Sunday, September 7, 2003

Crimson Dynamo #1 - A Review

Written by: John Jackson Miller
Penciled by: Steve Ellis
Inked by: Steve Ellis
Colored by: Thomas Mason and Mental Studios
Lettered by: Thom Zahler
Editor: Stephanie Moore
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Back in the day, all the patriotic heroes had an opposite number; a villain representing the interests of whatever countries America was fighting in the real world at that time. Captain American had The Red Skull and Baron Zemo; super-patriots of their respective countries. Iron Man, a symbol of American ingenuity and upright businessman behavior, also had a number of opposing villains. The most famous was The Mandarin; a symbol of old China and magic. The imperialist to Iron Man’s capitalist. Less famous, but no less important, was the Russian Iron Man; The Crimson Dynamo.

Of course in the dozen or so years since the end of The Cold War, the communist hero/villain has fallen into disuse. As far as I know, nobody has discussed what has happened to all of these characters in detail. For example, what happened to the Rocket Red program in the DCU when the Soviet Union collapsed? What did Omega Red do in the wake of the system he was created to protect collapsing? And what ever DID happen to the Crimson Dynamo?

Sadly, all those waiting for such an in-depth study of how the fall of Communism affected the Marvel Universe will have to wait a while longer. Aside from a few attempts at humor, you won’t find any such understanding or investigation here. What you will get, however, is a lot of stock characters, bad dialogue and not much else.

The story centers around Gennady Gavrilov (aka Ferris Bullier-ski); a smart, but unfocused young man with a habit of taking everything that isn’t nailed down, finding a hammer, and then taking everything that IS nailed down from his school. An aspiring technician, his life is an unending Hell thanks to a principal who is out to have him expelled, a perpetually absent mother and a step-dad who is perpetually glued to the television, complaining about how the Americans have 250 channels and swearing at the commercials trying to sell him products he doesn’t want.

This all changes (well, not really) when said principal assigns Gennaday to a job with the government, gofering packages between a computer scanning station and a series of warehouses. It is a lousy job, even though it does give him access to a computer and the ability to instant message hottie American girls. That and a package containing a strange helmet that offers him maps, access to many television channels and eventually “video games”. In this case, the video games are control of an armored body suit which was woken up and is currently engaged in a battle with a small group of Russian soldiers.

There are several problems with the story. First, none of the portrayals of post-Cold War Russia ring true and it seems as if writer John Jackson Miller’s Russia is based on a series of Yakov Smirnoff jokes, with computers and robots added in to make it modern. I find it hard to believe, for example, that the Russian government is just NOW giving an office in charge of converting files from paper to digital media a CD burner.

I also find it hard to believe that Gennaday, bright as we are lead to believe he is at the start, is unable to figure out that what he has is not “a home entertainment system” and as amusing as it is to think of him cheering Ozzy Osborne in his bedroom, the attempt at humor falls flat.

And while we’re on the subject of flat, let’s talk about the dialogue. It isn’t constant, but often times some of the characters will slip into the stereotypical “Boris and Natasha” way of Speaking English. To quote stepfather dearest…

“Dancing chocolates now! They must think me a fool!”

Only because we are waiting for you to say that it is time to “keel Moose and Squirrel!”

This is a shame, because the art is much better than that the writing deserves. All the characters have an easily-identified individual look, and Ellis has an amazing grasp on expression and action, easily conveying Gennaday’s panic as he finds himself unable to see as he drives while wearing his new helmet as well as the velocity and path he moves along.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll be coming back for issue two. I’m not quite seeing red over having spent $2.50 on this book, but I don’t think its worth its weight in rubles either

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