January 19, 2015
When you name your comic imprint "EPIC," truly nothing signifies that better than... a romance comic.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Well, I warned everyone we'd be doing this as a follow-up to "Marville". As you may have noticed, I have not begun this review (holds up a huge bottle of alcohol) drunk off my ass, and that's because unlike "Marville", I don't know what I'm walking into here.
(Cut to shots of the covers of the "Marville" series)
Linkara (v/o): Seriously, I only know three things about "Trouble". One, it's pretty universally reviled. I know it's not as bad as "Marville" was, but that's because, unlike "Marville", it actually has a story and a focus.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of a comic called "All True Romance")
Linkara (v/o): Which brings us to two: it's an attempt to bring back romance comics.
Linkara: And as you can tell by the dozens of romance comics I've reviewed before today, that it was an unparalleled success in that regard. (gives a thumbs-up and smiles)
Linkara (v/o): And three... well, I don't want to spoil that for you. It's better if you guys experience it firsthand. That being said, this whole thing is the reason why so many people have requested I review it.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of another comic called "Bride's Secrets")
Linkara (v/o): Which does make me scratch my head. It's a retcon that was, of course, ignored after it happened, but it's not so awful a retcon that it would utterly ruin a character for all time if it was kept. It's just a really stupid idea that doesn't make any sense.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of another "Marville" comic)
Linkara (v/o): How could that alone condemn the entire story? Well, there are other things here that were poorly conceived.
Linkara: For starters, the writer of this thing is Mark Millar, the guy responsible for...
(Cut to a shot of the "Miller Time" title, but with the E in "Miller" scratched out and replaced with an A)
Linkara: (looking up) Okay, just because I made the joke (holds up index finger) that one time, and I forgot to do it last week, doesn't mean it's a thing! (rolls eyes and sighs) Anyway, Mark Millar of all people was tapped to write this. For your benefit, here's a short list of comics that Mark Millar has created...
(A montage of shots of comics by Millar is shown)
Linkara (v/o): "Wanted", a widely-panned series about supervillains having already conquered the world and is considered overly depressing and needlessly mean-spirited; "The Unfunnies", where children's cartoon characters discover more adult material, thanks to a murderous cartoonist who manages to get away with all his crimes without consequence; "Nemesis", a story where a supervillain kidnaps the children of a police officer, artificially inseminates the daughter using the son's sperm, then rigs her womb to completely collapse if she tries to have an abortion. Yes, seriously!
Linkara: Okay, okay, okay, I'm being a little facetious here. These were all written after "Trouble", and Mark Millar has just as many stories that are uplifting or generally positive and great as he does messed-up and thoroughly horrible. But you get my point, though, right? This is the guy you tap for reviving romance comics?
(A shot of a later issue of "Trouble" is shown, displaying that Millar also created "Kick-Ass")
Linkara (v/o): I mean, even the promotional material for "Trouble" pointed at the fact that Mark Millar had written "Kick-Ass".
(Cut to a shot of the cover of "Kick-Ass")
Linkara (v/o): And spoilers if you've only seen the movie: the comic version is considerably less pleasant than the film, with the romance subplot actually ending with the title character being rejected by his love interest and punched by her boyfriend. This is the guy that you decided would revive romance comics? This is the guy who you wanted to attract women to comics?
Linkara: But enough talk. Let's just dig into (holds up "Trouble #1") this first issue and see how much trouble we're in.
(AT4W title sequence plays; title card has the opening to Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" playing in the background; cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): And we're not off to a good start with the cover. You're probably wondering why it's a photo cover. I would love to know the same. Here's what I can tell you: French photographer Philippe Bialobos – with apologies to my French viewers for the pronunciation – was tapped to make these in the style of teen romance novels. Given they were trying to appeal to women outside of comic book stores, that sort of makes sense. However, given that a big focus of this series is people trying to have sex, I don't think "teen romance novels" were what they should have been going for. Really, this should've been some Fabio-looking dude on a pirate ship if they were looking for romance novel cover inspiration. Oh, yeah, and on the teen angle, probably not a good idea to put what appear to be PREPUBESCENT GIRLS IN BIKINIS FRONT AND CENTER!
Linkara: Now, admittedly, I wasn't able to find confirmation of the ages of the models depicted here, but it's a bad sign for your romance comic when just picking the thing up makes you feel uncomfortable!
Linkara (v/o): We open "some years ago", where several people are getting ready to head out to the Hamptons.
Man [revealed as father to someone named Richie]: Well, I gotta say, Richie, you sure put a beautiful shine on this old Mustang...
Linkara: (as Richie's father) But don't you think you should return it to the guy you stole it from?
Richie's father: ...but you really think that engine's gonna take you boys all the way out to the Hamptons?
Richie: Pops, that engine could take us to the moon and back since I fixed it up.
Linkara: (as Richie, smiling) I did that, too! (beat) Man, there is really not a lot of oxygen up there.
Linkara (v/o): Some women have the same thing going on.
Woman [revealed as mother to someone named Mary]: Oh, Mary. Why do you have to go all this way just to make beds and serve dinner and pick up after people too lazy to pick up after themselves, honey?
Linkara: It's very rare to find a parent who encourages their kid to be a lazy slob.
Mary: Because working at this resort means getting paid and having a vacation at the same time, Mom. Besides, we're going to be waiting tables, not dancing on them.
Linkara: Uh, I'm pretty sure that nothing she said implied you were going to do that, Mary.
Linkara (v/o): You know, looking at this panel, featuring the whole family, is it just me, or are they all the same age?
Another woman [mother of someone named Ben]: You just be careful, Ben, honey. Just promise me you'll stay away from alcohol and cigarettes and all those terrible fast and loose women in that place.
Linkara: (as Ben's mother) I raised my son to be monogamous and gay, dammit!
Man [father of someone named May]: Don't you forget to go to mass now, May. I've written down the name of the church and the times of all the services so I don't want any excuses, you get me?
Linkara: (as May's father) I didn't pay to have that tracking device installed in your head for nothing, dammit!
May: It's okay, Dad. Mary's Mom already called ahead and arranged for the local parish priest to meet the two of us off the bus.
Linkara: This is gonna become the plot of a satanic cult movie, isn't it?
Ben's brother: Ah, take it easy, Mom. Ben's gay, didn't you know? Worst case scenario is he comes home with a six foot Swedish guy with a secret crush on Pop!
Linkara: (confused) Guys aren't allowed to like pop music? Hmm, explains why Todd is so angry all the time.
Ben's father: Ha ha ha! You hear that, Ben? You hear what your brother just said? I swear to God, that boy's so funny he should be on TV.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Hobgoblins, showing Kevin arriving at his house)
Crow: Ah-hah! And what brisk witticism will this chappie have to offer?
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): The two girls head out on a bus, waving goodbye to their parents – only to discover that May swiped a bottle of booze from the kitchen cabinet.
Mary: What are you going to say when you get back home?
May: Going home's a long way away, baby. Besides, how else are two hot chicks supposed to toast in the summer where everything happens to them?
Linkara: (laughs) That sure is a thing women say to each other! In this comic and nowhere else.
Linkara (v/o): Even ignoring most of it, what the hell does "where everything happens to them" mean? Spoilers: they're going up there to earn a paycheck as waiters at a resort and have sex. It's not like they're going to a beach vacation or the start of a horror movie in the woods. They're drinking bourbon in celebration of working. The credits are integrated into the next page, actually rather cleverly on billboards that they pass along on the road. (beat) With Mark Millar as an underwear model. Sure. And Terry and Rachel Dodson as pigs on a sign for a diner called "Eat!"
(Cut to another clip of the MST3K gang, this time watching The Girl In Gold Boots)
Mike: Ah, the nights we'd linger over brandy and eat.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): As it happens, while I question the decision to have Mark Millar bring back romance comics, the Dodsons were a perfect choice for artists. They're a husband-and-wife team, known for their expressive, energetic and colorful art that grabs your eye. Add on a bit of playful cheesecake that they sometimes indulge in, and you've got the right people to actually make the comic look good, at least. Anyway, May writes in her diary.
May: (narrating) Dear Diary, I have decided that KEEPING a diary is a dumb, immature, teenage stereotype and so this entry will be the last time you should ever actually HEAR from me.
Linkara: (as May) Being so dumb and immature, I naturally felt the need to offer some kind of conclusion to it, instead of just tossing it aside.
May: (narrating) Why waste all these precious hours and minutes writing something that nobody else is even supposed to READ?
Linkara: I don't know, it didn't stop you guys from making this comic.
May: (narrating) Sometimes I wonder if diaries were just an ingenious device created by mothers to find out what kind of dirty stuff their daughters were really getting into.
Linkara (v/o): Well, when you put it like that... it's really gross.
May: (narrating) Other times I wonder if Moms just read them just to find out what they're MISSING in their old age.
Linkara: (exaggerating) Adults having sex?! (normal) Hmm, never heard of such a thing.
Linkara (v/o): She says that the irony of it is that you spend far too much time writing about life instead of living it, which is a fair enough point. It's just the way this is presented doesn't help.
May: (narrating) Why SPECULATE about kissing somebody when a living, breathing person will stick their HAND up your sweater with hardly any coaxing at all?
Linkara: (looking visibly uncomfortable) I'm pretty sure that's not what kissing is.
May: (narrating) It's such a SHAME you won't get to hear what's coming next because, if all goes according to plan, this is where life starts to get WORTH writing down.
Linkara: I repeat: it is a summer job where she might get laid. Truly, there is nothing more beautiful about life than that.
Text: TROUBLE, Part One: The Summer Everybody Lost It.
Linkara: Insanity: (makes a heart shape with his hands) the true sign of love. (grins exaggeratedly)
Linkara (v/o): Okay, I'm sure they mean virginity, but I'm still going with "losing their minds", especially with what comes next after they arrive at the resort. They are greeted by this not-stereotypical-at-all individual, Peter Howard Shelby, who exudes snootiness from every pore. The pencil-thin mustache doesn't help, but what solidifies it is his speech to all the new staffers, where he talks about managing the resort for nineteen years with his wife, and they have hosted several important people, like presidents and prime ministers.
Linkara: Naturally, such an illustrious resort hires random teenagers to do their work.
Mr. Shelby: You will hear about the strict rules under which we work, the first of which is: no intimate relations between unmarried members of the service staff.
Linkara: (as Mr. Shelby) Married ones may proceed to hump each other on the dining room tables to their satisfaction.
Linkara (v/o): Also, I'm pretty sure coworkers having sex with each other in their off-time is not a legal reason for firing someone, but whatever, no hanky-panky.
Mr. Shelby: In my thirty years experience in these various forms of hotel management...
Linkara (v/o): Wait, "thirty years"? Then why does he look like he's only 35? Wait, are his ears pointy? Is he an elf?! Erm, anyway...
Mr. Shelby: ...I've learned that intimacy breeds distraction and distraction breeds incompetence.
Linkara (v/o): Man, Bill Jemas must been having a lot of sex when he wrote "Marville", then.
Mr. Shelby: In other words: please keep your John Thomases safely in your trousers. Do I make myself clear?
Richie: That go for the girls too, sir?
Linkara: Well... yes, actually. (as Mr. Shelby) Good to see you being so progressive and acknowledging that possibility.
Linkara (v/o): Such "hilarity", quote-unquote, causes Mary to fail to suppress laughing.
Mary: (throwing her rear and her hands out for some reason) Sorry, Mr. Shelby.
Linkara: (as Mary, imitating her pose) I'm sorry I've decided to pretend I'm flying for some reason.
Linkara (v/o): Seriously, what is that pose? You know, I've seen examples of comic artists drawing from porn before, but that one just looks uncomfortable. I don't know, maybe she was in some sort of harness? Erm, anyway, this remark has thoroughly ruffled Mr. Shelby's bowtie.
Mr. Shelby: You, young man, have found yourself to be the first name in this season's Little Black Book...
Linkara: Considering Little Black Books are usually used for keeping a list of a guy's dating contacts, does that mean Mr. Shelby's hoping to score with the guy?
Richie: Aw, c'mon, sir. I'm just saying you can't stop a big gang of hormonally-challenged teenagers from doing what comes naturally, right?
Linkara: (smiling) Oh, so they're all teenagers. (beat) Which means they're all potentially underage. (another beat) Why did Marvel think this was a good idea?
Linkara (v/o): Also, why would you say that to this guy? What the hell makes you think he'd lighten up on that point? And why didn't Mr. Shelby fire his ass as soon as he interrupted with it? I know I said before it's not really a firing offense for two people who work for him to be screwing, but it seems like insubordination and refusing to follow instructions are grounds for that. Anyway, Mr. Shelby says he can stop them from having sex.
Linkara: (as Mr. Shelby) Allow me to introduce you to the resort's chastity belts!
Mr. Shelby: My staff and I are going to work you so hard over the next ten weeks you have my word you won't be able to do what comes naturally.
Linkara: (as Mr. Shelby) Welcome to my slave labor camp, kids!
Linkara (v/o): And indeed, we soon see the girls working their asses off, under the tutelage of Mr. Shelby's equally snooty wife... I'm assuming neither of them have ever actually touched the other in any manner, since it would be improper. ...berating them for not working fast enough to make beds or scrub dishes. Following that, we see May having to deal with snooty customers at the resort's restaurant. In addition, the guys are working as the chefs for some reason. I assume they've been trained to do all this; otherwise, why wouldn't they have a permanent proper head chef on hand at this place? I don't know, maybe the chef was fired after he was found sleeping with someone. So, after our oh-so-likeable characters spit in the food, we then cut to later at night, where the boys are having a thorough discussion of the complexities of safety and fear versus terrorist threats, the need to protect yourself and have peace of mind versus the need not to be bullied into activity, and living in fear of...
Linkara: And you're not buying this for a second. They're talking about sex.
Richie: Okay, now let me get this straight... Drapes open mean nobody's home, drapes closed means there's a girl in the room and drapes half-open means there's a girl inside we want to get rid of, right?
Linkara: (shocked) They want to get rid of her?! MY GOD, WE'RE FOLLOWING A BUNCH OF SERIAL KILLERS!! (beat) At least, I hope we are; then the comic might get interesting.
Linkara (v/o): Geez, look at this guy. And Tumblr says Chris Evans has the proportions of a Dorito. The two complain about their lack of having sex, Ben even mentioning that his old box of condoms just expired last week. Because, of course, that was information we needed. Anyway, they also mention how much they're interested in, who else, May and Mary.
Richie: Yep. Here's hoping you like redheads, kid.
Ben: What are you talking about? I thought May would have been more your scene, Richie.
Richie: Yeah, well, maybe I'm in the mood for a challenge, man. Besides, if I keep taking the skanky ones, you're never gonna get yourself laid, right?
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, showing Commander Riker)
Riker: Really? How terrible for you.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): They're going to a dance, which, given the Shelbys, I would have thought this was a Footloose situation, and dancing was forever banned from this resort.
Mary: You know, you're going to get us fired if we keep dancing like this, Richie. Isn't there a sign up somewhere saying we have to stand six inches apart?
Richie: Who cares, baby? Six inches mean I could still reach you with a couple to spare.
(Linkara scowls at the camera, then cut to a clip of an episode of Robot Chicken, showing Leonidas from 300 watching TV)
Leonidas: THIS... ISN'T... FUNNY! (kicks TV over)
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Ben and Mary fail to get alcohol from the bartender, but it turns out May has a flask of alcohol with her. Okay, so is that just leftover bourbon or did you steal that from one of the guests, since, again, I'd say the Shelbys regard alcohol as the fuel of rebellion or something.
Linkara: That being said, I've got to agree with May that (takes his own bottle of booze) drinking seems like a good idea right now.
Linkara (v/o): The two couples run off into the night to have some fun away from the party.
Mary: What are we doing out here? The Shelbys patrol the entire resort every night before they go to bed!
Linkara: So, do the Shelbys actually do any work, or are they not the actual owners and they were just hired to glare at things they disapprove of?
Linkara (v/o): May has decided to strip naked and leap into the water. Naturally, with this being the spiritual successor to "Marville", you should not be shocked by the presence of skinny-dipping.
Richie: Oh my God! This is just about the greatest thing that's ever happened to me, man!
Linkara: Well, got to give him credit. They've managed to perfectly capture the utter tedium of a romance comic from the '50s.
Richie: Isn't this how one of the Emmanuelle movies kicked off?
Linkara: Truly this comic knows exactly how to appeal to women. (smiles) Okay, maybe to Diamanda Hagan.
Linkara (v/o): Mary is reluctant to go into the freezing-cold water and instead practices being a centaur some more, with how her upper body contorts away from her lower half. She then feels something touching her feet and swimming around her ankles.
May: Oh my God! Get out of the water, Mary! Guys, get out of the damn water!
Linkara: (shocked) OH, MY GOD, THERE ARE FISH IN A LAKE!! RUN FOR IT!! (tosses comic in the air and runs off)
Linkara (v/o): But no. Instead, it's just Ben, who lifts Mary up on his shoulders.
Linkara: (rolls his eyes) Oh, for the love of... Could the Slasher Killer please hurry it up and murder all these people already?!
Linkara (v/o): The four are chased off by Shelby, who goes to the lake to investigate and finds one of the discarded bras. The teens manage to sneak around behind him as he keeps calling out to the lake, promising punishment for their orgiastic activities, buuut is instead found by his wife and... whoever those two are. And, uh-oh, he's still holding the bra!
Linkara: (laughs uproariously) I'm not laughing at the comic. I'm laughing at myself for deciding to review this thing.
Linkara (v/o): The couples of May and Ben and Richie and Mary have gone back to their respective cabins to laugh about the incident and start making out. Mary finally gets Richie to slow down so they can talk before moving too fast with their relationship. For May and Ben, meanwhile...
Ben: You know, I feel like an idiot for even bringing this up, but I don't have any, uh, you-know-whats on me, May...
Linkara: So you're willing to say the word "condom" in front of your brother, but not the woman who you're about to sleep with?
Linkara (v/o): Fortunately for him, it turns out Mary carries around a condom for emergencies. And so, our comic ends with her holding it up and proclaiming...
May: Face it, tiger--you just hit the jackpot!
Linkara: (feeling uncomfortable) Aaand I think at this point, if you haven't figured it out already, let me spell it out for you: there's Mary and Richard, and May and Ben. That's right – "Trouble" is the story of the youthful sex-capades of Aunt May, Uncle Ben, and Peter Parker's parents. And as you can imagine from that concept, (closes comic and holds it up) this comic sucks.
Linkara (v/o): We'll discuss the continuity flubs with that idea for the next time we talk about this comic and the fact that nobody ever curious about young Uncle Ben and Aunt May boning each other, and simply point out the fact that this story is boring and the characters uninteresting. As I joked about earlier, this is really a slasher movie without a masked killer running around. The only personalities we get out of these characters are "horny" and "obnoxious". What the hell do I care about whether these morons get to screw or not?
Linkara: Which, I suppose, in that regard, means it perfectly matches the romance comics they wanted to bring back. (throws down comic, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Yes, I know the "pop" could be referring to his father, but why would the swedish [sic] guy be into his father if he came home with Ben?
So Aunt May in her youth looked EXACTLY like Mary Jane Watson, to the point of using her catchphrase? Adds whole new layers of unfortunate implications to what went down in One More Day, doesn't it?
(Stinger: The panel showing Richie and Ben about to leave in the Mustang as Richie addresses his father)
Linkara (v/o): I do love how Richie's shirt is just a big yellow square. Nothing else about it, no logo or anything, just a square. Sums up his personality well, I think.