By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 05/22/2013 12:12 pm EST
Publish date: May 22, 2013 Publisher: Image Comics
For over ten years, there has been a trend in modern comics that contrasts sharply with the perceptions and expectations of the medium, particularly with regard to super hero books. Once the province of wonder and escapism, many series, from The Authority to The Ultimates to Wanted, have eschewed this in favor of reflecting a modern, pervading feeling of cynicism. While this attitude is surely not out of place in the world of 24-hour news, it has always been a bit of a tough sell with the classically-conditioned super hero crowd. Yes, all three of the series named above enjoyed runs that were both critically and commercially successful (Wanted was adapted into a feature film, and the Avengers movie owes more than a little to the portrayal of the team in Ultimates), but this might have something to do with just how “new” and “edgy” this feeling was in mainstream comics early in the last decade. At this point, the cynicism is wearing a little thin, but The Bounce, a new series from Joe Casey and David Messina, has cynicism to spare, painting a world in which even the heroes (if there really are any of those here) are drug-addled sad sacks.
Subtlety has no place in this series, something that is clear on the very first page. The story opens with a full-page image of Jasper Jenkins, a somewhat directionless 20-something, taking a bong hit. It is the very image of hapless, apathetic youth, and, at the very least, lets readers know exactly what to expect from the comic. In fact, Jasper isn’t the only one using drugs to ease the burden of reality. Assistant District Attorney Jeremiah Jenkins (whose relation to Jasper remains unclear) pops Vicodin, while the mysterious man referring to himself as “The Darling” partakes of some presumably narcotic lizard. Amidst all of this, superbeings tussle, authorities flounder, and shadowy entities make typically nefarious plans. At least, that’s what it all looks like, anyway.
Jasper is, clearly, a directionless kid, although he claims to have a “whole interior life thing” playing out inside his head. A news report on TV seems to suddenly turn his nihilistic attitude around, and he vanishes in classic superhero fashion. In the next scene, the Bounce appears, taking on a muscled-up villain who has just killed the chief of police, spouting obscenities and vulgar taunts all the while. Many modern heroes have this sort of edge to them, but here it’s all put on a little thick. The Bounce ends up being the least interesting part of the comic. What is interesting here is that, while it’s implied that Jasper is the Bounce, this line is never clearly drawn until the final pages of the issue, which almost seem to contradict the earlier suggestion or, at least, bring into question the authenticity of what we’ve seen.
Given a cursory reading, the super hero story itself isn’t all that compelling. Upon second and third reading, though, it starts to become clear that there’s a greater subtext lurking just under the surface, teasing us. Truthfully, the book is sort of middling until the end, at which point everything gets turned on its head. The Bounce leaves you questioning what you’ve seen in its pages, wondering exactly which side of the Veil it all falls on. This ending suggests that perhaps the comic is setting out to make some sort of statement about reality and fiction, blurring the lines between them through the use of substances both legal and otherwise. This may prove insightful in the long run, but for now these intentions are unclear, leaving the comic a bit uneven.
The Bounce is difficult to review based solely on its first issue. A lot of what happens here is staging and sparse introduction. While the concept ends up being a little more interesting than it lets on for most of its pages, The Bounce is ultimately soured by its overbearing cynical attitude towards both super heroes and the world at large. Time will tell if the series manages to transcend this disposition.
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.