Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: Vandroid #1

Vandroid #1
Dark Horse Comics
Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, Dan McDaid, Melissa Edwards

Vandroid is the comic adaptation of a screenplay for a fictional movie whose reels were supposedly lost to a fire that burned down an equally fictional grindhouse movie studio in 1984.  It’s a story about a washed up mechanic and his scuzzy business partner who unwittingly unleash a dangerous android into the world.  The fictional movie studio back-story is nonessential, but it’s a great added layer to the sort of retro-future, video store atmosphere that the creative team is trying to evoke.  Vandroid perfectly captures the fearful wonderment I’d feel as a kid when I’d walk down an aisle of the video store and stare at lurid VHS covers for movies my dad would never let me rent.  These VHS covers were a lot like an updated version of pulp mystery novel covers-- sexy, dangerous women and some hungover tough-guy with a weapon who was definitely not Superman.  I’d stare at those VHS covers and they’d be burned into my mind, leaving me to just imagine what could’ve possibly been contained on those tapes.

Tommy Lee Edwards and Noah Smith’s 80’s cult movie plot pairs well with Dan McDaid’s art and Melissa Edwards’s colors.  Together they create a world that exists in the murky back alleys of a radically cool, very-1984 Los Angeles.  McDaid’s figures all carry a substantial sense of weight underneath a layer of griminess from M. Edwards’s colors, effectively adding a mood of menace to an admittedly goofy premise.  Moreover, McDaid’s excellent sense of timing and well paced violence play the premise straight while never venturing into the territory of the self-serious.  Vandroid has a sense of humor about itself, but T. Edwards and Smith are firmly rooted in paying homage to the 80’s cult genre style, being careful to distance themselves from parody.  Vandroid is given to us earnestly, but it can feel lumbering at times, with several instances of unsubtle exposition being delivered to get us caught up.  However, I think this is again where the added layer of the burned-down movie studio backstory works to sort of justify these flaws in the narrative, or at least to place them within the context of the world.  Vandroid certainly feels like something of that era of cult movies, like you could see the Vandroid movie sitting on the shelves alongside stuff like Escape From New York, The Toxic Avenger, or Return of the Living Dead.  My worry is that this could be a crutch for the creators, but I think everyone involved in this comic shows an enthusiasm for both their work and the influences they are so happy to wear on their sleeves.  It’s an enthusiasm that carries over to the reader as well.  It isn’t 100% perfect, but I’m too busy having fun reading Vandroid to care.

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