Image Comics Capsule Reviews – Harvest and Infinite Vacation

Continuing from Wednesday’s article, here are the other two Image miniseries I finished recently.

There is no doubt that Image’s output has improved a lot in recent years, but there is a certain sameness to a lot of its comics now. Of the four stories I’m looking at this week, Multiple Warheads is the only one that didn’t feel like it was a movie pitch at some level. Maybe it wasn’t intentional in all the others; Once that approach has become the norm, you can find yourself following it even if you do just want to tell a good story. And it’s difficult to know how much to criticize this change, because the quality really is better now. It’s still a tradeoff, though, because the big comics now are slick and more predictable. We have lost something as we left behind the chaos of comics’ less commercial days.

I still liked both of the comics from last Wednesday, even if neither one thrilled me. These next two were less interesting. (Because this article is a little wordier than the previous one, I’m putting the reviews below the fold.)


cover to Harvest #1

Harvest

Harvest

A.J. Lieberman’s latest work, Harvest, definitely has the sort of action movie pitch designed to get a backer’s attention. Benjamin Dane, a disgraced, hedonistic ex-surgeon, finds a new job in black market organ transplants, but gets the chance for redemption when he decides to undo all the evil they’re committing. If this goes outside of the Hollywood pattern at all, it’s in making the “hero” too much of a party-loving asshole at first. But it’s arguable whether this is an example of “you can get away with anything you want to in comics!” or just “comics are even less worried about realism than stock action movies”.

Either way, it’s a collection of fun pieces that never quite come together. The imaginary six-year-old who follows Dane around offering commentary (“you are fucked now, my friend”) is never explained or relevant to the story, and just feels like a holdover from Lieberman’s “weirder” experiments like Cowboy Ninja Viking. There are promises of over-the-top surgical adventure as well as the seedy thrills of the organ-harvesting underworld, but neither is really fulfilled. Behind a few clever twists, it’s your stock story about a self-destructive man trying to stop vindictive bad guys who always know how to find him. There are good parts – Lieberman writes a couple scenes with a regretful Yakuza boss who I’d like to see more of, and Colin Lorimer’s art brings out the best in the story. But it never distinguishes itself among the movie-pitch miniseries, and the ending was a let-down. It could have gone in a couple ways, happy or sad, but it seemed so interested in preparing for a sequel that I can’t tell whether the current conflicts were supposed to have been resolved off-page, or if the next series was going to come back to them.

The tricky part is that Harvest really isn’t bad. It’s the epitome of the slick, unusual-but-not-outside-your-comfort-zone, comic that is starting to define Image. Had I read it four or five years ago, I would have enjoyed it a lot. Today, though, it just feels like a slightly flawed version of the thing that the company can pump out monthly.

Grade: C


cover to Infinite Vacation #1

Infinite Vacation

Infinite Vacation

Nick Spencer’s Infinite Vacation is a slightly more successful version of the movie-ready miniseries. It’s biggest sin was something that won’t bother you at all today if you’re considering reading this: The comics took forever to come out. The first issue appeared in January 2011, and #5 didn’t hit until January 2013. Of course, that last issue was also double-sized, another increasingly common pattern for stories that didn’t pace themselves well at the start. At the time, this just felt frustrating and like a waste of Spencer’s promise. Looking back over it now, though, I can see that it was a decent story.

Infinite Vacation is one of those science fictional parables about how new technologies may not always be for the best. In this case, “Infinite Vacation” is a new system that lets you pay to trade places with yourself in parallel dimensions. Wish you’d stuck with college until you graduated? Maybe a more educated version of yourself will sell his position to you for $50,000. Upset that you missed that traffic light? Another reality might fix that problem for a mere $50. Some people, like protagonist Mark, jump around several times a day. They look down on the few remaining “dead enders”, those people who refuse to jump between realities because they think their choices should matter and that the alternate versions of their friends aren’t just interchangeable. Unsurprisingly, the series has a lot of sympathy for the dead enders. There’s a certain luddite branch to a lot of populist science fiction that likes to argue that our advancements will destroy our humanity. Of course, they’re right in the situations portrayed here, but Spencer stacks the deck so much that it’s not really a fair debate. And the villains turn out to be so irrational that it’s difficult to accept any relevance to our reality.

It’s a fun, slick (to use that word again) story, and the art by Christian Ward accentuates it. It uses a watercolor-like coloring that I find a little bulky and static, as well as occasional photographed sequences that I find jarring, but those techniques have a purpose here in a story where reality is fluid. Ward plays with panels when necessary to mix the scenes between dimensions.

The main place that this lost me was with the questions that its technology brought up. The story worked as long as I let it run with the ideas it put forward, but it seemed flawed as soon as I wondered how the economics of money transfers work between dimensions (why don’t we ever see the points of view of people who are selling their better positions?) or how these swaps could work smoothly when so many alternate Marks really are physically and temperamentally different. The really big question is how one company could gain a monopoly over a technology that drives most peoples’ lives and is more powerful than any army. The government seems completely uninterested in interfering, even though the Infinite Vacation corporation can destroy realities that it deems “dangerous” with the press of a button.

Metaphor is only interesting when the situation it shows feels internally consistent. From that perspective, Infinite Vacation fails. But as an unpredictable action story, it does fairly well.

Grade: C+

 
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