Words of Questionable Wisdom: In praise of Zoom Suit
Why I Love 2006’s Gimmickiest Comic.
By Paul Sebert
To be honest I was sorely tempted to call this week’s column “Sweet Christmas I Hate Wolverine Origins” as I found the first issue of Steve Dillon and Daniel Way’s Wolverine spin-off book to be the worst kind of comic imaginable; one that’s not only godawful but also unbelievably boring.
However having spent the past few weeks talking about bad superhero makeovers and the like, I thought it was high time to talk about a book that I legitimately like. These past few months have been particularly rough for me as well, I’m the kind of odd duck who would much rather read something like AraÃƒÂ±a or Plasticman than rather violent dark, nihilistic books that seem to sell these days.
But fear not fellow fans, as my passion for the medium was re-ignited last weekend as I have seen the future and the future of American comics is Zoom Suit.
The brainchild of former Marvel brand manager John Taddeo, Zoom Suit started as an animated short that has played at 40 film festivals across the country. The story of an Alien suit of armor coming to Earth and the people who are after it has now hit the shelves of comic stores, and if you haven’t already heard of it John Taddeo is going out of his way to make sure you do. The launch for Zoom Suit is one the most is one of the most extravagant and gimmick laden debuts for an independent comic since the 90s. The first issue not only has multiple covers, it’s got limited edition covers with established artists like Gene Colan, Bart Sears, Bill Tucci, and Jim Starlin. Oh and did I mention that the covers are serial numbered as part of a random drawing contests on the publisher’s website Finally did I mention that not only are the covers but every page of the first issue uses some kind of crazy process called MetalFXÃ‚Â® that gives the titular suit of armor a shiny metallic sheen that glimmers off the paper.
Did I mention that issue #2 glows in the dark? IT GLOWS IN THE DARK!
I should be ashamed of myself, a survivor of the bastard age of comics fanboying over the prospect of a comic that glows in the dark, yet I can’t help myself.
Though we associate it today with the smoke and mirrors of the 90s, the use of gimmickry is almost as old as comics itself. Golden Age comics frequently used 1-shot gag images on covers that seldom had anything to actually do with the story to stand out (hence why so many early Worlds Finest covers featured Batman & Superman engaging in wacky things like playing baseball.) The use of lurid subjects such as damsels in distress dates back to pre-comic pulp magazines. In the 1950s, artist Joe Kubert helped develop a process for viewing 3-D images on paper using a process and glasses not unlike the one that would be used in numerous science fiction movies the same decade.
At the dawn of the Silver Age DC editors Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz made a policy of instituting many bizarre exposition heavy covers to attract attention. Superheroes would be plunked into numerous inexplicable situations, or behave in puzzling un-heroic manners. What was going on? Was it hoax, a dream, an imaginary story, or just a big misunderstanding. You had to buy to find out. While we laugh at these covers today they proved to be an important tool in kicking off the superhero revival. As decades went multi-issue plot arcs, crossovers, guest-stars, and even the use of real world events (such as World War II) all started as gimmicks.
The problem with so many companies in the 90s is that the gimmicks often took precedent over the actual content of the books themselves. As covers became more elaborate, they often wound up becoming the sole selling point. Marketing the collectibility of the books took precedent over actual quality. And when the bottom fell out of the collector’s market, retailers were left with dozens of shiny platinum foil covered “collectors items” with no actual stories to tell.
Today we have a different problem.
Today companies focus on quality instead of collectibility, but alas aside from big events like Infinite Crisis and Civil War they often don’t do enough to make their book stand out. Indy publishers in particular have trouble standing out today. Last year upstart publisher Alias Entertainment tried giving away trial copies of first issues for 75 cents but still got heavily overlooked.
Which is perhaps why the timing seems right for the scorched earth tactics that John Taddeo is employing. In addition to the collectable variants and including established artists Taddeo has been giving away advanced copies of the first issue as well as appearing on popular comics podcasts like Comic Geek Speak and Fanboy Radio.
Of course all of the promotion and gimmickry in the world can’t save a buck that is poorly written, poorly drawn or just doesn’t appeal to the masses. This isn’t the case with Zoom Suit. Zoom isn’t exactly Watchmen by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, but it’s a good simple story that should appeal anyone remotely familiar with the genre.
As the first issue opens up a couple of farmers in Roswell, New Mexico are startled by a crashing alien spaceship. We flash forward to present day and a suit of alien armor is being transported from a top secret military base to Washington. In mid-flight an NSA agent named Simon Bane goes rogue and decides to steal the suit. Escaping from the helicopter in spectacular fashion, Bane’s effort to claim the armor as his own suddenly go disastrously awry (I won’t spoil how.)
Meanwhile a 13-year-old boy by the name of Myles Mason is sulking because he can’t go trick or treating with a girl he has a crush on as he doesn’t have a costume. Fortune smiles upon him as the mysterious suit falls into his lap. But what exactly has the kid gotten his hands on and how exactly does he react?
Artwise Billy Dallas Patton’s work are lovely and every bit as polished as a Marvel or DC release. His style is very much animation inspired with his human figures having a Don Bluth-esc look to them. The suit of armor meanwhile has a sleak, sort of old-school mecha anime look to it. It’s the kind of design that one could imagine popping up in a Super Robot Wars games.
While the plot of Zoom Suit is fairly straightforward there is quite a bit reread value. There are numerous pop culture references to everything from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Peter Plan. The first issue also includes Following the tradition of Doop of the X-Statics fame there is also a hidden alien language that readers can decode thanks to a decoder wheel included as part of a hilarious parody of the kinds of ads that used to run in Silver Age comics.
Zoom Suit isn’t quite a perfect book. The dialog between some kids bullying Myles is kind of cringe worthy, a few of the pop culture references are a tad too twee for my tastes, and the introduction of Myles could be a little more in-depth.
That said even with these flaws Zoom Suit is clearly a labor of love made by some people who have some deep rooted affection for the medium. It’s fast paced, unpretentious, and deeply entertaining. It’s the kind of book you can feel good handing to a young reader or someone just breaking into the hobby while still enjoying yourself. It’s the type of thing I’d love to see more of.
And if John Taddeo has to pulls a few tricks from Valient’s playbook to get people to stand up and take notice of his work so be it. More power to him.
If there’s another book that you think needs more attention, be it independent or from the big two please drop me a line.