Gimmick or Good? - Tribe #1

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the foil embossed cover for Tribe #1...

Tribe #1 (published March 1993) – script by Todd Johnson, script and art by Larry Stroman

As Brian runs his “Month of African-American Comics” on CSBG, I thought I would take a look at one of the most significant African-American creator books of the 1990s: Image’s Tribe #1. Part of the second wave of Image books, Tribe #1 sold more than one million copies, making it the highest selling comic produced by African American creators Unfortunately, the series had a very short lifespan thanks to a number of publishing delays. After Image published issue #1, Axis Comics produced issues #2 and #3 later in 1993 before that company went under due to financial difficulties. Finally, an issue #0 was published by Good Comics in 1994, which storyline-wise followed the events of issue #3, before the series was officially cancelled.

Image took an interesting approach with Tribe #1’s cover. There are no actual visuals of any scenes or characters from inside the book. Instead, an all-black cover is features a simple gold foil-embossed stamp with the Tribe logo and the creator’s last names.

But what about inside the comic?

For the uninitiated, Tribe focuses on a Brooklyn-based supergroup consisting of primarily African Americans and other minorities. The series follows these heroes as they take on a group of gangsters/techno-pirates dubbed Europan.

The first issue features plenty of laser blasts, explosions and nifty superpowers, but I hesitate to say everything Todd Johnson and Larry Stroman put forward effectively works. My biggest issue with this comic is that it lacks clarity both visually and in its text. Johnson and Stroman introduce us to a number of different characters, but it took me multiple reads to decipher the heroes from the villains (and I’m still at a loss in some instances). Stroman’s pencils lacked crispness on many pages, resulting in muddied action that’s difficult to read.

There are multiple narrators, including one, Blindspot, who doesn’t physically reveal himself until the second half of the issue. Again, it creates confusion as to who is actually speaking, and what his or her motivations/alliances might be. This technique is especially problematic because Johnson and Stroman use a lot of narration to drive their script. There’s a spirited rhythmic quality to some of these narrative excerpts, like one character (I’m pretty sure this is more from Blindspot) who talks about the hip nightclub he runs in terms of “my occasional bumps bring applause for the strength of the bartender’s Long Islands.”

But for every bit of poetry, there’s an equally clunky and awkward piece of narration, like one text block citing, “this ridiculous needs to be seen,” (sic) which is either a bit of slang that I don’t recognize from the early 90s, or a typo (could Johnson and Stroman meant “ridiculousness?”).

As for dialogue, most of the characters speak in the same fashion, making it challenging to distinguish anything about their personalities, backgrounds, etc. There’s one character who cheekily quotes “If you want to live, come with me,” from Terminator 2 (or maybe I’m just assuming this was a cheeky reference). Either way, the guy is either quoting a robot, or just sounds like one.

Stroman’s pencils are the most effective when he’s drawing large, uncomplicated figures, like a full-page splash page at the end of the issue of one of the Europan’s guys zapping someone with his laser eyes.

When there’s more action on the page, the visuals become confusing. When we meet Alexander Collins, I believe the images are supposed to convey that his power is his ability to transform himself and his surroundings, but the visual transitions Stroman uses to mark his transformation from a black man to a white suit-wearing white man need refinement. It shouldn’t take me multiple reads and a leap of faith to determine a character’s powers, especially once visual cues are provided.

Sadly, from what I understand, because of Tribe’s erratic printing schedule, Johnson and Stroman never adequately fleshed out some of these characters and themes. Apparently, the duo had planned more than 200 members of the superteam to be introduced over time, but that idea never materialized. There have been a number of petitions over the years to resurrect Tribe, and rightly so because, on paper, it is a promising concept. It is refreshing to follow a supergroup (especially in an early 90s Image book) that doesn’t consist primarily of muscly meatheads with rocket launchers and bazookas. But where the book succeeds conceptually, it fails in execution.

Verdict: Gimmick

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