Somerset Holmes (1983-84)

Somerset Holmes

In his foreword, writer and publisher Bruce Jones talks about his goals for Somerset Holmes. It’s a lot of text and a lot of ego, but I think the point is he wanted to go to Hollywood and thanks to Brent Anderson’s amazing artwork, he was able to get there on Somerset Holmes. Though I’m sure, given the ego, there’s a lot about his writing and publishing.

And Jones isn’t wrong. Somerset Holmes is pretty awesome. It gets long in places, but once Jones has established his style–even if the comic is supposed to be cinematic, his narrative plotting is so episodic each episode has a different guest star, you can wait it out. You can just look at the art a little more. You can wonder who had the forethought to put the little bowl under the leaky stop valve in the scummy small town bar where the pig bartender wouldn’t lend the distressed lead a dime to make a phone call.

Somerset considers.

Because there’s always at least two things going on with Somerset Holmes–Anderson’s exceptionally thoughtful artwork; Jones might think it’s cinematic or whatever but it’s beyond cinema, it’s comics, it’s sight gags, it’s understanding how a reader processes information. And it’s raw. Anderson’s experimenting, often because Jones has such “movie” moments, so he has to change the visual tone immediately. It’s awesome.

The other thing always going on is how every guy in Somerset Holmes is kind of a complete scumbag. Or insane. Because the introduction of the book isn’t the eventual action thriller it becomes, it’s a psychological horror thriller. In the context of a comic book issue, it might seem a little less weird–Somerset Holmes originally had an Al Williamson serial backup, which maybe sort of could affect how the feature reads after a certain reveal–but in the Graphic Album? It’s relentless. Jones is positively cruel with how naively he portrays the protagonist; even her daredevil prowess, which saves her life multiple times, is derided. The supporting cast treats it like a disability. It’s heavy.

Somerset’s eventual traveling companion, Barbie, finally gives the book an honest relationship.

Because the book is called Somerset Holmes. Okay, it’s called Somerset Holmes: The Graphic Album, which is appropriate, because it’s see Brent Anderson draw Somerset Holmes. Occasionally too much of her because it’s an early eighties Bruce Jones production and there’s going to be some cheesecake only it gets to be a little much in the collected setting. Especially after the bisexual prostitute she ends up partnering with scopes her out. Somerset Holmes passes Bechdel with flying colors, only it then turns around to be really homophobic but in a “sexy” way since it’s ladies after all.

And then they walk some of that back and they get away with it because Brent Anderson. And also because, even though there are literally men speaking exposition all the time–some of it just dangerous nonsense (Somerset Holmes would be great if Jones weren’t just a pragmatic writer)–Jones does work on Somerset’s character development. It’s “on page” but it never gets the dialogue time it deserves because there are all these dudes explaining, lying, or apologizing. Usually the same dude. The sidekick.

Somerset. Okay. Let’s talk about Somerset first, then deal with the sidekick situation.

Brett Anderson doing nine panel for “cinematic” pacing… in 1983.

The comic opens with a woman getting hit by a car. She’s walking down the road, gets hit by a car. Beautiful art, setting expectations high for what Anderson is going to do. The comic becomes about whether or not it’s always going to look so amazing, as well as Somerset. The two things are tied, especially since Anderson is so careful with her presentation. She’s the visual star of the book, even when the dudes are talking. She’s navigating through their noise. And word balloons.

Over the course of the story, there are all sorts of revelations–including some where Jones doesn’t even slow down to look at the connotations (though it turns out the Graphic Album isn’t a full reprinting of the six issues, so maybe things got cut)–and it turns out Somerset’s a great protagonist. Jones basically uses her like a Technicolor Hitchcock damsel only she’s an active lead. She’s not waiting for her manly sidekick to rescue her, which is good for a couple reasons. He’s a dope and he also tries to rape her the first time they meet.

But in a playful, wrestling sort of way.

Somerset and Brian. He’s lying to Somerset again. He’s the closest thing to a good guy in the comic.

And I just now realized how gross it turns out to be when you factor in the later revelations. Jones’s lack of character continuity is a problem. It’s more a problem with his writing in general than anything in Somerset Holmes because to mess up Brett Anderson’s art on this book, you’d have to be intentionally malicious. And Jones isn’t malicious, he’s just not interested enough. Not in making the characters have internal logic, not in the flow of the story. Maybe it reads better in the floppies, but collected, it’s start and stop, start and stop.

But it doesn’t really matter, because Brett Anderson.

So the dude sidekick is a gross, rapist, early eighties cheeseball. Turns out he’s even worse. But he’s still her sidekick who ostensibly is helpful in Somerset’s attempts to find herself.

I forgot to mention she has amnesia, didn’t I? Sorry. She has amnesia.

Somerset’s friendship with Barbie gives the character her only choices not directly related to survival.

The other sidekick, the bisexual prostitute turned Somerset stan–is so much better. Jones’s handling over everything is so exploitative, but it’s still better than “if she’s not wearing a wedding ring, she must want it” man. Somerset Holmes is kind of jaw dropping in how messed up it gets just because Jones is so disinterested in writing it well as opposed to packaging it right for Anderson. But the female sidekick is at least nice. She’s at least a nice character to have in the comic. Once she forces herself on a sleeping Somerset… well, okay. She at least apologizes. She gets a lot better after that turn. The dude sidekick just keeps explaining, lying, and apologizing.

So. It’s problematic. Somerset Holmes is a problematic, exceptional piece of work. Jones mixes a bunch of genre elements, bunch of genres, throws it all to Anderson, who makes that mess visually seamless. And, despite his other problems, Jones does give Anderson all the right material to make Somerset Holmes a captivating experience.

CREDITS

Writers, April Campbell, Brent Anderson, and Bruce Jones; artist, Anderson; colorists, Anderson and Joe Chiodo; letterers, Gary Cody and Ed King; editor, Campbell; publisher, Eclipse Books.

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Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 4 (May 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours #4

Bickering. Jones concludes the series with Bruce and Logan bickering. Why are they bickering? Because Wolverine first appeared in a Hulk comic and Jones is trying to tie into their long history together? Who knows–Wolverine sure isn’t remembered for his Hulk appearance.

The resolution is tightly paced, with Jones first using humor to get through Wolverine’s fight with the Shredder. The Shredder proves disposable–a distraction from the main event of the issue, Wolverine versus the Hulk. Even the resolution to the plane crash takes a backseat to the fight.

And Kolins draws a visceral yet still amusing fight between the two. The Hulk’s foaming at the mouth at one point; Jones wisely doesn’t try for an intelligent Hulk or even a sensible one. It’s just the fight the comic has been promising since the first issue.

It’s jokey, oddly pleasant while still maintaining some toughness. Jones isn’t going for deep.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 3 (April 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours #3

Jones maintains a great pace through Six Hours. He’s got his four plot lines going–Bruce and Logan, the villain (the Shredder, because apparently Eastman and Laird don’t know how to copyright), the captive pilot and the missing boy’s parents back in Florida. It moves really well; Jones doesn’t cover a lot of time, but he does spend just the right amount on each characters’ experiences.

Unfortunately, he also has some really goofy dialogue. And Bruce and Logan barely have anything to do in the comic. They bicker a lot. Jones isn’t big on character development and he’s even less inclined to spend any time developing his two leads. The cliffhanger, with Bruce and Logan versus the Shredder (or at least the first attack), is just silly.

Dialogue aside, it’s also silly because it’s a big action set piece on a tranquil lake. Kolins does fine on art, lake and all.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 2 (March 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: 6 Hours #2

Kolins goes more into detail this issue than he did in the first. The exterior Canadian mountains are precise and intense; it makes Six Hours a distinct-looking comic, even when Kolins occasionally has problems. He doesn’t deal with movement particularly well.

The story is reasonably successful, although Jones introduces an absurd villain and gives him crappy dialogue. Kolins runs with the art on the guy, who wears a hood and has an extended arm with claws on it. No doubt he’ll get into it with Wolverine one of these issues.

And Wolvering finally gets to come into the issue, but he and Bruce Banner are just around to move the other story. Banner and Logan have no stories (so far) in Six Hours, they’re just caricatures. It’s the supporting cast who Jones most concentrates on, including a worried family and a mob boss.

It’s a peculiar, but reasonably successful, approach.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 1 (March 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: 6 Hours #1

Writer Bruce Jones takes great care plotting out this first issue. He reveals the significance of the Six Hours title towards the middle of the issue, during the first intense, action set piece. There are a couple of those set pieces, with the beginning of the issue instead dedicated to setting up the supporting cast.

Bruce Banner is on the run and just happens to be at the airport when the men in black are after him so why not hop a flight to Canada. Things don’t go well on that flight, which Jones set into motion during the first quarter of the issue. He also moves between different characters and scenes through similar dialogue; it’s all very deliberate and it definitely creates tension.

The Wolverine appearance so far is inconsequential to the story. Jones is teasing.

Scott Kolins art is an odd fit for a wilderness story, but successful.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 76 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #76

It’s hard to feel bad about Doc Samson getting his butt kicked after he just lectured the Hulk on the importance of corporal punishment for children.

Did Jones even think about what he was writing? Did his editors read the scripts?

Braithwaite and Reinhold are back on art. Sometimes they’re a little better than usual, but Braithwaite’s Hulk is still awful.

I guess Jones’s wrap-up of his huge conspiracy story line makes “sense.” It’s not a good wrap-up, but it’s better than where he tries to leave Bruce Banner at the end of it. Maybe the closing line–with someone being real mean in a Hulk description–calls back to an earlier comic. I hope so, because, otherwise, it’s just a crappy line.

Jones leaves the comic much in the place he started it. He wipes the slate clean and leaves Bruce Banner far less a character than he started out with.

F 

CREDITS

Shattered; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, Cory Sedlmeier and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 75 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #75

Here I thought Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer on the art would help….

It does help for a while. But the issue’s double-sized and once Doc Samson shows up, maybe a quarter of the way in, the art starts sliding.

Jones reveals the mastermind behind all of Bruce Banner’s troubles. It gets sillier when the villain explains all of it; the ludicrousness of Jones’s conspiracy doesn’t hold up well under examination.

There’s a slightly interesting gimmick, which Jones shuts down so he can bring back the supporting cast. I’m not sure how Nadia–just a regular small business owner in Nevada or somewhere–can get to L.A. in a matter of hours to help save the day. Worse, Tony Stark is around to hang out with Doc Samson. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Tony to help as Iron Man? Or maybe call the Avengers.

It’s a lousy comic.

D- 

CREDITS

Wake To Nightmare; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Darick Robertson; inker, Tom Palmer; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 74 (September 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #74

I don’t like finishing a comic wondering what the heck I’ve just read. Getting through this issue of Hulk isn’t just troublesome because of the incredibly uneven art–Braithwaite and Reinhold spend the least amount of time on the big fight between Hulk and Iron Man–but through the constant stupidity.

Jones boils down his resolution to a confession, which doesn’t make much sense. Of course, having the drama hinge around Tony Stark having a suicidal girlfriend with a lock-picking, would-be amateur assassin brother doesn’t make much sense either.

Then there’s poor Bruce Banner. What’s he doing this arc? Following Tony around mostly. Only neither character has a real arc. Tony’s is superficial, Bruce is just a spectator. Jones doesn’t spend any time on Bruce outside him helping with the experiment.

There are numerous false endings too. It’s easily the worst issue Jones has done on the title.

F 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Four; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 73 (August 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #73

Watching Braithwaite try to do depth in panels gets painful fast. Bruce is pointing at Tony Stark in one panel and the hand is at exactly the same depth as his body. Maybe it’s Bill Reinhold’s inks, but there’s something definitely off with the art.

Also off is the story. Bruce Banner is still helping Tony Stark on a government contract. There’s a third scientist on the project and he’s mad at Tony, then there’s the guy who Tony’s holding hostage (he did try to kill him so apparently it’s okay). Throw in a Playmate who plays waitress to everyone and Jones has set up a really disturbed version of “The Real World.” Oh, and they’re all stuck in the Stark mansion.

Lousy dialogue and bad characterizations don’t help things. Bruce isn’t just different from the rest of Jones’s run, he’s different from the last issue.

Jones’s checked out completely.

D- 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Three: Shock Waves; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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