Dale's Reviews > Salvation Run

Salvation Run by Matthew Sturges
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's review
Nov 20, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: comic-books-and-graphic-novels
Read in November, 2008

** spoiler alert ** I recently decided that I should really try to buy fewer monthly comic books. For most of my life, if you wanted to read a comic book story, you needed to buy the monthly issues as they hit the newsstands. Once the publication month had passed, you'd have no guarantee of finding the back issues at all, and if you did find them they would be marked up significantly in price. Reprints were unheard of except in the cases of canonized classics.

But that's all changed now. The major comic book companies reprint runs of single issues as trade paperback collections almost as soon as the last single issue drops off the new release charts, and they do it for just about everything. I'm still having a hard time transitioning to this mode for the long-running series of which I have collected dozens and dozens, even hundreds, of issues, year after year. But when a new self-contained mini-series comes out which piques my interest, I can now delay my reading gratification and bypass the single issues on the stands, waiting for the inevitable trade collection. So it went with Salvation Run.

And am I glad I waited? I suppose I am, because if this disappointment had been delivered over the course of six or seven months with such a dismal payoff, I would have been a majorly aggrieved reader, instead of minorly.

There's a valid characterization of many comic books, especially superhero comic books, as mindless entertainment. I have read thousands of them and would not argue that the majority of them are mindless. Formulaic adolescent power-fantasy escapism ... yes, yes, yes, plenty of superhero comics fit that description to a T. But when you keep reading those kinds of comics well into your so-called adulthood, it's because you've found some exceptions here and there that really rise above those common complaints. It is possible to create a superhero comic book with as much depth and resonance and meaning as you can cram into spandex and capes and explosions and plots of world domination, as in any good novel or movie.

I wish I could say that Salvation Run was one of those transcendent examples, but it's not. It's absolutely mindless, which is a shame, because it's really a winning premise. After years of supervillains running rampant all over earth, with superheroes barely containing the collateral damage, the U.S. government decides to teleport the worst offenders among supervillains to an uninhabited planet, where they can live out their natural lifespans but never again threaten anyone on Earth. It's Lord of the Flies meets the best part of every superhero movie ever: the bad guys. And the major villains are all in the mix. Lex Luthor. The Joker. Gorilla Grodd. Vandal Savage. Plus scores of others, so many that even a diehard fan like me can't quite identify them all.

And what do the writers do with this material? Diddly-squat. Salvation Run should be a great opportunity to get inside these notorious foes of the heroes and see what makes them tick when the whole rest of the world is stripped away. But instead we get an arrogant Luthor who shows up late, takes over, and masterminds the building of a device to get the villains home to Earth. We get a wacky Joker who ends up leading an offshoot tribe of villains opposing Luthor's efforts. OK, the Luthor characterization is unimaginative and dull, but the Joker set-up is just plain wrong. There's never any explanation of why any of the other villains would line up behind the psychopathic Joker, let along enough to form a small tribe. The story could have (SHOULD have) shown Joker slowly flipping out because he has no society to sow anarchy in, no squares to play head games with, no laws to break, and most of all no Batman to spar with. Instead he just becomes another petty tyrant making pithy quips.

The "twisty" plot developments are also pretty flat. At one point one of the villains is revealed as a hero in disguise, who is beaten badly but kept alive ... for reasons that never make any sense. Vandal Savage takes four women with him to a separate area where he plans to breed and build a perfect society ... a subplot which goes absolutely nowhere. Joker seems to kill Grodd at one point, but Grodd eventually shows up again doing Luthor's bidding, which is telepathically clouding the other villains' minds so they don't realize Luthor is sacrificing a half-dozen of them to get the rest home, not that you'd think the villains care HOW they get home ... yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense. And there's constant danger on the prison world, as it's slowly revealed that the world is actually used as a training ground for alien warriors, and after surviving the training death-traps the villains ultimately have to fight the alien warriors, just as their teleporter home is ready to go ... it's all just one contrivance after another to see things blow up. Bad guys vs. environment, bad guys vs. each other, bad guys vs. secret good guy, bad guys vs. badder alien guys, one mindless fight scene after another, and not mindless in a good fun way either. Mindless in a "why am I reading this?" way.

I mentioned "writers" earlier and I think that's important to elaborate on. I believe the series was originally supposed to be written by Bill Willingham start-to-finish. You'll note that's how Salvation Run is listed here at GoodReads: "by Bill Willingham". And I hear Willingham is a really good writer and I plan to check out some of his other stuff. But don't be fooled; Willingham was only able to write the first couple of issues and then some other schmoe took over. And I got the distinct impression that either Willingham didn't tell the new schmoe where the story was supposed to be heading, or the new schmoe ignored Willingham's notes, or editorial told the new schmoe to go in a different direction, or something, because the whole story goes downhill fast after Willingham leaves and it never recovers. Such a shame.

And now I will add some other graphic novels to my shelves, ones that are much more worth the time it takes to read them.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Brad (new) - added it

Brad I like most of your review. However, your eighth paragraph is likely incorrect when it comes to Willingham and Matthew Sturges. You imply that the writers have little communication, when the two men actually co-write another (far better) book, Jack of Fables. I'll agree that the tone changes a bit in the later issues, but I don't think this is an example of too many cooks being the reason interesting ingredients turn out tasteless.

Dale Ah, I wasn't aware of that connection at the time, true enough - I read this before I started in on Fables. I guess with my theory shot it will remain a mystery as to how the whole thing could have gone so disappointingly. Oh well, they can't all be gems (which applies to both my theories and comics series, I suppose!)

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