Better Late: Thrillbent Comics and Insufferableon July 7, 2012 at 8:15 am
The tricky part about any digital-only comic when you’re not generally a devotee of that delivery system is remembering when the Goddamned thing comes out. I know when to go pick up Amazing Spider-Man and Batman because I have a subscription at my local comic store, where they know me by name and ask me to remember that the definition of “digital comics” does not include “publicly giggling at cell phone porn.” And I remember that I need to go to the comic store on Wednesdays, because Wednesdays are “Look The Other Way While Rob Curses About Scott Lobdell And Simultaneously Dribbling IPA Onto His Shirt” night at the bar next door… or at least, that’s what they’ve become.
So despite my initial reserved – if not grudging – enthusiasm over the announcement of Mark Waid’s and John Rogers’s new Thrillbent Comics concern, I kinda, sorta forgot that it had even launched. Which is a hell of a thing to admit from a guy who co-runs a comics Web site – I mean, Mark Waid is one of the biggest names in comics, and if he produced a semi-solid dump that looked like a comic book, I should probably be paying attention – but it’s the truth. Hell, every Wednesday I get a hundred-dollar stack of glossy printed comics to read and review; you think I have time to go hunting for more stuff to read?
However, yesterday evening I got back to the Crisis On Infinite Midlives Home Office to find co-editor Amanda hard at work on a review, meaning I had to find a way to kill some time before going to “Avoid Eye Contact While Rob Whimpers That If He Were A More Conscientious Comics Writer He Wouldn’t Need The Day Job And Simultaneously Maybe Soiling Himself A Little” night at the pub. So I took a quick look at the Thrillbent Web site to see if I’d missed anything, thinking if I had it was probably a Paypal wall to the books, or maybe a Kickstarter project looking to raise money for, I don’t know, professional quality pixels or some such shit at which I could turn up my nose.
Turns out, no such luck.
Make no mistake: Thrillbent Comics is an imprint with one author, one artist, and one comic book, just like the dude who sold me a copy of Distracula at a local comic convention a couple years ago and which is memorable as being the only comic book I ever threw out in utter disgust. However, unlike many other indies, this book is written and drawn by pros. And unlike most other digital comics, it’s actually readable on a plain old computer screen, and actually tries to use its digital nature to add something to the experience.
Insufferable is being released serially on a week-to-week basis, and we’re currently on week 10, so there’s a decent chunk of story waiting for you. As you might be able to tell from the title, which is so close to Waid’s Boom Studios titles Irredeemable and Incorruptible, this is another deconstruction of a superhero archetype: this time, it’s Batman and Robin. The overall theory being: what would happen if Batman and Robin wound up just fucking hating each other?
Now, I’ll warn you right out of the gate that your enjoyment of this title is probably going to depend largely on how much you liked the previously-mentioned Irredeemable; I’ve heard a lot of people complain that it’s repetitive, and that the sheer scale of violence and misanthropy Waid has Superman stand-in The Plutonian indulge in turned them off the title. Personally, I dug it, but you’re going to find similar storytelling issues here. Waid has his pastiches Nocturnus and Galahad at each others throats in this book, escalating from revealing each others secret identities, to blowing up Stately Culver Manor to chucking each other into the classic Batman villain death traps.
But while the storytelling is over the top, what grounds it is Waid’s adherence to those old Batman story tropes. Yes, there are villain death traps – two so far. And there are gadgets, and a trophy room, and even a supercycle with a damn sidecar on it, just like the Corgi one I owned as a kid. Nocturnus even has fucking piranha repellent, for Christ’s sake. For all intents and purposes, this comic book is set in the 60s Batman TV universe, only it’s 2012, and the characters are deeply, deeply damaged and dysfunctional in a way that broken families are in the real world. Y’know, provided that your Dad sued for possession of half the superweapons in the divorce. It’s not for everyone, but if you liked Waid’s earlier similar deconstructions, it totally works.
Peter Krause’s art is pretty straightforward comic art. He uses a medium line, and has a tendency for his panels to look almost sketched in. It’s hard to make a judgment on his panel layout or his pacing because this simply isn’t a standard comic page he’s working with here. The layout is more horizontal, to fit a standard widescreen computer screen, and each page only has a couple, three panels on it. And when it comes to the pacing, well, you control it, not Krause. This book follows the Marvel Infinite Comics design, which was originally proposed by artist Yves Bigeral, in which each click of the mouse to “turn the page” can actually layer elements onto the current page, including new panels, changed facial expressions, or other on-the-page adjustments. It takes a little getting used to, and the first two pages of week one – where a character is shown in static, with the static suddenly clearing in front of your eyes – are a big shot across the bow that what you’re reading is somewhat different than a standard comic. Still, the effect isn’t used everywhere, so what you’re reading doesn’t feel like a constant gimmick, but where it is used? It’s actually generally pretty fucking cool.
So the in-browser reading experience is painless and simple to use, particularly compared to some of the other online comic reading experiences I’ve been through. But if you need the issues on the go. Thrillbent also offers free CBZ and PDF file downloads for each episode (I didn’t check out how the files looked or worked; this review is purely based on the browser reader). And the single current title is solid, but if you want a teaser for how Thrillbent intends to have their books look and read, they have an animatic version of Waid’s Cthuhlu Calls short illustrated by Yves Bigeral with notes by Bigeral explaining his visual choices.
All of which is all well and good, and well worth the (non)price of admission. But is any of this anything you should eventually, y’know, pay for? In its current incarnation, where Thrillbent’s offering actual non-DRM’ed files that you can download and own? Sure. I think I’ve been pretty clear that I prefer a print comic to a digital, but these comics leverage the digital format in a way that actually adds some value to the prospect of reading a comic on the screen. My question would be: what kind of price point do you put on a weekly few pages of comics? A buck? Fifty cents? I don’t know, but I know that the freebie nature of Thrillbent can’t last forever. So for the cost, do yourself a favor and check out Insufferable. At least for the moment, they have what any discriminating comic geek needs: a good story at a good price.
Just try to remember that Thrillbent has an RSS feed.