed. Iíll even let my daughter read it at some point when she gets a little older.

As for me, Iíll crawl off somewhere to watch the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (I heard Michael Rennie was ill), the original version of The Blob starring Steve McQueen--none of those new-fangled re-makes for me--and, of course, The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence. Itíll be a great triple feature.

Dim the lights for me on the way out, I already have my popcorn and Cherry Coke.



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