Ever had one of those days where you black out and suddenly find yourself smack dab in the middle of an alien invasion? If so, then The Advance Team, the new comic written by Will Pfeifer, penciled and inked by Germán Torres, lettered by Tom Orzechowski, and which dropped March 27 is the perfect comic for you.
(You can read a free excerpt of the comic here, if you’re curious.)
Well. So. The Advance Team. Um. The comic concerns a pizza delivery guy, pop culture icons, an alien invasion, a fake astronaut, and the worst job interview ever. Zack McKinley has a dead end job and an endless crush on a cute female coworker named Vic. After a sudden flash of light knocks out electricity to the whole city, Zack’s heretofore undiscovered superpowers erupt. He stumbles upon a massive, decades-spanning conspiracy that reaches the highest echelons of celebrity and power, and with the help of his mysterious Uncle Archie Zack heads down a dark and bloody road. He’s the only one on Earth who can stop the on-coming alien invasion, and the only way to do it is to kill off the advance team setting up the plans for their army. Zack also isn’t entirely what he seems, and his involvement may be more orchestrated than happenstance….
Pfeifer is credited with working on a bunch of comics that I love (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Swamp Thing, Blue Beetle, Hellboy: Weird Tales). From Vallirana, Barcelona, Spain, Torres has worked as an artist and colorist for Marvel, IDW, Devil’s Due, and Microsoft. Between the two of them they managed to create a comic full of tropes and artwork that didn’t do anything for me.
I think of comics like any other art form. Visual mediums hit everyone different. One person’s Claude Monet is another person’s Thomas Kincaide is someone else’s Damien Hirst. Torres is technically proficient and draws with a clean, crisp hand. Unfortunately, his style didn’t jive with me. The rock stars felt derivative of Metalocalypse, and the inking was so heavy it might have been kohl. Some of the problem was that I was reading an uncorrected proof which didn’t have the fancy color cover embedded above and was printed on a lower quality paper that made his artwork look less than stellar. I know I would have enjoyed his work more if it had been on glossy paper, so I can’t be too hard on Torres. If half of my complaint has absolutely nothing to do with anything he had any control over and isn’t reflected in the final published work then I can’t hold too much against him. He is talented. I am just not the right person to appreciate that talent.
More problematic for me was Pfeifer’s creation of Uncle Archie. Every time he showed up I cringed, both from him being a really annoying character and from his caricature-ish appearance. I read another review that claimed Torres was aiming at mimicking the Joker, but that didn’t come across to me visually. In the story, Archie is Zack’s astronaut uncle who probably isn’t an astronaut and definitely isn’t his uncle. He is the only black character in the comic and exists solely to assist Zack with his mission. Uncle Archie has no personality, no past, no opinions, no nothing that isn’t directly Zack-related. While the other aliens have spent the intervening decades leading up to the invasion having a life and building up islands of wealth and power, Archie apparently spent it doing nothing until Zack was born, then devoted the next twenty-some-odd years swooning over the soon-to-be hero. I have very little tolerance for the Magical Negro stereotype, and while I’m not suggesting that was the intent of either Torres or Pfeifer, it still bothers me.
Literature also suffers from subjectivity. There isn’t enough money in the world to make me read The Help, The Da Vinci Code, or Twilight. Yet they are three of the most popular and highest grossing novels of the last few years (not to mention their massive impact on film and pop culture). And I know there are people who’d rather hurl themselves off a cliff than try to digest Evelyn Waugh, Douglas Adams, or Jane Austen, three of my all-time favorite authors. The only real thing those authors and those books have in common is that they are all basically telling the new versions of the same handful of stories. Everything story has already been told, it’s how you re-tell it that matters. At the end of the day it’s less about the trope itself than how the creator has utilized it.
The Advance Team is almost entirely fanboy fanfic. Heck, the whole plot can be summed up by the definition of “The Chosen One” trope on TvTropes.org: “The ultimate victim (or beneficiary) of Because Destiny Says So. The oldest and most common Super Hero Origin. The easiest way to turn an Ordinary High School Student into the only thing preventing The End of the World as We Know It. Take it for granted that they are the Only One.” Fluff it out by making the Ordinary High School Student a pizza delivery boy, add in a rather silly side plot of double and triple crosses involving in vitro fertilization and forced pregnancy (which nobody seems bothered by at all), stick in some wonky editing and a time jump cold open (of which I have been vociferous in my loathing), and what remains is The Advance Team.
There’s some good stuff in here, there really is. But the story suffers greatly under its brevity. Stretch the story out into three or four volumes. Take some time to develop the protag. Give me a reason, any reason, to care about what happens to the characters. The Advance Team should have been a fascinating comic that manipulated the standard sci-fi tropes to its advantage to create a complex story of betrayal, violence, self-fulfilling prophesies, and politics. It was not. It wasn’t bad, it, well, it’s in the same spot as the TV version of The Walking Dead: full of groan-inducing dialogue, characters we’re supposed to give a damn about simply because they fill some arbitrary plot-designated role, and a misuse of time and space (both in its physical format and plot-wise). But just because TWD fails to meet my high expectations doesn’t mean I don’t still get excited about every episode even though I know it won’t satisfy me. Same goes for The Advance Team. I don’t regret the time I spent with it, I just wish it did more with its premise.
Then again, there’s a fabulous off-hand joke at the very end that I’m pretending is a direct jab at the awfulness of Rob Liefeld. So maybe it’s not entirely meh. Or maybe just make up your own mind about The Advance Team by checking out this excerpt.
Alex Brown is a research librarian and archivist by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. One of these days she will go out and have a life, but until then she’s trying to talk herself into finally reading A Game of Thrones. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.