Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review: It Girl! and the Atomics #3

All(red) The Small Things

''Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,'' so said Einstein, maybe. It's Occam's Razor; you know, that idea that the simplest solution is usually the best. Occam's Razor? Right? It Girl! and the Atomics is simple, but no simpler than it needs to be. The candy colors and sugary Saturday-morning cartoon buzz of It Girl! and the Atomics lifts it above its competition with the dour and serious superhero set where even jokes about lattes are served with a scowl. Writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Mike Norton know the sweet spot between comedy and camp, silly and surreal. As a critic himself, Rich has developed a strong criterion for knowing how not to insult the audience (reader) with 'wink-wink-nod-nod' storytelling. Writers are writers not telegraph operators. Norton's art engenders such loopiness that when the script calls for a flying car to zoom into frame or crooks and costumes courtesy of the mustelidae family, it all makes sense. Like Rich's writing, the simple lines and uncomplicated backgrounds that Norton creates contain all the information the reader needs and nothing less. It's not so much that there is an economy of thrift to this objet d'art as much as Norton gets where the details need to go in order to add restraint and weight to this meringue and madcap milieu.
Look no closer than the TV in the villain’s hideout, it has dials. Dials! The 'thunk-thunk-thunk' of those big clunky kinds of switches went out of style with Underoos and $ale of the Century. Details like this 'shimmer' with the retro chic that one would expect from IG!atA. On one hand, it's a gag, on the other, it's information that serves the story -- an important distinction that's easy to overlook.
Later on it's 'revealed' that Ferret probably liberated the TV from his mom's garage, the gang's old den before they moved out (and down) to new digs, in a sewer. I use the word 'den' for two reasons: 1. it's an appropriate word choice for where one should expect to find characters named Otter, Ferret and Hedgehog and 2. because it's another example of how Norton (and Rich) create mood and atmosphere with the exact amount of simplicity and verve that can get easily overlooked i.e. dismissed when done with such subtlety. It Girl! and the Atomics is a clubhouse writ large. Rich, Norton and the gang are all inside and they're waiting for you.
The superhero identity crisis has been done to death, resurrected, retconned and reimagined so many times that it has gone from cliché to comic book SOP. Rich is so familiar with this trope that he is literally playing with the idea of what it means to be a superhero in the first story arc, ''Dark Streets, Snap City.'' In issue #3, It Girl is back on 'Dark Streets,' the videogame that she was playing when the series kicked off. Her domino mask can't hide the fact that she's frustrated and unsure of who she is and what she's supposed to be (aren't we all). 'Dark Streets' is a balm, a refuge, a place where, as It Girl says, ''being a superhero has clear goals. If I don't know what's going on, point totals tell me.'' Rich has made the real and the ideal -- and the blur between the two -- a central theme of this story. This dark night of the superhero soul in a comic like IG!atA is unexpected (fizzy) new wine from an old jar.
It would be nice to imagine a world in which more comic books take place in discos. Colorist Allen Passalaqua brings a shine and sheen to the second-half of It Girl! and the Atomics #3 that, I hope, is as painstaking to do as it looks; and if it is some digital filter with a cute nickname like 'Studio 54' than it's smart-thinking on Passalaquas part. It's another of the small things, the simple things that make this comic book about breakable ice men and atomic space slugs stand out.
They say 'good' comedy is a stickier wicket to navigate than middling drama. With so many disposable and dreary heroes crowding the imaginary multiverses, it's good to know there's an It Girl out there on patrol of those dark streets. Don't let the (sometimes) unbearable lightness mask the fact that for all its candyfloss and froth, It Girl! and the Atomics is serious comics. Simple, no?

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