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Good Read Column for February 28, 1999

The Victorian

Created by Trainor Houghton
Written by Marlaine Maddux
Pencils by Marin Montiel Luna

Inks by Jose Carlos Buelna
Cover painting by Steranko
Penny-Farthing Press
#1 of 5, 32 pages, $2.95
3 ½ smileys(of a possible five)


I have no idea where this is going, but it looks interesting.

An extra little spoiler warning here, because I'm about to outline the entire first issue of this series, and if you don't want to know what happens skip on down to the next text block.

I'll wait.

Still with me?

OK, A man falls asleep over a just completed work - a novel? a thesis? - in San Francisco, April 2006. The fragments of his dream combine a television news broadcast, a nature show about spiders, some traumatic childhood memory (the abduction of his mother?) and other disjointed, nightmarish images. An incoming message wakes him up.

The message brings him across the country to Philadelphia, where he is tailed by a large and organized force of observers only a paranoid could imagine. They refer to him as "clock." They follow him to a sanitarium, a very old one established in the 1800s, but with up-to-date 21st Century technology. There he goes to see the man who called him, Laszlo Gerevich, who reminisces about a lost love and other things that happened a long time ago - perhaps even a hundred years ago, for he is apparently a very, very old man.

This confusing, somewhat unsatisfying opening is followed by a two-page character profile piece that let's us know we've only met one of four main characters - and that's not counting The Victorian himself, who we haven't seen at all. Or have we? There are hints that Laszlo Gerevich is, or was, The Victorian, but that's only going on what little the character profile gives us - that name is not used anywhere in this first issue.

Not letting the title character appear at all in the first issue - at least not identified as such - is a bold and risky move. I might also add "foolhardy." It would probably doom a lesser book. I think these folks are going to get away with it, though. They've certainly got me intrigued.

There is no story here, really, but there's enough of the beginning of one to tantalize. I may end up disappointed, but I'm certainly going to buy the next few issues, and probably all five, just to see what's going on.

The art, by Martin Montiel Luna and Jose Carlos Buelna, with coloring and lettering by Jamison Services, is a big reason why. You won't hear me say "Well, there's no story here, but the art makes it worthwhile" very often, and if the story didn't in fact seem like it was headed somewhere interesting I wouldn't say it here, either. But even though the opening was confusing as hell and I con't know whether there's really an interesting story here or not, the gorgeous, intricate art and unusual visual storytelling style captured my eyes and wouldn't let them go.

It's not innovative like Kabuki or Cages, mind you. Very much in the standard range of mainstream comics art. But there aren't many people in the mainstream doing it this well.

The credits are strange. I'm not sure exactly what Trainor Houghton did here. The inside cover credits say "Created/Developed by," but I'm not sure what it means. Did he come up with the concepts but then give them to other folks to bring to fruition? It's unusual enough to see Todd McFarlane essentially doing this on Spawn - but at least he did the first few issues himself. I can imagine a writer creating something but needing an artist, or vice-versa, but if you neither write nor draw how can you say you "created" it?

This seems particularly pertinent now, since John Goldwater recently died. Although you've probably never heard of him, he is credited as creating the character of Archie - as in Archie and Betty and Veronica and Jughead and all those folks in Riverdale.

In fact, as far as most of us use the word "create," Bob Montana created Archie, working with several writers. What John Goldwater did, according to comics historian Jerry Bails, was this: "he instructed his creative staff to come up with a charachter like the Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy and radio's Henry Aldrich." Another comics historian and creator, writer Mark Evanier, said "It may well be that Goldwater told Shorten, Bloom and Montana to do a Henry Aldrich rip-off...and figured that that directive made him the creator of what they came up with. Or it may be that he had some more specific ideas, though I'm not sure I've ever heard that he claimed that." But he continued, "With Montana long gone, we probably all have to live with the "truth" that Goldwater created Archie. It's too late to make any kind of meaningful case to the contrary." In any case, Goldwater is listed as "creator" in every Archie comic, and his obituary said the same thing.

Now, I'm sure Trainor Houghton did more than John Goldwater, because The Victorian is not an obvious copy of anything else, that I can see, so even if he only came up with the bare bones, those bones were at least original. And he may have come up with all the characters and the plot outline, but felt uncertain of his ability to write dialogue. I just don't know.

But it's very weird, in this day and age, to find a comic - and especially a comic from a small, independent publisher (who only seems to publish this one comic, as far as I can tell) - that has a "created by" credit different from either the writer or the penciller.

Very strange.

But hey, creator's rights and who deserves credit for what is a political issue, not an aesthetic one. If I felt the writer or artist here were being ripped off (and I have no indication that they are), I might advise you not to buy this comic on moral grounds, but that would have nothing to do with how good it is. And it is good. Perhaps even very good.

I have a feeling that this five-part series is an introduction to the world and character, and that once it's completed we'll see either more mini-series or an ongoing one (assuming that sales warrant, of course. If that happens, perhaps I'll revisit it and let you know whether I feel it lived up to the possibilities hinted at in this first issue.

Comments? Questions? Drop me a line
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