Funnybook Babylon

February 25, 2008

Dear David Lapham: I Have Been Slowly Dying Since 2005, and It’s All Your Fault

Filed under: Articles — Tags: — Jonathan Bernhardt @ 1:19 pm

Podcast is running a bit late (Technical issues? Joe is sick?? I was wondering why you took my JMS crap seriously, Joe, and now I know!), Pedro wanted some words for the web, and since David Lapham put out a comic recently, I’m gonna write about that.

The fifth and final issue of Lapham’s Terror, Inc., a reimagining of the Dan Chichester/Margaret Clark/Klaus Janson creation that graced the pages of titles such as St. George, the 13-issue first volume of Terror, Inc., and Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Team-Up before making its way to the MAX imprint, came out last week, and as far as I know, I’m the only one who noticed. Except maybe David. It was a good series, and it delivered spectacularly on what the MAX line promises its readers. And if you’re not familiar with what goes on with MAX: it’s an imprint that literally owes its continued existence to a Punisher book where Garth Ennis is allowed to do whatever he pleases. Guess.

Patrick Zircher? For reals?Boy is looking fresh.

The central conceit of Terror, Inc., in all of its incarnations, is that the main character (Terror) is a constantly-rotting, zombified collection of gory USB ports: he’s plug and play. He steals arms, legs, torsos, feet, hands, even heads and mixes and matches them at will. There’s a sort of grotesque RPG element to it; steal the legs of a sprinter, and you can run faster. Steal the hands of a surgeon, and you can perform surgery. Steal a man’s head, and not only do you know what he knows, but you see how he sees, and you talk how he talks. Your personalities overlap. And of course, over time, everything starts to fall apart, and much more rapidly than it normally would. Terror might steal a surgeon’s hands, but in a couple hours, they’ll be as good at doing bypasses as Stephen Strange’s are. As the miniseries’s first couple pages beautifully establish, this is magic, not science — it’s a curse to be specific — and it’s contained in Terror’s magical, metal-bound left arm, which was forged shut by a blacksmith while a witch cursed it and you know what? Just read the comic, it explains it better.

The plot Lapham sticks onto the character is somewhat thin and, eventually, inconsequential. It hits the requisite notes of mature modern action comics: government conspiracies, apocalyptic villains, explosions, expensive cars, drugs, SWAT teams, lots of fights, lots of swearing, lots of tits, lots of blood. Patrick Zircher is on art duties, and he’s magnificent; an amazing inking and coloring job really changes the feel of his pencils — he looks like a completely different artist than the guy who was doing Cable and Deadpool awhile back. He does a better job with the material than Lapham himself could have done, but Lapham, as an artist, has a specific look that really wasn’t suited for this kind of a book.

But that gets me to my main point. Terror, Inc. is a very fun book. It’s an enjoyable mature action romp. The dialogue is razor-sharp, the characters are enjoyable, the milieu is suitably creepy, and the parts of the book where Lapham plays with the main character’s concept are pretty fun. At the end of the day, though, it’s little more than a diversion. And Lapham has been doing a lot of those recently for Marvel and DC.

His Big Two hitlist started with 2005’s Punisher vs. Daredevil, the only piece of mainline Big Two work he’s done recently where he’s done his own art (aside from some covers and a backup in Detective Comics #800). It was a book mostly about Punisher and about a kid Punisher “inspired,” with predictably tragic consequences. At roughly the same time over at DC, maybe a bit earlier in the publishing calendar, Batman: City of Crime was coming out in the pages of Detective Comics. Why it was released in Detective, where it got interrupted by the abysmal War Crimes event, is depressingly evident: neither Lapham nor artist Ramon Bachs had the names to carry a 12-issue maxiseries, even a Batman maxiseries, all by their lonesome. It didn’t help that the story was a bit impenetrable when read monthly, although when taken all together, it’s probably the best Batman story of the past decade, if not longer. About this time, serious rumbling started that he had a new book coming down the pipes — something Spider-man related. People were confused. Spider-man? That didn’t sound like Lapham’s game. The news went away after awhile.

Lapham/Bachs Batman is the ugliest Batman, and that’s a compliment.

Then in 2006, Lapham got Giant Sized Wolverine #1, a big amalgamation issue with David Aja on art and a bunch of reprinted back matter stuffing it for size. That was a good story too, and though it fit comfortably within Lapham’s boundaries as a writer, it was fresh for the character and was a nice one-and-done bit. Still no word on the Spider-man book. For late 2006, DC announced a relaunch of their old Tales of the Unexpected book, with a main story by Lapham and artist Eric Battle, and backups by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. The extended miniseries — eight issues — hit shelves in late 2006 and bleeds into 2007. And as much as it pains me to admit it, because I love Lapham and have substantially less use for Azzarello, especially here, Lapham’s main story ended up playing second fiddle to Azz’s backup, which was a sort of tediously mean-spirited, half-hearted attempt at meta-fiction with some silly swipes thrown in at Marvel, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, and the entire DC apparatus that had given him the story assignment. It had beautiful art by Chiang, however. The main story, on the other hand, was a bit hamstrung by Eric Battle’s less than stellar efforts; but really, in the end, Lapham just dropped the ball. It felt like a cash-in book, like he took it on to finance his private work and just went through the motions — perverted adults, abused children, broken homes, tragedy, murder, death, let’s call it a day with issue eight. The dialogue lacked both the crispness of a Terror, Inc. and the measured brilliance of a Stray Bullets. It was just not that great.

But that was fine because it looked like in summer 2007, Lapham was getting back to basics with Silverfish, a 160 page OGN from Vertigo. It was billed as basically a big, long, extended issue of Stray Bullets. And I read it when it came out, and it was fine for what it was, but the thing is, that’s what was slapping me right in the face — this could have been more Stray Bullets.

And as 2007 turned into 2008, we got Terror, Inc., and now, finally, that often-rumored Spider-man book, Spider-Man: With Great Power. Issue one just came out a couple weeks ago. Great art by Tony Harris. That’s about all you can say about it. It was a blandly structured retelling of Spidey’s origin story with far too much narration and not enough dialogue, spending an entire issue recapping basic stuff. A necessary evil, and I’m going to keep on reading it to see what Lapham does with issue two, but really? Come on now.

An issue of Stray Bullets hasn’t been released since mid-2005. It’s a brilliant book. It is literally the most brilliant piece of crime fiction ever done in funnybook form. Bendis and Brubaker and Azzarello don’t touch him. They don’t come close to touching him. It should be studied, not just as a great story, and not just as a crime comic, but as an exercise in storytelling. It is a treasure of the medium. I can — and probably will — go into the merits of Stray Bullets in depth some other time. Most of the contributors to this site went into fits of soulcrushing depression of variable length thanks to this comic. For me, it was Issue #23 that did it. Your results may vary.

This funnybook will ruin your day. For serious!

Lapham isn’t doing it anymore, though, even though he left off in the middle of an arc, and he’s not doing it because he doesn’t want to, or because he’s lost interest, or because he really, really, really hates me; he’s not doing it because it’s not profitable. One of the best funnybooks of our time is stalled out indefinitely because it does not make any money. And its writer and artist has been driven to seek work with the Big Two, where he does…throwaway minis and one-shots, most of which have the echoes of the themes that make Stray Bullets great, but which can’t possibly deliver.

That’s the state the industry is in right now, I suppose — but let’s be fair; if this were twenty or thirty years ago, there’s little to no chance Stray Bullets actually gets out there, let alone stays afloat long enough to run to forty issues. Still, if Lapham has to stay in the freelancing business to support his family, let’s hope that his next offerings are more similar to Batman: City of Crime or Terror, Inc. than they are to Tales of the Unexpected. And someday maybe, just maybe, he’ll do the Daredevil run he deserves.

Or dammit, Dave, just sign a contract with someone to print your fucking book. Seriously, no one out there is willing to give you a fair shake on it?!

5 Comments »

  1. It’s unfortunate that crappy freelancing work is far more lucrative for creators like Lapham than creator-owned material. Terror, Inc. wasn’t to my tastes (it just seemed a tad phoned-in), but nice piece.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — February 25, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  2. he let straybullets.com lapse last year… nothing bodes well for the completion of this book.

    Comment by matt — February 25, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  3. I honestly felt like I was the last person left dying for Stray Bullets to be completed. It’s just…so soul crushing to know the only reason the book isn’t published is because there’s no money in it. The Silverfish tpb was particularly frustrating because it felt like it should have been Stray Bullets, but wasn’t.

    I honestly feel like Lapham is one of the best comic creators of our generation and yet all he does is crappy fill-in work. It’s just so depressing. I wish he’d do something like pencil an arc of Shooter’s Legion. At least if he’s going to be doing fill-in work, do work that some people *want* to see….

    Comment by Kenny — February 25, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  4. I miss Stray Bullets too. Silverfish was fun but I’d rather have more SB.

    Agreed about “City of Crime” too. A terrific story that really suffered from being interrupted by a crossover.

    Comment by matches — February 27, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  5. […] This blog loves David Lapham, I mean Stray Bullets writer David Lapham, but this week he released another non-Stray Bullets book. On a scale of Tales of the Unexpected to […]

    Pingback by Funnybook Babylon » Blog Archive » FBBP - #48 - Secrets of the Costume Party. — March 13, 2008 @ 7:10 am

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