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Author Topic: Some reviews.  (Read 30076 times)

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DeCarlo Rules

Re: Some reviews.
« Reply #90 on: March 02, 2018, 03:38:22 AM »
Betty & Veronica: VIXENS #1-4
Written by Jaime Rotante
Art by Eva Cabrera

Issue #4 of this title came out this week, which more or less concludes the first story arc of this series (apart from one conspicuously dangling plot thread), so I sat down and took the opportunity to re-read the first three issues along with the new one.

There are a few things that strike me immediately as unsatisfying about this series as is. To begin with Eva Cabrera's artwork, she does a really nice job on the covers for the most part, along with some of the splash pages (which look to have been later "add-ons" in the sense that they were drawn somewhat later and are completely unneccessary to the actual story, as if the script had actually run a page shorter than the number of story pages allotted for the issue). So I know that given the time to do a good job (at least on a single drawing) Eva is capable of better work than what's on display in most of these panels and pages. It appears to me that she's just not up to speed to deliver an entire comic book worth of art (she appears to be her own inker) in the time allotted in the best quality she might be capable of if given more time. Her greatest strength is in her actual storytelling ability, the layout of the panels and placement of the figures on the page, moving those characters in space and including all the information necessary for reading the story unambiguously. Her weaknesses (at the speed she's required to work to make deadlines) are:

1)  Sparse and undetailed backgrounds (she often doesn't bother to rule straight lines that should be ruled, use much perspective, or add much detail or any shading/textures in her work, which makes it look a little bland and 2-dimensional overall. Background props are sort of "mailed-in" with little time spent making them look convincing.
2)  Faces are inconsistently drawn. In any given issue you can find some examples that came out well (in consideration of her own style), and others where little things are just off, like the shape of the head or the distance between a character's eyes. Some noses are drawn well, and others not. Sometimes she gets a good facial expression in there, and sometimes not. She needs to work on that, and codify her own particular style so that she can adapt it to the requirements of any given angle or character action/reaction, drawing the same type of head angle or facial expression consistently from one instance to the next, and always keeping the proportions well-balanced.
3)  Many of Eva's weaknessess in these areas could have been smoothed over by having assigned her a good, experienced professional inker -- someone like Rich Koslowski. Eva's own inking is her weakest area overall, because many artists don't bother with fine-tuning the details of backgrounds, texturing, and faces until the inking stage. That's when they get more of a three-dimensional quality to the artwork, and make it look less flat, and improve some of the rough edges of their pencil art. I can only assume that Eva really doesn't have the time to do all that, both pencilling AND inking, with the amount of work it requires before the deadline, to bring her work up to truly professional levels, like she does with her cover art. Most likely, being fairly new as an artist, she really isn't being paid a lot to do BOTH jobs of pencilling and inking, and I can sympathize a little bit with that. Obviously, ACP did not budget the book high enough to account for also paying a pro inker like Koslowski to finish the pages. Her inking is flat, with no variance in line-weight or real polish or confidence to it, which is what an inker does to turn rough pencil art into something slick looking, giving everything some roundness, depth, and consistency. She does draw and position her figures pretty well, but still needs work on details like hands.

Now, harsh as all that might sound, I do think Eva has a future in the industry, but she'll have to work on both her consistency and speed. With time and constant practice (and with a little assistance by a veteran ink-slinger until she can get up to speed) that should improve, and as I mentioned, she already has the ability to lay out a story and tell it visually pretty well. The overall effect here is of a young person of reasonably artistic ability who still has a long way yet to go -- the artwork still has that 'kitchen-table'/DIY roughness to it. Some might say that's part of its charm, that rough-hewn quality, but really it's comics at the fanzine/doujinshi level.

Now let's get to the story. There are a couple of problems here, both in story terms and and in characterization. Let's take characterization first. Jaime Rotante is kind of all over the place here, with a large cast of characters, but the main ones don't seem to ring true (even allowing for a complete transplant of genre) to the ACP characters we're familiar with. Betty is probably the worst example. Betty Cooper in this story has some kind of self-esteem issues and a lot of pent-up anger, and often lets it dictate her actions in place of thinking. The fact that she gets away with it in most instances can only be chalked up to dumb luck (or because the writer SAID so). This Betty threatens to kick someone's ass, and starts fights when she should know better and just walk away. In other words, she's not really any version of Betty Cooper who appeared in any of the Archie comic books up until 2015. She seems to fancy herself as Riverdale's protector in some way, but really she's the one instigating retaliation from the Southside Serpents gang. Similarly, both Toni Topaz and Evelyn Evernever are seemingly always spoiling for a fight. Since both of these characters have less about them established, it's easier to bend whatever prior characterization might have existed in those few stories with them. What Veronica's interest in all this girl-gang business is, is never really made clear. She seems to enjoy the idea of it for pure kicks. Some things about the story are just left hanging and we never really find out what happened. In the first issue, Betty rides passenger on Archie's "fixed it up myself" motorcycle until they encounter mechanical troubles, on the way to meeting up with Veronica and Reggie at "Dead Man's Curve", and they need to pull into Spotty's, a biker bar which is the Southside Serpents' hangout. Archie gets nervous when he sees all the bikers in the bar, runs out, and hops on his bike in an attempt to "get the hell out of there", accidentally knocking over a row of the Serpents' parked motorcycles, which irks the Serpents' leader, Fangs Fogerty, and he vows to get even. Later on, it's never revealed what the heck happened to Veronica and Reggie that same night, or exactly what the Serpents did to try to get revenge, but it's implied (NOT shown) that they went on some kind of "roaring rampage of revenge". If Jaime Rotante wants to make us feel that whatever Betty and Veronica think they're doing is to "protect Riverdale" (or themselves), then it's got to be SHOWN, not just "alluded to". As far as can be seen in this story, apart from Archie's clumsiness in accidentally knocking over the Serpents' bikes, everything from then on is a result of things that B&V do to instigate conflict, and a result of their anger and spoiling to prove something to themselves in challenging the Serpents. It's hard to generate sympathy for their cause when they're not even trying to avoid a conflict, but actively seeking it out. My takeaway from this is that Betty has some unresolved self-image issues and Veronica is just looking to be "in on the action", to experience some lowdown "kicks" that the pampered rich hardly ever need contend with.

So, overall, there's definitely something lacking here in terms of clear motivations and something other than random characterizations. Jaime's approach to scripting a comic story is still at that homemade Kitchen Table/fanzine-quality level. She needs to better think out the motivations and actions of her characters, because the whole storyline seems like a domino chain of random actions. Of course the Serpents don't get our sympathy either, because (for some reason that isn't entirely clear) they choose to ransack Ambrose's Garage (giving him a concussion when they assault him) and steal Bubbles' McBounce's motorcycle. Once again, the Serpents gang's attack isn't actually SHOWN, only the aftermath of it (that's not good drama). It isn't ever explained how the Serpents draw some kind of connection between them and Archie and B&V, the target of their vindictiveness. Bubbles is so upset by the attack that while she's at first mindful to keep the concussed Ambrose from falling asleep, a few panels later she gets mad at him and tells him to "Go back to sleep" (which would imply that she's so mad that she doesn't really care if he winds up with brain damage or dead).

Then too, there is a lot of flashforwarding and flashbacking in the story (each issue usually starts in the present, then flashes back to some events occurring earlier), and it's done very awkwardly, without much in the way of transitional captioning, so that the actual connection of chronological events is sort of blurry. There's a big rumble between the Vixens (who after all, are still inexperienced high school girls new to this whole "gang" thing) and the vicious and very-experienced Southside Serpents, in which the Vixens all handily deliver the beatdown to the Serpents in a couple of pages in the last issue, winning rather easily with not much serious effort or incurring any injuries. HOW? Just because. Because they're the "good gals" and they need to win in the end, regardless of any sort of reflection of concern for "realism" or anything like that. Oh yeah, because Evelyn and Toni are always getting in fights, anyway, and Veronica knows like 3 or 4 different martial arts (which she just happened to mention in passing) the names of which J.R. just plucked off the internet somewhere. Rah, rah! Girl Power!!

The universe of VIXENS seems to take place in a world where in the year 2018, they have computers, smartphones, and social media, but sociologically and culturally, nothing has changed about the world one bit since the 1950s. Adults are still stern and sober authoritarians worried about the threat of juvenile delinquency, and a woman is still expected to "know her place" in society. On the other hand, inflation never happened either, so a ticket to the big dance can be bought for only $2 (in our world, I'm thinking it would be more like $20 or more, but I admit to not having bought a ticket to a local social event in a while).

Betty and Veronica as co-leaders of an all-girl biker gang is a potentially interesting concept, but the execution of the idea is less than graceful. At the end of issue #3, we are teased with the introduction of what would seem to turn out to be a modernized version of Little Archie's Mad Doctor Doom, and although we see him meeting clandestinely with Fangs Fogerty to plot some further unguessed mischief, there's isn't much of a hint of how he fits into this world ("mad scientist" seems unlikely), or how exactly he fits into the underworld gang structure.

From what's been in the first four issues, I couldn't grade this comic any higher than a C-, and that feels somewhat generous.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2018, 05:00:28 AM by DeCarlo Rules »


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