Trading Up: Kaboom Volume 1

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eof Sunrise just turned sixteen. He is worried about getting his license and talking to the hot girl at school. But then a mysterious Japanese sax player shows up, hands him a pair of gloves and tells him to protect the world. Before he can even wonder what he is supposed to be saving the world from, he is dead... and that’s just the first few pages of this trade paperback collecting the Awesome Entertainment series from 1997.

Jeph Loeb is an enigma in the comic book world. With Tim Sale he has produced some of the most memorable comics of all time, ranging from Daredevil: Yellow to Batman: The Long Halloween. These are books that are loved by the fans and were extremely well received by the critics. He has written blockbusters like Superman/Batman where the praise was not as high, but the sales made up for any worries about him falling behind in the writing department. Then there are Ultimates 3 and Hulk, guilty pleasures at best, mindless moneymakers at worst. The internet is filled with hate for the books on the one hand and fans who will tell you not to take comics so seriously on the other. Then there is his Hollywood work, with shows like Heroes and Smallville standing out. The shows started off great, but faltered later. Loeb is a hard one to get a grasp on.

Kaboom was written closely on the heels of the success of Heroes Reborn at Marvel. Liefeld started over, forming Awesome Entertainment, and Loeb joined him for a few books -- Kaboom with Jeff Matsuda and The Coven by Ian Churchill.

So the question is, is this a masterpiece, guilty pleasure or something else entirely?

This reviewer is going to have to say it is a guilty pleasure. There are lots of fun elements. In fact, it would be my guess that the fans of Giffen and Rogers’ reimagined Blue Beetle will find much to enjoy here. It is, after all, a comic about a high school kid balancing his life at school and that of a hero. I prefer Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., but the kids seem to disagree these days.

Like I said, there is much to enjoy here. We have a hero who is somewhat plagued by an attention deficit disorder. He often stops in the middle of phrases, much less sentences, to regroup and go down a different path. He is handed his gloves by Zang, a Japanese Sax player who is a cross between Mxyzptlk, Mr. Magoo, and Mr. Miyagi. There are giant flies who wear shades, pizza parties, driving licence tests, malls, and big explosions. This is action comics at their most chaotic.

Chaotic. That’s an interesting term. As far as the action and Matsuda’s manic artwork are concerned, it's a good thing. But when it comes to the story, it's bad. Not only is Loeb’s character a bit A.D.D., his story is too. There is no real resolution, mostly because there is no consistent threat for the boy to work through. Sure, there are villains, Scarlett and the Nine are formidable enemies fighting to take the gloves from our new hero, but they pop in and out, die and live at a frantic pace. The thrust of the story seems more like My So Called Life (of a superhero): it’s all a bit odd and too jumbled to makes heads or tails of.

Then there is the cleverness on diplay. In the introduction Loeb recounts how our teenage character got named Geof. It boils down to the fact that the creators are named Jeph and Jeff. He pats himself on the back for the genius of the name. Really? Come on. This kind of off-beat "humor" runs through the book. The humor is base, contrived, and clichéd like watching a dated comedian do his tired routine from 1980 in 2009. What is worse is that at the end of each issue, the two real life Jeff(/ph)s make an appearance to explain to you what just happened. It's funny that the creators knew this was needed.

Matsuda's art is a bright spot though. His art is kenetic and the coloring makes it pop. There is no wonder that he has had a successful animation career, as this property would make a great cartoon. In many ways that is what the story is anyhow, a Looney Tunes piece. The designs are inventive, at the cutting edge of its time embracing the lines and angles of Manga, quite a few years before the Japanese format would become the vogue of the book market set. Whenever the story loses all coherency, the reader can just sit back and be in awe of the art.

Kaboom is an interesting artifact. In many ways it is an example of the worst that the Nineties had to offer. That mindless art-driven project of old has gone away, now when Hulk or X-Men Forever hits the stands, there is an over the top presentation to the story that is sorely missing here. We can look at it as a cautionary tale and something to be wary of... or we can take it for what it is - a fun, mindless diversion. The choice is yours dear reader.

Kaboom is available from Image Comics priced $14.99

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