Review: Static Shock Vol. 1: Supercharged trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ordinarily these reviews examine collected comics as books -- ignoring, for instance, any scheduling conflicts that would affect the monthly reader's experience but not that of the collected reader; and also side-stepping the "inside baseball" well-known to those who read the comics news sites every day, but not to those who might pick up a collection in the bookstore just because it looks interesting. Such is the custom of novel reviews, which rarely address whether the writer likes his editor or not, and such is the intention here.

For the first time, however, a book has come along that is such a mess as to make it almost impossible to review as a book itself. Static Shock: Supercharged is a terrible, terrible mess of muddled and conflicting storylines; the cluttered, distorted artwork only makes matters worse.

The difficulty apparently stems from conflicts between writer John Rozum and artist (and later writer) Scott McDaniel; it's unclear who's dictating the plot at what point, but by the climax of Static's first storyline in the sixth issue, the book has stopped making sense from page to page, with characters appearing from nowhere and spouting incomprehensible nonsense.

Reports say Rozum left the series early and that McDaniel wrote most of it himself, which would place most of the fault for this book at McDaniel's feet (McDaniel is the first-named writer in the credits), though surely both creators, plus editor Harvey Richards, share some blame. That the book's final issue conflicts not only with DC New 52 continuity but the internal continuity of the story up to that point suggests that more than a few people had abandoned their responsibilities by the end (Static was mercifully cancelled prior to the DC New 52's Second Wave, making Supercharged the first and only DC New 52 Static collection).

Rozum, in a post about his experience, claims he had to speak out about his difficulties on Static Shock so that he would not be tarnished by poor work that wasn't his. This is sensible, though the loser is undoubtedly the reader, who reads Static knowing that even if they enjoy the book, there's still a cloud of conflict hanging over it. What may redeem Static, however, counter-intuitively, is that McDaniel still appears proud of and stands by his work.

Indeed Supercharged, including the parts that McDaniel claims, is not well done, but it emerges slightly ahead of what's meant to be one of the DC New 52 flagship titles, Superman. Writer George Perez has been quite vociferous about his negative experience launching Superman for the DC New 52, going so far as to say, "The people who love my Superman arc, I thank you. What you read, I don’t know." For collection readers who might have been excited to read Superman: What Price Tomorrow?, this is a splash of cold water; it's hard to enjoy a book when one knows the person who wrote it doesn't even like, and even harder to justify buying that book and knowing some of that money goes to the writer's royalties, when the writer has gone out of his way to spoil the reader's potential fun.

Rozum and McDaniel's conflict is not quite of this type, though readers might still wish Rozum could have found a way to address the conflict quietly. Amidst Rozum and McDaniel, Perez, Jim Shooter's unhappiness with his Legion of Super-Heroes run from a few years back, Chris Roberson similarly bad-mouthing the work he did on Superman: Grounded, and others, it seems almost miraculous that writer Chuck Dixon exited DC Comics in 2008 over some disagreement, but hasn't said a public word of ill about it. The reader can intuit some unhappiness inherit in Dixon's Robin: Violent Tendencies, but Dixon's silence ensures his early Robin and Birds of Prey work remains intact.

Similarly, there's no telling for what reason J. T. Krul leaves Green Arrow: The Midas Touch after three issues to be replaced by Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen, but it's a peaceful transition, one that preserves the book and makes for a cohesive reading experience from beginning to end. Tempers certainly appear to have been hotter on Static Shock, but Green Arrow is a good model for what Supercharged could have been (the book's poor writing notwithstanding) and again, the loser in all of this is the reader.

Comics creators have an unprecedented amount of access to today's fans, and this is largely a positive thing; however, books like Static Shock are a reminder that the microphone can just as easily be used to enrich the reading experience as it can to deaden it entirely.

What Rozum and McDaniel have in common, whether they realize it or not, is that whomever wrote what part, from Static Shock: Supercharged's beginning to its end Static Virgil Hawkins remains a likeable teenage character trying his best to do good. Supercharged bevy of ill-defined villains will never be seen again, but for all its problems, the book does not ruin the Static character himself. Whether Static can ever headline his own series is debatable -- one would have to worry, at this point, about the "Static curse" -- but if there's any justice, this book's failure won't keep Static from showing up elsewhere in the DC New 52 universe.

[Includes original covers, sketchbook section by Scott McDaniel with Jim Lee]

The Dark Knight Rises arrives in theaters tomorrow -- and tomorrow, come back here for the official Collected Editions review!  Your first look at Dark Knight Rises, right here -- don't miss it!
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

10 comments:

  1. At this point, it’s probably impossible to separate the controversy surrounding Static Shock with the poor quality of the resulting product. I’m glad you address this in your review; because it’s clear that what is presented on the comic page doesn’t tell the whole story and this can leave the uninformed reader confused. Static is a great character (the TV show did well) and he deserved better.

    At its core, comics are a collaborative process (with the writer, artist and editor working in tandem to, hopefully, make the best product they can). When it works together beautifully you get Animal Man; when everything breaks down you sadly end up with Static Shock.

    Hope you enjoy the Dark Knight Rises, trailers looks awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I regretted that I couldn't offer a larger perspective on the story as a whole here, but that would have been artifice -- there's no story to treat seriously here, and in trying to do so the joke would've been on me.

    I read both Rozum and McDaniel's statements and I know who I thought sounded more reasonable, but I didn't want to get in to that -- but again, the book is so disjointed that to try to review it from the "reader off the street"'s perspective would've been an exercise in futility.

    I thought it best just to meditate a bit on what it means for the reader when things just go bad creatively, as they did here -- and then surprised myself when I realized that Rozum and McDaniel's conflict still isn't as bad, in my opinion, as what's happened with George Perez and Superman. So that ultimately left me with some grudging respect for McDaniel, which wasn't exactly where I started out this post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What really sickens me about what happened with this book is that the editor hired the writer of one of DC's most critically-acclaimed books in recent memory and then proceeded to not only second-guess every single idea he had, but also let an artist who had never written a comic before plot the book pretty much by himself. How could it not end in a disaster?

    ReplyDelete
  4. True shag, though the conflict between Rozum and McDaniel offers an interesting insight into two schools of thought as to how to make a comic successful. Rozum wanted to do his thing and trust that if he wrote a good book, the fans would come; McDaniel had one eye on the sales figures and thought they needed constant shocks to keep the fans reading.

    It's easy to vilify McDaniel here (and the proof might be in the pudding), but his approach is not entirely crazy. It seems like Rozum was hoping to "pull a Starman," so to speak, building up Static by word of mouth, but it seems to me that's terribly, terribly hard to do, like a million-to-one shot; in the fact of that, maybe McDaniel's sensationalism isn't such a bad idea.

    Then again, I think this is the difference between the Static and Mr. Terrific titles -- Terrific also bombed, but I loved it, because Eric Wallace just plain wrote a good story; if Rozum or McDaniel had written a good story, irrespective of being cancelled, this would be a different review.

    ReplyDelete
  5. All I know is, if I edited a book and had two guys vying for who gets to plot it, I'd go with the guy who wrote Xombi, not the artist with zero writing experience. Maybe Rozum's approach would be less commercial, but good word of mouth would probably make DC more supportive of the book even if it lost a lot of readers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I guess I'll stay with Milestone's Static then :P

    ReplyDelete
  7. The unfortunate thing about this review is that it assumes readers will care about the backstage politics as if they really affect the quality, without actually explaining how they do so. I read the first issue primarily on the strength of my interest in Scott McDaniel's art. I didn't read others not because of the quality of the book but for financial reasons. To my mind, McDaniel's art was a good match for Static's character, or at least established a definite tone, which in a very general sense could be called, as with all of McDaniel's work, kinetic. If there was a conflict in the writing between McDaniel and Rozum's artistic sensibilities, I would err on the side of McDaniel, because Rozum at this point should have known that if his writing didn't match the art, then the artist would win out, since McDaniel was already billed as the primary creator on the book.

    All of this is to say that the review and indeed popular opinion that this book was a mess had already been ordained from the start, and primarily due to the fact that among these opinions, it was Rozum and not McDaniel who should have been allowed to set the tone. I don't know if the book is worth reading, and I certainly don't believe that this is a judgment that can be determined by the internal conflicts behind it. I do know that it was a completely different book than the other New 52 books I sampled in the beginning, and most of that is due to the fact that Static as a property is something DC is still trying to figure out, blessed with an inordinate amount of popularity, but inconsistent with its common approach, even before this relaunch.

    To say that the failure of this series will in any way determine the future of Static is to say that the character had a stake in this enterprise to begin with. He didn't, and this review does an injustice to assume that he did. If anything, it was a different kind of visibility that he would have won. A new and more impartial review would in order.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Tony,

    I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

    You state that "the unfortunate thing about this review is that it assumes readers will care about the backstage politics as if they really affect the quality, without actually explaining how they do so." While none of us are privy to the minute details of the creators' conflict, and therefore can't specifically say that argument X lead to bad scene Y, I do conclude that whatever the case, some disfunction behind the scenes has lead to the book ceasing to make sense page to page by the sixth issue (see, in that issue, Sunspot suddenly appearing on the page with no lead-in).

    It's possible I could lay this all at McDaniel's feet and simply state that it's McDaniel doing the writing and therefore the problem is McDaniel's poor writing, but I don't know for sure that the issue is all McDaniel's. What I could say with honesty is that I know there was conflict behind the scenes and that by the sixth issue the book had stopped making sense to me, and then I intuited that the two facts were related.

    I disagree, therefore, with your statement that in my review I don't demonstrate how the "backstage politics" leads to the problems with the quality of the book; as I've explained above, I do think I show a connection between one and the other. If you don't agree with my conclusion, that's fine -- I respect your opinion -- but I maintain that I have shown the cause and effect.

    I take your point that the best tribute to Static, the character, here would be to ignore the background and just focus on the character in an "impartial" review. I would very much have liked to have done that; when I finished Supercharged, however, I felt (as I related earlier to Ryan S.) that trying to treat Supercharged as a coherent story would have been 1) futile and 2) a joke on me -- like taking a farcical movie and trying to review it as something serious.

    You can see from my review index that I've reviewed hundreds of comics, and I'll say I have never encountered anything as poorly constructed as Static Shock. I have offered cogent reviews of comics that I thought were badly written or drawn before, but with Static, I felt the creative team simply gave up -- there was no consistency of characterization or motivation for the villains throughout the story, and the latter issues in part contradicted the earlier ones. I just did not feel that a story-based review, as is the custom here, was possible. Instead, ultimately unable to separate story from context, I took another tack and looked at how this kind of backchatter can affect a reader, especially a collections reader.

    If you feel you can review Static Shock: Supercharged on the basis of its story, please do so, post on your site, and drop a link here; I'd be interested to read that review. It wasn't where I ended up. Again, however, I appreciate that you stopped by and cared enough about this book to leave your thoughts; hope you'll come around again sometime. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've only visited your site a couple of times, and having just read through a review for the new Batwoman collection...it's clear that you guys really love to talk in infinite detail about the good and the bad, and continuity issues, of the things you read. That is not necessarily my style. If I read a book, I try to get a feel for what the creators were trying to accomplish, and if they succeeded. If the result is not something I particularly agree with, then nine times out of ten I probably won't have read it in the first place. But selectivity is not always possible, especially wen you run a fairly comprehensive site, as you do.

    This is a difference of approaches. Clearly mine is different from yours. I understand what you did and why you did it. As a fan of McDaniel, it pained me to see his New 52 effort come naught, but I have very little to show for my support in this enterprise, as I have already admitted to having only read the first issue, which to my mind was dominated by McDaniel's art, and was totally against the grain of nearly every other book (at least among the ones I sampled) leading with heavy characterization. I know McDaniel can handle books where characters come first, but for some reason he didn't seem to go that way this time, and as you pointed out there were certainly creative differences with his writing partner that seem to have drastically affected the book.

    It just seems to me that the approach was from a different vantage point than you are willing to admit. If this had had "Johnny DC" slapped on the cover, it would have been the coolest kids' read on the rack. Not every book needs to feature the same kind of storytelling. Maybe this was a flawed execution of an alternative, but it was already clear to me from the one issue that it was at least an alternative, a fact that you somewhat casually ignore.

    Regardless, I love that you're doing this, so I don't want to sound like I think this was a waste of my time. Any comprehensive look is worth the effort.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think you paint this site with a broad brush, Tony. I appreciate your interest in a more literary analysis of a book, though I don't find every title lends itself to that. Consider, however, my reviews of Catwoman: The Game, Final Crisis, and my retrospectives on Geoff Johns's Flash, Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman, and Gotham Central, among others, for examples of the kinds of reviews you're looking for.

    We can of course agree to disagree on our assessment of Static Shock, especially since, as you point out, we're coming at the book from different perspectives -- I've read all of Supercharged, and you read only the first issue. I agree that the first issue was good and portended good things for the series, though I'd didn't feel the rest of the issues lived up to the first (no way to know for sure, but my guess is Rozum's presence was strongest in the first issue).

    A Static "Johnny DC" book would be cool, though I disagree that Supercharged was kid-appropriate just without the labeling -- see the ghostly hands extending emerging from the characters' mouths on two occasions and the dismembered finger in issue eight. From a "whole book" perspective, I think the potential for catering to a younger audience that you see in the first issue dissipates by the end.

    Irrespective, I wanted this book to be better, and I appreciate your speaking up in defense of it.

    ReplyDelete