Brass vol. 2 (#1 – 6) – John Arcudi

1 out of 5

Uf da, what a ding-dong mess.  That starts promisingly…!  …But Arcudi gets incredibly lost in his own mire of murky morals and a tone that can’t decide on a protagonist struck by the gravity of the situation or a dang-diddely common-folk twang, not to mention the excessive, page-filling detail of artist Carlos D’Anda.

Brass volume 1 – which I’ll fess up to not having read – came out during the latter half of Image’s art-first years, which would still seem to be evident in the character’s bulbous, armor- and gun-plated design.  And perhaps the origin, which is touched on and then brushed off here by Arcudi, in a seeming knowing nod to its silliness: Herschel Goldstein (Get it?  He has a funny name!) ran afoul of a ‘virus’ disposed of by a shady corporation when, eh, wandering the sewers.  The virus manifests by over-taking his body with a massive robotic shell, which apparently protects him from danger and also encourages a definitive fight instinct.  Arcudi drops us in the next chapter of Goldstein’s life suggesting that Brass-living is a chore of taking dead-end jobs to avoid confrontation and feeling distant from oneself; when a sudden burst of violence interrupts his internal grumbling, we see the destruction Goldstein / Brass is able to make on a whim and we get it.  D’Anda works really well when grounding the outlandish main character against city streets, and Arcudi’s voice for Goldstein as a reluctantly-powered complete everyman feels appropriate.

The second issue even takes us off in a very promising direction… but there’s already trouble on the horizon.  That direction – Goldstein is approached by a strange, alien woman who explains that the source of the Brass virus is actually her home planet, and now, virus-free, they’re actually in need of it again to fend off… – well, that direction is missing some giant details.  The twist of something once undesirable (for Goldstein, for this other planet) now being in need is a good way of reframing things, but it’s never quite clear why the need exists.  It’s filled in through assumptions that don’t quite sync up: the alien race is a techno-organic one, seeing life in everything, and as such, they’re quite peaceful.  It seems that some other race decided to war with them because they’re easy pickings, and now, this ‘war virus’ – which they presume will transform them into mecha like Goldstein – is the only way to save the day.  I think that’s the gist, anyhow.  Everyone goes about like it is, even though I’ve flipped back and forth through pages and can’t find a clear indicator of that, so so be it.  I’m willing to give writers some slack when they’re trying to quickly shift us somewhere else – which Arcudi is trying to do by throwing a big ol’ questioning ‘when is there need for aggression?’ question on this – but it’s troubling, nonetheless, when it’s handled rather sloppily.  Also noteworthy on the art fron is how D’Anda completely drops any sense of setting as soon as the alien stuff begins.  Goldstein is approached by the alien while in front of a police building on Earth, but suddenly… it’s an alleyway.  No, no, it’s a street.  Nope, alleyway.  Nevermind, we’re on the other planet.  His alien character designs are cool, so you’re going with it, but again: it was troubling.

And it just kept getting worse from there.

Goldstein is tasked with training a few of the aliens with how to use the Brass, and then recognizes that they’re being overtaken by its aggressions.  There’s a gigantic story in the background with the rest of the aliens’ race shunning them due to their embracing the virus, and then the above-mentioned theme of studying the need for the targeted use and application of violence.  Some of this doesn’t work because D’Anda goes into full Image mode with his big, brawling bots, and story beats are impossible when every other panel is a huge BOOM of an explosion, even when the narration doesn’t suggest it has to be that way.  But plenty of it doesn’t work because Arcudi can’t pick a focus, or a tone.  Tragedy in one panel, aw shucks the next.  The ‘war’ has no sense of escalation or stakes – the Brass is mighty powerful – which makes the story resonate with a dull thud when some character deaths are intended to have relevance.  And it becomes less and less tolerable the deeper we get, as things become more ham-fisted in attempts to wring some moral quandaries out, and as Arcudi tries to hint at an emotional connection between Herschel and one of the aliens that’s just… desperate.

I straight up hated the last issue.

Too bad.  Try A god Somewhere for a much better ‘power corrupts’ study.