Review time! with <i>POP</i> #1

"You want to be the song, the song that you hear in your head"

I've been keen to read POP for a while now, because Jason Copland is a cool dude and I've been reading his comics for eight years and I'm glad he's finally getting a higher profile. But it certainly sounded like a pretty interesting story, as it's about pre-fab pop stars and what happens when one gets away. Yes, Gravity Falls did a similar episode a while back (Deep Chris 4evah!), but that show is totally for kids, man! (Note: Gravity Falls is awesome.)

The writer of POP, Curt Pires, sent me a .pdf of the first issue, which comes out tomorrow, and here's a review! POP, I should note, is colored by Pete Toms, lettered by Ryan Ferrier, is published by Dark Horse, and costs $3.99. Now you know!

I know plot summaries suck, but I'll do a quick one. POP begins with a one-page encapsulation of celebrity before moving on to a sinister dude, who explains everything to a group of investors - he grows pop stars like "Britney," "Mariah," and "that little poofy-haired Canadian freakazoid" (is that a shot at Vancouver's own Jason Copland????) - before he reaches the latest, a creation named Elle Ray, who happens to be missing. She runs into a suicidal hipster named Coop, who takes her back to his place to hide her, all while Sinister Dude is trying to track her. He and his technicians get a fix on her general location, and Sinister Dude calls in some specialists to retrieve her. Said specialists are, naturally, nasty pieces of work.

It's very much a set-up issue, as Pires really doesn't delve too much into any of the characters yet in order to get Elle May and Coop together and get the bad guys in play. He has to do that, of course, but that means the issue is a bit less than it promises, unfortunately.

The first page is almost a collage - Copland breaks it down into a 16-panel grid, showing brief scenes about the ins and outs of celebrity, while Pires's script moves from dejection to arousal. It's a very good first page, but it's not followed up enough in this particular issue. Obviously, this is a four-issue series, so I won't judge it too much, but it seems like after that first page and in a two-page dream sequence, the book is not unique enough. Elle could be anyone who's escaping a bad situation, Coop could be anyone who happens to find her, the bad guys could be any bad guys who want to possess a woman. There's excitement, certainly, and Pires shows that he has a twisted sense of humor when it comes to pop stars, but there's not enough about the nature of fame, which Pires hints around at. Pires begins the story well, with the Sinister Dude and a group of investors, which adds a creepy layer of capitalistic voyeurism to the entire proceedings, but once we get to Elle and Coop, the book becomes a bit more normal (as normal as Coop digging a tracking device out of Elle's arm can be), and the too-long interlude with the two specialists who are called in slows it down a bit too much. As with Elle and the main plot, the idea behind the specialists - they visit "Dustin Beaver" to convince him - rather rudely - that retiring would be a bad decision - is a good one, as he's an investment, but it feels just like Dustin is any low-level scumbag who wants to get out of drug dealing or money laundering or pimping or any other random criminal activity. The entire issue is like that, which is why it's a bit disappointing but also why I think it will be an interesting comic when all is said and done. Pires has obviously thought about the creepier aspects of fame and what people will do for it, and that comes out a bit in this issue. He hasn't fleshed out Elle and Coop quite yet, although I guess Elle is "unformed" so she might not have a lot of personality.

Coop is, as I noted, a hipster, and I'm curious how his suicidal thoughts will tie into the general theme of the book. It seems like neither Elle nor Coop has much to live for, and I'm hoping that Pires delves into that a bit more.

I'm more concerned with the plot than the writing, because Pires does a good job with the dialogue. Coop and Elle have an easy camaraderie that is mirrored by the two specialists, who seem to be a couple. They love their work, and while they're a bit stereotypically "tough guy and girl," their gleeful and even loving relationship is refreshing - too many bad guys look like they never smile, and while other writers have done some work with the "regular Joe" bad guys in superhero comics, they're often treated as jokes. The two specialists are much more in the vein of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers, although they appear to be much more professional about their activities. Pires has a good ear for dialogue, so that goes a long way toward helping me get over the bumps in the plotting.

Copland's art is very nice, especially when paired with Toms's coloring. Copland often has a rough line, and he does in places here, but he's also good at making Elle look like a flawless pop star who's gone through some difficulties.

Copland is occasionally chaotic in his line work, but here he is more precise, which makes the few places where he does use a messier style - the violence in Dustin's suite, for instance - stand out nicely. Elle's dream is nicely drawn, too, as Copland slowly moves from a beautiful field to a creepy and corrupt cityscape, and he handles both well. I'm not quite sure who the specialists are supposed to be, but the male one reminds me of a Ramone and the woman ... I'm not sure. If Pires reveals that they're older pop stars whose fame has been eclipsed but now they work keeping the others in line, that would be pretty awesome. If that's the case, Copland sets it up nicely. Toms, meanwhile, makes the book nice and bright - too many comics these days use a far too dull palette - so that we can see everything clearly. Even in the lab, he uses brighter browns and rich blues instead of overwhelming blacks, so we can see all the weird stuff going on. Toms uses the palette to fit the tone, so when Coop is trying to cut the tracking device out of Elle, Toms goes with hotter colors to imply the violence of what's going on and the fear Elle and Coop are feeling. It helps that Toms doesn't use over-rendered, textured coloring, as he keeps it mostly "flat." It fits very well with Copland's art, bringing out some subtleties in shading but not overwhelming it.

I wish I liked this issue more, but at the same time, I think that Pires has some intriguing ideas in here and it's clear that he knows it, so I have hope that it will play out over the next three issues. That's not to say that POP is bad - it's interesting and certainly exciting, but there is a vague familiarity about it that a comic about lab-grown pop stars shouldn't have. Pires does set up quite a bit, which is to be expected and therefore maybe I should just shut up about it, but I'm thinking that the subsequent issues will be better, given the hints of goodness I see in this issue. And of course, I'd like to thank Pires for sending this to me. I'm hoping this does really well for all concerned, because it's always cool to see weird ideas show up in comics.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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