Strange Fruit (#1 – 4) – Mark Waid

2 out of 5

Mary Christmas, what a snooze.

Strange Fruit seemed to garner much attention upon its release, both for being a something something groundbreaking mash-up of Superman tale and a study of race relations, as well as the push-back against two white creators trying to capture (albeit through fantasy) a piece of the black experience.

Well: That was all marketing hubbub.  Congrats; you got the name of the book out there.  Because in the reality in which we actually read these things and don’t just knee-jerk respond, Strange Fruit isn’t a particularly good Superman tale, or a particularly nuanced study on anything, much less race.  I think its an idea (a black Superman in 1930s Mississippi) that got blown out of proportion, as told by two storytellers who sort of wishy-washed their way through events in order to keep it grounded to a mini-series.  I appreciate that the script unfolds believably within the context of things, and J.G. Jones’ painted art makes a bid for a new genre of Norman Rockwell Drawing An Action Comic Book, but man does the story not really go anywhere, and man, Rockwell’s just not suited for comicdom.  And to be clear: This is apparent from the start, so not even factoring in the incredible delays on getting through four issues (…over a year) that might’ve allowed for plot tweaking, the opening issue is pretty damned underwhelming, both from Mark’s lack of a concisive point of view – we bop around characters and places, establish that the whites still treat the blacks as slaves, and that there’s an impending flood coming that requires the whole town working upon the levee, and then a crash and our big muscled superman shows up but there’s nothing tying us to any particular person or event – and from J.G.’s technically impressive but otherwise unwisely pastoral (and thus sedate; boring) artwork.  Possibly the pitch was to take some smalltime drama and sprinkle sci-fi upon it, with the added racial twist to it, but none of that registers.  When the levee inevitably breaks; when a child goes missing; when the KKK procures some dynamite for no good – it’s all so scattered; there’s no central hook or investment for the reader.  Except: Ooh, pretty art.

Waid is a pretty bold writer.  Jones has proven adept at action pin-ups.  Strange Fruit is a solid concept produced by two talented dudes, but it accomplishes nothing of interest – and it hardly merits controversy with its dull content – as said dudes are a mismatch for a story that required a more subdued approach.  It is not bad, but it is ineffective.