Larry Young is an idea man. And while that may sound like an easy title to saddle the man with, it's not one that's easily obtained or lived up to. The comics he writes and/or publishes are some of the finest works being distributed in the medium today.
His first work, Astronauts in Trouble, the flagship title to his AiT/Planet LAR publishing house, is as ambitious as it is thought provoking. The collection, titled Astronauts in Trouble: Master Flight Plan, collects all three of his Astronauts tales (Live from the Moon, Space: 1959, and One Shot, One Beer), along with the back-up stories from the first book.
The first of those, Live from the Moon, takes place fifty years after man first set foot on the lunar surface. The Channel 7 news team is drafted to film the world's richest man as he attempts to land on the Moon. As with any good plot, things are not what they seem, and the news crew quickly learns that Mr. Hayes has been sending up rockets for quite some time in an attempt to claim the lunar rock as his own.
With Live, Larry has created instantly identifiable and likeable characters. Even the "bad guy" Mr. Hayes is not without his charm. The art by Charlie Adlard and Matt Smith takes a permanent backseat to Young's dialogue, the true star of this story. It's not that any of it is ever bad, not even close, just that Young's characters are almost entirely defined and identified by the way they speak.
His timing is impeccable, knowing exactly when to place the humour so that it never feels forced. It's a big screen action comedy boiled down into its bare essentials. One-liners abound, but they never feel out of place, and there's plenty of action and suspense but it never feels over the top. Each character acts and reacts according to the unnamed rules given to their personalities.
Larry's plots are as complicated as his characters. He manages to meld the jokes and the action with the suspense of a man's desire to be the greatest, to be known as the man who owned the moon. Add in the mystery behind it all, and a touch of the mafia and you have a brilliant melding of genre's that provides one exciting tale.
The second story, Space: 1959, chronicles another Channel 7 news team, the first, from 1959, as a mysterious murder leads them to Peru, where they will be reporting on the United States attempt to jump into the space race. As the pieces of the puzzle come together, the news team watches as one man shows how he'll go to any lengths to make sure the good ol' USA isn't thwarted by communism.
Once again Larry Young flawlessly melds different genres into something new. He captures the nuance and paranoia of the late '50s perfectly, as well as the crime noir elements so popular in novel and film during the time.
The art, solely by Charlie Adlard both here and in the follow-up One Shot, One Beer, lends itself well to the noir style, and while it is still overshadowed by Young's characterizations and dialogue, the characters are infinitely more recognizable here than in Live. Perhaps mostly due to the consistent art, but part of it is definitely the tone the book takes.
Where Live was a smart action adventure with trace elements of other genres, Space: 1959 seems to bring those "other genres" to the forefront and add in just a touch of action adventure. In the introduction Young admits to being inspired by several things, mostly Warren Ellis's challenge to do pop comics (basically, short and sweet, three issues done with a definite beginning, middle and end, no stretching the plot just to get a few extra pages or bucks) and George Lucas's decision to actually film the prequels to the mega-successful Star Wars films.
Between Larry's plot and dialogue and Charlie Adlard's excellent visuals, Space: 1959 does what Lucas failed miserably at. When coupled with the actual Moon landing, both Space: 1959 and Live from the Moon present an entire evolution of man's infatuation with that orbiting rock. It goes from pipe dream to realization to obsession, all within the span of sixty years one true event and two wonderful stories.
In the foreword Young admits that this is his favorite story, as well it should be.
The final story in the volume, One Shot, One Beer, takes place entirely within a bar on the Moon, ten years after the events of Live from the Moon. The patrons sit around drinking their pints, each telling pieces of a larger story, mostly reminiscing about one man's crazy attempt to claim the Moon as his own.
It's a bit of an anthology-type book, each story is different, yet every one relates to the overall theme. It's the simplest of all the stories contained within the collection, and rightly so. Whereas the other tales all felt like Hollywood movies, One Shot, One Beer feels like that undiscovered independent film. Think Clerks on the Moon, only there's only one employee and it's the customers who get to carry the plot along.
As with Space, Young and Adlard find a good enough mix of visuals and dialogue to keep your eyes affixed to the page. The stories are short and to the point and touch on details that were possibly intentionally overlooked from the previous stories. It's what happened and why, told from other's perspectives. It might not be what really happened, but this is how they remember it.
The book contains little of the type of humour found in the previous Astronauts stories, instead focusing on the more dramatic points of Live from the Moon. It's interesting to see how Hayes' actions affected the world afterwards, and it's something that could have been explored further, but Young seems to know exactly when his audience will tire of the recapping and retelling of events already seen before.
The back-ups seem almost like teasers, the previews before the film, or perhaps in this case, small discreet burps after a very fine meal. They may not have been as enjoyable as the main course, but they are not without their pleasures. Each story is self contained, yet fits into the world Larry has created, or rather the world he has adopted. He enlists a great talent of pencilers to bring his short stories to life, but as with most of the Astronauts stuff, they just can't hold their own against the script, never bad, but never as great.
Master Flight Plan is a love letter to the people that pioneered space exploration. It's Larry Young traveling within time, creating a fully believable cast of characters and plots and melding them with true events to create a trilogy of unique stories.
Larry Young's next offering, Planet of the Capes, should feel very familiar to anyone who's read modern superhero comics. It's his version of the "real world" hero. The world's strongest heroes unite to fight evil, but are somehow thrown from their world into one where super heroes do not exist. It's grim and gritty comics meet the real world. And while grim and gritty superhero books are not unique in any way, the back cover of the book speaks volumes about its content. "Nobody Learns Anything. Everybody Dies."
At first glance Planet of the Capes may seem like just another superhero story, but upon further review it begins to feel more and more like Larry Young's view of the genre, or rather his view on the current genre trend, as opposed to just his story within it.
The book opens with quite a long story of classic superhero archetypes who have pledged to rid the world of wrong do-ers. There's the dark prowler of the streets, Justice Hall, Kastra, an other-worldly amazon-like princess, her father, the super-strong yet almost brainless creature known as The Grand, and finally Schaff, the be-all, end-all of super heroics, the boy scout of the group and there by is their leader.
The opening story is filled with old-school action mixed in with a bit of comedy, the origin stories are quickly recounted and the misunderstood and rampaging Grand is stopped before he hurts anyone. Though it takes up most of the pages, it's not nearly as exciting as what happens when the group is somehow transported to our world, where people like them do not exist. It's a fast paced story that ends in disaster for its participants.
Unlike Larry's Astronauts books, the script never overpowers the artwork. Brandon McKinney's pencils feel very much inspired by the likes of Derrick Robertson and Steve Dillon, which makes it a perfect fit, as Larry seems to be channeling a bit of Garth Ennis with his script (both Dillon and Robertson have collaborated with Ennis, quite frequently).
As mentioned, after repeated readings, or perhaps on the first for anyone who's more observant, Planet of the Capes begins to show its true colors. The beginning shows that these characters, when set within the boundaries of their world work almost flawlessly, it's funny, there's action, it's got everything those "classic" superhero books had and maybe just a little bit more, but once those same heroes enter the "real" world their story goes from great to nonexistent within the span of a few pages. This is Larry Young and Mike McKinney showing the world that super heroes can't and shouldn't exist within real world scenarios, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, they might just be right.
"Nobody learns anything. Everybody Dies." seems to speak more about the state of modern superhero storytelling than it does about the characters within the book.
Lastly there's Proof of Concept, Larry's latest offering. Presented in a unique way, we watch as Larry Young converses with his agent over the phone, illustrated by Kieron Dwyer, pitching him various concepts, each one as unique as the last. But, ambitious as they all are, a few stand out even further from the crowd.
Hemogoblin turns the vampire story on its ears; not an easy task given the vast history of the subject matter. It's a world where vampires have been hunted for their blood in the hopes that the secret of eternal life can be obtained. The art, by Damien Couciero, is simplistic at first, but becomes increasingly complex and simultaneously creepy, then back again as the story unfolds, working hand in hand with Larry's script.
Zombie Dinosaur is exactly what it sounds like; somehow a prehistoric creature has become one of the living dead. While one would expect the image of a zombie t-rex to eclipse just about any story's plot or character, especially one as short as this, Larry manages to pack a ton of character development, and a bit of humour, into the few pages he's allowed himself. We may not know any of their names (well, we're given one, Major Davenport), but by the time these soldiers meet the star of the show we feel as if we've known each of them for quite some time. The art, here by Steve Sanders and Jeff Johns, is effective; each character has as much a style as they do a personality, and it immediately evokes Kubrick-esque war films somehow spliced together with old EC comics, and rightfully so. They also deliver one of the most disgustingly cool moments ever, the first look at the zombie tyrannosaurus. The Camera is one of the book's two missteps. The story is about a group of kids who discover a wormhole that leads them to the past and what happens when they go exploring it. It's not bad by any means, the dialogue is witty and the art, by Paul Tucker, is serviceable, but the story itself is a bit confusing, and the last panel seems to acknowledge that very fact. The most captivating thing in the story resides completely outside of it; as the children explore the wormhole one of them begins to explain the concept of two dimensional ("Like a dime on its edge," he says). This portion is told in a series of rotating circular panels, like a dime, spinning on its edge.
For the Time Being is another time travel story, but more in the classic H.G. Wells sense, and funnily enough that happens to be the name of the crews ship. In short, their captain goes insane is somehow "smeared" across time and space, and now his crew must chase him through forever in an attempt to save the time-space continuum.
As said, it feels very much like classic science fiction, but visually funneled through Kubrick's 2001, so it comes as no surprise that the art once again the work of Jeff Johns. Young's script and dialogue are as crisp as can be expected, but it is Johns's pencils that really tell the tale. The captain looks very much god-like and dangerous to no end, and the way Johns plays with the black and white tone of the story is both gorgeous and brilliant.
The next story, Emancipating Lincoln is one of the book's true highlights. It's 2437, and the world is populated by people who all bear a striking resemblance each other and to Abraham Lincoln, a fact they don't seem to mind, and a man they know nothing about. One young man finds a clue to their past and hires a private detective to seek out the mystery behind it.
It's rare to find an original concept in the world of comics, but Larry Young has found one. The potential of the story is limitless; it's both futuristic sci-fi and classic crime noir, it speaks on multiple levels, as an example of man's incessant need to explore the past, his want to be just like everyone else, and the inevitability of individuality.
John Flynn's art is wonderful to the point of being unnoticeable. It never tries to point out the obvious, instead, it just is, if you notice the similarities it makes you that much more excited for what might come next, and if you don't it makes the last panel even more shocking. Unfortunately merely knowing the premise of the story (which is proudly emblazoned on the back cover blurbs) all but ruins the ending, otherwise it's a fantastic piece.
The final story is the book's longest, and unfortunately the worst, thereby making it the books aforementioned second misstep. The Bod is the account of a young woman, Kelly Gordon, who comes to Hollywood to make it big but finds herself relegated to working in a special effects house, until a freak accident turns her invisible. Kelly becomes the toast of Tinsel town when her television show, You're So Transparent, becomes a huge hit. The story chronicles the typical ups and down of celebrity lifestyle and how it affects both Kelly and those around her.
Originally written as a story for Image comics, The Bod is an attempt to blend sci-fi elements with E!-type celebrity docudrama. It's a noble attempt, and a good idea, but not one that holds up well past the initial concept. As with every story within the book, both the dialogue and art (by John Heebink) are solid, but neither can save the plot from mediocrity. There isn't much that can be said either for it or against it past those points, other than the story comes to a comfortable end and seems to be complete, where as the others have been offered up as potential future projects.
The interstitials that serve as a connection for all the stories are also pretty humourous, and always beautiful thanks to the previously mention Dwyer's art work. One would think that capturing an honest version of yourself in a script would be a tremendous task, after all few of us are the people we think we are, but Larry Young manages to do it. Everything you've ever heard about the man is right there on the page, almost daring you to prove differently, and it doesn't hurt to get someone as talented as Dwyer to make you as charismatic as the dialogue is snappy.
With the comics he writes Larry Young has melded cinema style storytelling and the graphic novel into something relatively new. He's shown that comics can be innovative, smart, deceptive and enormously fun. And, while his career as a comics writer might be a short one, with books like Astronauts in Trouble, Planet of the Capes, and Proof of Concept, Larry Young has proven that occasionally there is something new under the sun.
-- Logan Polk
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