I have never really loved, or even hated, anything produced by Gray or Palmiotti and 30 Days of Night, my sole venture into Niles’ work, was underwhelming to say the least. So I bought this book solely on the strength of its concept. An anthology equally featuring serialized creator-owned stories and comics-magazine-style content, e.g. interviews, pictures, etc. Although, as many have commented, the format isn’t exactly novel, the creator-owned hook is what really has caught people’s attentions. As with virtually every form of entertainment, it’s incredibly pervasive for comic book fans to elide a certain key term: industry. The comic-book industry, by all accounts, doesn’t seem to possess the most progressive model regarding labour issues. Like most fans, it’s something I know in the back-of-my-head yet my desire to see Batman hook Superman in the face with a kyprtonite mecha suit ensures that those thoughts stay exactly there – in the background. However, I do want to see comics – as a medium, as a format, as an industry – grow, expand, mutate. In the last three decades it certainly has. The advent of the graphic novel, literary acceptance, the looming spectre of the digital revolution. None-the-less, for those unlucky enough not to be one of the handful of superstar writers, they don’t seem (and this from an outsider’s perspective) to reward their creators commensurate with the blood, sweat and tears that go into production. Enter creator-owned heroes. With this book, these guys are really trying to carve out a new space free from corporate exploitation but also editorial interference. The numbers will tell if this is a successful venture financially, but creatively, it mostly delivers.
Creator Owned Heroes contains two 11-page stories. The first, Steve Niles’ American Muscle, is a pretty standard post-apocalpytic/on the road story featuring an ensemble of characters. The big kicker is that the characters are pretty self-aware of the post-apocalytipc scenario they find themselves in as a result of being part of a previous cultural milieu, presumably ours, that told post-apocalyptic stories. It’s a nice angle for meta-commentary on the trope, though nothing much comes from it this issue. I generally enjoyed the setup even if it was mostly world-building. The only character we really got to know was Gil, who seems to be the defacto leader with a chip on his shoulder. Luckily for us Gil doesn’t seem to be a brooder. The story ended on a nice, if telegraphed, cliff hanger.
The second story is Jimmy Palmiotti’s and Justin Gray’s Trigger Girl 6. Writing-wise I enjoyed this story considerably less than American Muscle. though perhaps that was because there was considerably less writing in this story despite the equal page counts. It begins with a full page spread that contains little text, all of which is inconsequential plot-wise, followed by a similar second page. Then we are treated to four pages with no text which mostly feature Trigger Girl number 6, the titular main character who we are left to presume is the sixth iteration in a series of clone bio weapons, putting clothes on after being activated. The artist absolutely nails these pages and the visually story-telling is there, mostly showcasing the facility where we find TG6. Normally this would be a small gripe if anything, but these stories are only 11-pages and half of TG6 is something I can turn through in a couple of seconds. The second half the story is an action piece involving blowing up a senator’s plane. Very little plot is introduced this issue and we only meet TG6 (which says very little considering at this point that TG6 is a blank slate automaton) and a cameo from a nefarious sounding President of the USA. This story has the potential to be incredibly cliche very quickly. I really hope this isn’t a story about a government black-ops weapon gaining sentience, turning on its disavowed masters. There also seems to be an awkwardly placed environmentalist theme here somewhere. Beats me.
The art is probably what most fans are really going to gravitate towards. As they should. This book is beautiful. American Muscle has a really nice etching illustrated motif, coloured with a great watercolor-esque palette. I like the colorist’s (who I am pretty sure is also the penciller Kevin Mellon, I can’t tell) style of giving denser, more detailed coloring to central objects (I love the rust on the cars) yet handling backgrounds with a lighter touch. The artist also does a fantastic job of illustrating a car chase sequence that believably portrays movement. There’s also great character design, which is going to be really important with so many characters.
Trigger Girl 6 is equally as beautiful. It’s done in a very cool looking minimalistic-hygenic aesthetic. I am also a fan of the shading style where the image is pretty much a solid color, and shaded here and there with a couple lighter layers of colour. The color scheme, stark white background with the electric blue water, is so visually striking in this book.
Although the art is incredible, what really makes this book for me is the extra 25 pages. These extras are crammed with cool tidbits. There are interviews with the creators, interviews with special guest Neil Gaiman, write-ups about the process of getting this book out by Niles, Gray, Palmiotti, cover artist Bill Tortollini, a random article on creator owned comics by some dude named Steve Bunch, a cosplay article and more. What’s great is that none of this content feels like page-count fill ins. They seem meticulously chosen to collectively construct what the creators want the feel of this book to be.