Friday Feature: Buzzkill

In a world where new ideas have almost entirely ceased to exist, and old ideas seem to get browbeaten into absurdity, it’s really awesome to see something fresh take hold.

This week’s feature is a Dark Horse Comics miniseries that recently concluded that I believe really shows off something fresh: Buzzkill, from Donny Cates, Mark Rezineck, and Geoff Shaw.

The core concept isn’t exactly new. The protagonist is a superhero who gains all of his powers from drugs and alcohol. Superhuman powers that come from substances are old hat, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn novels feature “metal burning,” where every different metal alloy gives certain people different powers when consumed. Even illicit substance abuse giving one powers has been done before, a la Drunken Master.

What’s new about Buzzkill is that the guy who is “super human” because of his substance abuse is trying to get clean. He’s quitting the chemicals and, as a result, trying to quit the superhero game.

The really remarkable and fresh thing about Buzzkill though, isn’t that the protagonist is trying to get clean, it’s that in no point during the story is his addiction the setup to or punchline for a joke. It’s not funny. The character legitimately wants to get clean. He relapses from time to time, like anybody would, but he copes with the regret, too, like anybody would.

The book isn’t completely devoid of comedy. The hero’s sponsor is like some sort of twisted combination of Dr. Strange, a motivational speaker, and the most obnoxious hippy you’ve ever met. He’s good for some yuks, but even he doesn’t mess around with the fact that the guy he’s looking after is in a self-destructive pattern and needs to get it straightened out.

Ruben’s sponsor. Weird guy…

Ultimately, at only 4 issues, Buzzkill is too short. I would have loved if they had made it a bit longer and fleshed out a bit more of the backstory, but really that’s a good problem to have. It leaves you wanting more instead of ruining it’s own concept with over-saturation.

If your local comic book shop has a good selection of backlogs, dive in and see what you missed. Otherwise, look for it in trade sometime in April.

Coulson Lives! (Sort Of)

A god

A genius

A monster

A frozen warrior

 

…..and this guy….

Say what you will about all the miscellaneous Marvel movies, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that Phil Coulson was the best thing to come out of all it. Starting all the way back in the original Iron Man film, and continuing still, Agent Coulson became a fan favorite that is still a big part of what makes those movies fun.

The question is: why?

We’re watching these movies because they’re about superheroes. We’re in the theater because we want to see Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, or Thor smash through villains and save the day. Yet, by the time most of us walk out, it is the non-powered character that sticks with us. I think the answer is simpler than we all believe.

It’s because he IS human.

It’s because Coulson IS us.

Agent Coulson is a mere man among gods and monsters. He has no power, there is nothing special about him, and he is always out of his league. He walks in the shadow of giants, BUT he loves the shade. He’s the character none of us knew we wanted; until he showed up and we realized we couldn’t live without him.

He is a fan, like us. He collects Captain America trading cards. He fawns, with some control, over his heroes that he gets to stand next to when the world is at the brink. He is our window into that world. A perfect contrast to the madness and power that circulates around.

He is who we are, and where we wish to be.

An everyday guy, living in a world of heroes.

Coulson, as a character, is at his best when he is that contrast between us and the heroes. In those moments he becomes incredibly relatable. His victories become all the more sweeter, because we all know the odds are stacked against him, and we hope to believe that we could do the same.

As Joss Whedon puts it, he’s “the little guy”.

“The idea of the Little Guy is something that I am very fierce about, and there has never been a better Little Guy than Clark Gregg. That intrigued me, this world around the superhero community. It’s the people whose shop windows get blown up when the Destroyer shows up.”

So, when someone tells me they’re going to center a show around this beloved character, it’s hard to not get excited…

….then be all the more let down with the result.

Agents of Shield has a fantastic premise, and a lot going for it; mainly Coulson’s inclusion and direct ties to the Marvel movie universe. Yet so far, the ratings haven’t been Avengers-esque and Coulson… well… he hasn’t been either.

Agents of Shield has a lot of problems; though five episodes in things are getting better. Characterization is minimal, it feels very “monster of the week,” and, if I could editorialize for brief moment, their hacker, Skye, is a terrible character. Yet, despite those issues, that’s not the show’s biggest problem.

Coulson doesn’t resonate the way he used to.

I know many of you are screaming out at the monitor, saying that it is because it isn’t the same Coulson, but a LMD or Vision, or something else; but I am not talking about that. I talking about the fact that he doesn’t seem as relatable any longer.

It’s because he’s no longer “the little guy.”

In Agents of Shield, Coulson is the star, the hero; and that in and of itself is not the problem. Having a character in that sort of position doesn’t make him unrelatable; the problem is he is no longer in the shadows of giants.

We all loved him because he was the underdog, because he was surrounded by powered beings beyond anything and still soldiered on. Yet in Shield, there are no gods and monsters, only men; and when that happens Coulson just seems like another generic action hero. [Albeit, with some funny one liners.]

Like stated previously, his character works best when he is contrasted against the personas around him. Yet, whether due to constrained budgets or poor scriptwriting, that isn’t happening in the television series. That amazing relatable spark is gone when all you have is another Alias.

Agents of Shield gives us Coulson, but an Agent Coulson who is not the quiet hero, rather the man of action. One could argue that this is simply another side to the same character, which I could agree with. Yet, the problem lay in the fact that the audience has fallen in love with a very specific side, and to show otherwise may steer them away from the show.

I want Agents of Shield to be great, but more importantly, I want the character that I didn’t know I needed until he was there to come back. He let me experience the Marvel universe in a way that I don’t think will be replicated for years. Like a drug, I desperately want that experience on a weekly basis.

Coulson lived, but my adoration is waning. He’s not the character we all fell in love with, but maybe he can be again. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take multiple seasons or a looming cancellation to bring him back to form.