Hi there everyone! I hope you’re all having a swell week – I’ve just finished celebrating my birthday, so I’m writing this column slightly hungover and quite content. Unfortunately, the twin terrors of life and responsibility have come rampaging back from their brief holiday to remind me there are, in fact, things that I should be doing – primarily, reading comics!
This time around, I’ve picked up volume 1 of Art Ops, How to Start a Riot. Written by Shaun Simon (writing partner of Gerard Way of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, who I talked about last time) and drawn by Michael Allred (iZombie, Silver Surfer) and Matt Brundage (The Spirit: The New Adventures), Art Ops is a trippy, immersive story that is a must-have for lovers of all things artistic. It’s basically a love letter to art in general; while the story appeals to a broader audience, it’s jam-packed with references to artists throughout history.
Reggie Riot is a bit of a useless wanker. The only child of a seemingly neglectfully busy single mother, he’s grown up to be resentful, lazy and has no appreciation for culture besides getting stoned and admiring graffiti. Despite appearances, his mother was the head of the secret, titular organisation Art Ops, whose mission is to protect the world’s masterpieces – pieces of art that are more alive than they seem. When the entire Art Ops organisation disappears, and an encounter with shadowy forces leaves Reggie with a piece of chaotic art in place of an arm, Reggie is drawn into the mystery surrounding his mother’s disappearance. With a comic book hero, a Tumblr-style hipster, an 80s music-video star and Mona Lisa (yes, really) in tow, Reggie reluctantly attempts to track down Art Ops and find his mother.
First things first: Art Ops is a pretty original idea, despite having passing similarities to the overarching concept of Bill Willingham’s classic series Fables. Unfortunately, originality isn’t quite enough to stop Art Ops from descending into clichéd, muddled, and occasionally outright boring storytelling. Reggie isn’t an appealing main character, and while I suspect the punk aesthetic and rebellious attitude is deliberate, he comes across as more whiney and annoying than an anti-hero. The cast of characters is pretty diverse, bordering on strange; it’s like the author decided on “punk Mona Lisa” and went from there. While there are some lighter moments, the story suffers a bit – the villain’s motivations seem a bit contrived, and what little character development there is feels clichéd.
One of the saving graces for the book is its art; Michael Allred’s pop art style generally lends itself well to any halfway-creative story (his work on Silver Surfer is great), and when he’s let loose on a book that specialises in the artistic pursuits, his designs generally work out well. What really stands out though, is the colouring, done by Allred’s wife Laura. The colours are vibrant, bold and jump out at the reader. It’s no surprise these features stand out; both Michael and Laura Allred were nominated for Eisner awards for their work on the title. It’s a little hard to tell where Matt Brundage fits into the equation, so I don’t really have much to say about him; besides, most of my criticisms revolve around the writing.
All in all, Art Ops is an inventive – if rather flawed – book. It has potential, but unless its author does a dramatic rethink, I’m not sure I’d seek it out again. One for the art fanatics, perhaps?
Written by Alastair McGibbon