So, apparently, “supernatural noir” is the buzzy phrase of the moment over at J. Michael Straczynski’s Joe’s Comics. Joining the already established (and pretty darn great) book, Ten Grand, is a new, four-issue miniseries misadventure in mystic mayhem called Apocalypse Al, starring bemused ginger dealer of the divine and demonly, Allison Carter. But, is this new series truly new or just a rehash of the same old ho-hum urban hoodoo we’ve seen so many times before? First let’s briefly talk plot. Descended from a long line of apocalypse-busters (all previously male), Allison (or “Al” to her friends and enemies) acts on behalf of both her family and humanity as, in her words, “a private investigator specializing in the end of the world, more specifically preventing same.” Fun bit of writing, that.
Much of Al’s day-in, day-out duties include one or more of the following: liaising with helpful posthumous detectives, pumping oracular vagrants in tin foil hats for prophetic information, banishing would-be world-eating demons back to the hell dimensions from whence they came, escaping sentient nightmare realms and rousting out their summoners; and finally, conducting business with both worldly business moguls and all and sundry lords of eternal darkness, et al. Sounds like pretty great stuff, right? And for the most part, it is.
Overall, I enjoyed Apocalypse Al, both the book itself and the character after which it is named. Straczynski writes his main character here as a witty, chipper, quippy chick, with a mouth and mind as fast as her trigger finger. She’s ballsy, endearing, wry and unfurls a host of clever asides that are spot-on. She’s immediately disarming (no pun intended) and easy to read, with a jauntily introspective style that provides a refreshingly light framework to an otherwise dark story.
But ... there’s a but. There does seem to be an overexertion of effort to make her that way, like Straczynski’s jury-rigging his own Buffy into a marginally different set of story parameters, but with a dialogue cadence and job description that are exceedingly similar. At the same time, given the quiet nods the art and story give to the “normal life” Al must have forsaken to take part in her fateful undertaking, she will almost certainly suffer from that same “deflective social armor syndrome,” where she seems tough as nails and able to laugh anything off, but is actually deeply troubled and traumatized ... because that’s never been done before.
Hopefully I’m wrong, but in that and other ways, this story feels formulaic, especially for Straczynski, who again happens to be writing another supernatural noir-type book in Ten Grand, and apparently yet another somewhat similar title in the upcoming Dream Police. Now, while all of these books enjoy their own subtle differences, they also seem to share a collective raison d'être, one affected by a narrative that would benefit from further nuance.
Don’t get me wrong, Apocalypse Al isn’t bad, and it’s evident that Straczynski is having a ball playing within this admittedly entertaining story dynamic, but the tropes he’s fiddling with here are so weirdly conventional by this point, it kind of hurts this as a unique piece of work, up to and including mining a quirky cast of side characters like the one I mentioned above.
It just doesn’t feel like Straczynski is stretching himself as much as he should or could be, not least from his very own projects, which have themselves (correctly or not) been described as Constantine clones. If that’s your bag and you just can’t get enough of this kind of story no matter how well-worn it feels, then you’re probably gonna love this regardless of its familiarity. In my opinion, though, there are other books out there - notably Ten Grand - that are, so far, superior to this one, almost to the point of rendering this particular story moot.
The art from Kotian is fun and serviceable, with a few flashes of real brilliance, like the Sandman-esque decant into dreaming. Altogether, though, I’d have to say that its visual direction, like its narrative one, was entertaining in the same way every C.S.I. spinoff is “entertaining,” but otherwise pretty unremarkable.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski Artist: Sid Kotian Colorist: Bill Farmer Publisher: Image/Joe’s Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 2/5/14