A review a day: <i>The Villain</I>

It's the first of two Steve Earnhart books! You know you're excited!

I always like talking with Steve Earnhart when I see him at Comic-Con. He's a fun dude who's so excited about comics and music and life in general, and I love the fact that he creates comics in as raw a way as possible.

His first series, Hard-Bullied Comics (renamed because, inexplicably, Frank Miller thought he owned the term "hard-boiled," which is what the series was originally called), introduced us to a hard-boiled private investigator 15 years in the future and featured all sorts of crazy bad-assery. He has a new series of Hard-Bullied Comics which I'll review tomorrow, but for today, I'd like to check out his other series, which is called The Villain (and is touted as "volume 1," so we'll see if Earnhart is going to give us another one). Earnhart writes, Pat Loika draws, and John and Bernadette Joseco color. It costs $14.95 and comes from Earnhart's own company, Goodbum Studios, and Dial R Studios.

Earnhart gives us a story of Nic Nason, a student at West Beverly Hills High School, who one night gains superpowers. He's in a car accident when something falls out of the sky in front of him, and then a piece of that something enters his ear and, we learn later, grafts itself onto his brain. It makes Nic super-strong and gives him some kind of electrical powers, plus he can fly. If you haven't figured it out from the title of the book, he does not become a superhero. Earnhart has fun with Nic - he's a bully. He pushes geeks around, plays linebacker on the football team like a maniac, and treats his girlfriend like trash unless he wants to fuck her.

So when he gets powers, he naturally becomes a villain. He gets in a fight with some superheroes and, because he's green, is beaten pretty badly, but another villain - Doctor Diablo - comes to his rescue and takes him under his wing. Needless to say, things do not go terribly well from that point.

Nic is a pretty interesting character, because as the book goes along, he realizes that there's a big difference between being a bully and being a villain. He doesn't really want to kill anyone, for instance, but the other villains do. Earnhart does a nice job making sure that just because Nic has a little bit of a conscience, he doesn't become a nice guy. He's just uncomfortable with wholesale slaughter. Earnhart also takes the "villain team-up," which never works because the villains are always distrustful of each other, and puts his own nice spin on it. We have to ask ourselves if Nic rebels against Doctor Diablo (which he does, even though I won't tell you how it shakes out) because he's seen the light or if he does it because he's a villain, and villains trust no one, even other villains. At the end of the book, we're still unsure if Nic has changed or not, which is kind of nice, especially because he meets someone else who is in a bit of the same predicament he is, and the two of them need to work together.

Earnhart structures the book nicely, telling the story in the "present" of Nic and Doctor Diablo's group of villains and how Nic slowly rebels against them and intercutting that with the story, a few months previously, of how he got his powers and began using them. It's not a unique structure, of course, but Earnhart doesn't abandon it quickly, which keeps both stories fresh, and because he does it well, he foreshadows some of the events in the "present" well without being too heavy-handed about it.

It's a nice storytelling technique, and Earnhart does a good job with it.

The reason I can't really recommend The Villain is because of the art. As you can see from the examples, it's not very good. I don't know Loika, but I do know someone who's friends with him and says he's a great guy, which makes the fact that I hate the art in this book more annoying, because I don't want to hate it. The art is really stiff, which makes the action scenes look posed and boring, and the figures are rudimentary and downright ugly. The only good thing I can say about the art is that Loika designs a lot of neat superheroes (it's a fairly big cast) who, while they're knock-offs of more famous ones, at least have interesting looks to them. I really wish the art on this book was better, because the story is pretty entertaining.

So that's The Villain. With this and Hard-Bullied Comics, Earnhart shows he's an above-average writer. On this, at least, he's stuck with bad art, and it makes this a much lesser work than it might be otherwise.

Tomorrow: More Steve Earnhart comics!

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