Copra (Compendium 1 (#1 – 3), Compendium 2 (#4 – 6), #7 – 12) – Michel Fiffe

5 out of 5

I love artists and writers who can ONLY be them.  While Copra writer / artist / everything Michel Fiffe’s blending of geometry with his loose lines does remind me of Jesse Moynihan at moments (but then dig his shaky inks and motion lines, recalling some kind of mutated Miller / Janson thing), there isn’t a single panel or line that doesn’t feel uniquely of this book, from cover to cover.

At the time when I bought these issues, Fiffe lived in Brooklyn and worked part time at Bergen Street Comics – which the dude at the counter told me when I brought the books up for purchase.  This in itself isn’t notable, of course, since most of us live and work somewhere and the BK is a pretty happenin’ place from what I understand, here in my wonderland of Queens.  But what was notable, to me, was that these were true indie books, self-published then ‘compendium’ed by the newly coined Bergen Street Comics, and that I had full confidence in the 30 bucks I was dropping to catch up on seven issues – all that was out at the time – of a title I’d never heard of or seen before.  Fiffe’s biography has work outside of the indie realm, sure, but it’s rare that small press books feel so assured, to me, after just one glance.  And I ALWAYS feel lucky to discover these things, but it’s generally via a used bin.  So it was a nice feeling paying up front, assuming that Mr. Fiffe received a good chunk of the dosh that I doth spent.

Some words on the formats in which I read these, and how they compare: the Compendiums (3-issue stapled binding collections from Bergen Street comics) vs. the single issues.  The Compendiums are a pretty snazzy deal, coming in at a buck less per issue – $12 for three vs. $5 each – and even more savings if you consider shipping costs.  The paper quality is the same (I’m still learning about paper types, but Fiffe calls it Baxter stock… the thickness of it syncs with that, but my reading always refers to Baxter as white paper, whereas Copra is a tan or sometimes yellow base… so maybe it’s dyed Baxter, if that’s possible?), which is a plus and minus: the individual issues are already a two-hand read b/c the book cannot possibly lay flat unless you want to crease some pages into some origami thing – the pages are just that thick; thus, having three issues worth of pages like this stapled together makes the reading angle even more narrow, though the margins are generous so visibility isn’t interrupted.  But the Compendiums are heavy, and definitely require being propped against something or being held open.  Content-wise, I believe you’re just missing the back cover and its interior, so no letters page, and no interconnecting image on the back (all 12 issues’ back covers appear to form a massive image but I’ll never know weep weep since I don’t have issues 1-6 except in the collections), but you get new art in exchange (and unique blurbs on the inside back), so, y’know, that works.

Beep.

Our story: government sanctioned squad o’ bandits Copra are off on their own mission as led by Man-Head to assist with some wackiness in ‘Head’s hometown.  They retrieve an odd artifact – a skull with a piece of somethin’ wedged into it – only to have their return trip hijacked by one-time Copra-er Vitas, who grabs the skull, goes nuts, and blows up the town, killing 30,000+ folks.  …Which Copra is suddenly blamed for, making them all fugitives and more than likely ruining the career of their government representative Sonia.  But is she going to stand for that?  Absolutely not.  Someone sent Vitas on this mission, after all, reeking of sell-out from within, so Sonia recruits members current and old to take care of business, which first involves seeking out spiritual help via Dr. Strange proxy Vincent and his protege Xenia, then for more backup, a Punisher proxy, then, why not, traveling to the different universe from whence the artifact came and squaring off against a big blob in a jar named Dy Dy.  You with me?  The story is nuts.  And awesome.  Fiffe perfectly flips between battles and story and character moments (a few Copra members get their shot at narration but its kept to only one or two voices in-issue so you don’t feel jerked around like in some team books) and though we served up plenty of sudden, sprawling fight scenes, the pacing is incredibly respectable – some writers *ahem ahem Millar* get by trading punches for pages, ’cause that’s exciting, but Mr. Fiffe divvies up his panels for character vs. character and then takes care of business.  It doesn’t drag on, but you get all the eye candy you need to believe in these cats as vicious fighters specializing in whatever they specialize.

The ‘reveal’ of the what and the why of the double-cross is just as bizarre as anything else leading up to that point, and again, I appreciate that it’s not rammed at us like astounding twist – we’re shown the bad guy early on, it’s just a matter of Sonia getting the evidence she needs to clear her team’s name before ordering the smack layed down.

Post the final fight, things rattle down a bit quickly, but not without some good epilogue flashes and a nice postscript that can either be left dangling or picked up later… it makes for an awesome last page either way.

The character design and plotting of Copra is all right on the fringes of surreal without toppling into overkill.  It stays grounded in comic excitement with brief flashes of wonderfully fluid action; it stays grounded in humanity by giving each of the many characters a full voice.  Although you can pick through and name the ‘oh, they’re like THIS character’ likeness, and toss out nicknames like ‘the angry one,’ ‘the young one,’ and so on, it doesn’t feel like Fiffe wrote it that way.  Each of those templates is fleshed out through snippets of conversation (and I love non-standardized lettering like this, though I’m sure it’s a pain) as well as Fiffe making sure to pan past everyone in the group scenes to show how they’re comporting themselves while shit goes down.  It could just be an obsessive mindset on behalf of the author, WANTING to know where his characters are and what they’re doing, but it’s to the benefit of the fullness of the book and never sacrifices the pacing to do so.

If you like the art style, just buy the book.  I promise you there’s much eye candy even if you don’t dig superhero stuff.  But if you DO dig hero stuff, all the better, as the book ramps up insanely and unexpectedly, and – just as my first purchase left me without any doubts – leaves zero hesitation that what’s to come won’t be similarly awesome.

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