APOCALYPSE AL #1/ Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI/ Art by SID KOTAIN/ Colors by BILL FARMER/ Letters by TROY PETERI/ Published by IMAGE COMICS
Few writers have had a career as varied as J. Michael Straczynski. From cartoons to comic books, feature length-films to five-season sci-fi series, the man possesses an impressive body of work. Yet some would argue that the quality of that work is as varied as the media in which Straczynski crafts his stories.
Straczynski is as polarizing an author as he is a diverse one. The default responses regarding his writing seem to be affinity or antipathy with no middle ground in between. He is fondly remembered by some for his work on original series such as Rising Stars and Midnight Nation. He is likewise despised by others for his run on Wonder Woman and his work on the Superman: Grounded storyline. His new original series, Apocalypse Al, is unlikely to change many readers’ opinions of him one way or the other.
Set in modern-day Los Angeles, the book focuses upon Allison “Al” Carter. Al is a private investigator who is frequently called upon by a mystery group, The Committee, to deal with bizarre incidents that could bring about the end of the world. When a crazed cultist tries to awaken sleeping elder gods or some would-be wizard with more power than sense tampers with the wrong artifacts, Al’s your gal!
Apocalypse Al has a lot of problems but the biggest one is the overdone concept. Supernatural detectives are a dime a dozen and nothing really makes this book stand out. Al herself is a cliche detective, drinking whiskey alone in her office while waiting for her next case to come. The fact that Al is a gorgeous redhead with the face of an angel and the body of a runway model is the only thing separating her from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
Another problem is Straczynski’s attempts to write Al as “a strong female character who likes to shoot first and to hell with the questions.” What this means is Al’s internal monologue sounds like it came straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. Right up until the point where we have to be reminded that Al is a woman. Half-pints of chocolate ice cream are consumed at the end of a long day and she ponders her need for a bikini wax as she washes away the smell of gunpowder in the shower.
Artist Sid Kotain is equally unlikely to let you forget that Al is a woman. Despite being somewhat sensibly dressed in jeans and a dress shirt (though Al wears boots and has a curious aversion to – GASP! – sensible shoes) through most of the comic, once Al gets ready for bed she changes into the sort of lingerie usually reserved for nights when no sleep is expected. There’s also a brief dream sequence where we get to see Al rocking a school-girl uniform if for no other reason than for her to note proudly in her internal monologue that she can rock a pleated plaid skirt. Because she’s a woman!
Ignoring the fan service, another problem with the artwork is Kotain’s inability to decide if he should be realistic or if he should go over the top. Much of the book is depicted in a dark, realistic style worthy of the noir aesthetic. This makes it all the more jarring when Al’s car is depicted as being completely in the air as she speeds over the Hollywood HIlls from one crime scene to another.
In his notes at the end of the book, Straczynski says the reason he wrote this series was that he really wanted to write a noir comedy. While he captures the feel of the noir detective novel fairly well, the comedic elements of the story fall flat. The kindest thing that can be said about Apocalypse Al is that it isn’t a bad supernatural detective story – it’s just a wholly unoriginal one that isn’t that funny.