Friday, December 17, 2010

Comic Review: Fused: Canned Heat

 Fused: Canned Heat (Steve Niles, Paul Lee, Brad Rader, Ben Templesmith)

Steve Niles is a comic book writer with a tenacity that I find infinitely admirable. His most popular work to date is 30 Days of Night, which was a movie pitch that failed, then a comic book pitch that failed, then a comic that he and artist Ben Templesmith made for IDW for free in 2002. The book was a critical and commercial success, and then movie studios took notice. In 2007 the 30 Days of Night film debuted, and Niles has continued to be a successful writer.

However, you won’t find Fused: Canned Heat on Niles’ list of writing achievements (or on his website). Finding this trade for $1 should have been a good warning sign, but I picked it from the bargain bin hoping to find a hidden gem. Unfortunately, Fused was more like finding gum under a bus seat.

From the long and rambling four page introduction, we learn that Fused had a bit of trouble in the production stage, the most obvious is the quickly rotating roster of artists. Paul Lee, Brad Rader, and Ben Templesmith all worked on this four issue mini-series, and they’re styles are seriously uncomplimentary. The book goes from realistic to thick lined animation to minimalistic and inky. On their own the artists are good, but having all three of them in one series is like have three lead guitarists on one stage.

The story focuses on Mark Haggerty, a robotics engineer, caught in the middle of a feud between two rogue federal agents. I know, you were hoping that it was about the 1960s blues-rock sensation, but it's actually about robots. During a test run of an experimental robot suit, Mark's lab is attacked by the vindictive Agent Martis and Mark becomes fused with the suit. Now he’s on the run from the military and desperately trying to get to his wife before Martis does. There are a lot of cool concepts in this book, but none of them really get fleshed out. Case in point: the Implementers. We’re introduced to them during a mission where they fly out of the sky and... explode and enemy base? They’re a team of three super powered commandos that are called in by George W Bush and Dick Cheney. It’s really not clear what’s supposed to be happening, or what their powers are. Later Kid Crash complains "This is the CIA’s turf. Why are we here?" to which Sliver responds "Because we can do in 15 minutes what takes a military operation weeks." They dropped out of the sky and blew up an enemy camp by landing on it. How is that different than a guided missile strike, you ask? Well, a guided missile doesn’t slowly walk out of a fire with a Mouseketeer roll-call style team logo.

It takes the Marines weeks to coordinate moves like that.

You know, an intro like that would have been appropriate if the Implementers actually did anything amazing in this four issue run, but all they do is get a gnarly introduction, meet up with Mark, have a reasonable discussion, and then find the head of a robot that contains data to clear Mark’s name. It’s a fairly bad case of “we’re awesome because we say we’re awesome.”

The last issue’s artist is Ben Templesmith. He’s best known for his work with Niles on 30 Days of Night. His style works great in a horror setting, but in a sci-fi action setting it’s just murky. And it’s a horribly jarring transition from the previous art style: For example, the Implementers go from looking like this: looking like this:

That is literally the very next panel. No, I didn’t spill coffee all over the book. That’s how it looks throughout the last quarter of the story.

Fused: Canned Heat is a really cool concept that had bit of bad luck in production, bad execution, and an underwhelming final product. But with a bit of tenacity, I think Steve Niles could make it into a pretty good movie.

[And in a complete coincidence, Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" came up on my playlist while I was uploading this post.]

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