Bruce Jones

Somerset Holmes (1983-84)

Somerset HolmesIn his foreword, writer and publisher Bruce Jones talks about his goals for Somerset Holmes. It’s a lot of text and a lot of ego, but I think the point is he wanted to go to Hollywood and thanks to Brent Anderson’s amazing artwork, he was able to get there on Somerset Holmes. Though I’m sure, given the ego, there’s a lot about his writing and publishing.

And Jones isn’t wrong. Somerset Holmes is pretty awesome. It gets long in places, but once Jones has established his style–even if the comic is supposed to be cinematic, his narrative plotting is so episodic each episode has a different guest star, you can wait it out. You can just look at the art a little more. You can wonder who had the forethought to put the little bowl under the leaky stop valve in the scummy small town bar where the pig bartender wouldn’t lend the distressed lead a dime to make a phone call.

Somerset considers.
Because there’s always at least two things going on with Somerset Holmes–Anderson’s exceptionally thoughtful artwork; Jones might think it’s cinematic or whatever but it’s beyond cinema, it’s comics, it’s sight gags, it’s understanding how a reader processes information. And it’s raw. Anderson’s experimenting, often because Jones has such “movie” moments, so he has to change the visual tone immediately. It’s awesome.

The other thing always going on is how every guy in Somerset Holmes is kind of a complete scumbag. Or insane. Because the introduction of the book isn’t the eventual action thriller it becomes, it’s a psychological horror thriller. In the context of a comic book issue, it might seem a little less weird–Somerset Holmes originally had an Al Williamson serial backup, which maybe sort of could affect how the feature reads after a certain reveal–but in the Graphic Album? It’s relentless. Jones is positively cruel with how naively he portrays the protagonist; even her daredevil prowess, which saves her life multiple times, is derided. The supporting cast treats it like a disability. It’s heavy.

Somerset’s eventual traveling companion, Barbie, finally gives the book an honest relationship.
Because the book is called Somerset Holmes. Okay, it’s called Somerset Holmes: The Graphic Album, which is appropriate, because it’s see Brent Anderson draw Somerset Holmes. Occasionally too much of her because it’s an early eighties Bruce Jones production and there’s going to be some cheesecake only it gets to be a little much in the collected setting. Especially after the bisexual prostitute she ends up partnering with scopes her out. Somerset Holmes passes Bechdel with flying colors, only it then turns around to be really homophobic but in a “sexy” way since it’s ladies after all.

And then they walk some of that back and they get away with it because Brent Anderson. And also because, even though there are literally men speaking exposition all the time–some of it just dangerous nonsense (Somerset Holmes would be great if Jones weren’t just a pragmatic writer)–Jones does work on Somerset’s character development. It’s “on page” but it never gets the dialogue time it deserves because there are all these dudes explaining, lying, or apologizing. Usually the same dude. The sidekick.

Somerset. Okay. Let’s talk about Somerset first, then deal with the sidekick situation.

Brett Anderson doing nine panel for “cinematic” pacing… in 1983.

The comic opens with a woman getting hit by a car. She’s walking down the road, gets hit by a car. Beautiful art, setting expectations high for what Anderson is going to do. The comic becomes about whether or not it’s always going to look so amazing, as well as Somerset. The two things are tied, especially since Anderson is so careful with her presentation. She’s the visual star of the book, even when the dudes are talking. She’s navigating through their noise. And word balloons.

Over the course of the story, there are all sorts of revelations–including some where Jones doesn’t even slow down to look at the connotations (though it turns out the Graphic Album isn’t a full reprinting of the six issues, so maybe things got cut)–and it turns out Somerset’s a great protagonist. Jones basically uses her like a Technicolor Hitchcock damsel only she’s an active lead. She’s not waiting for her manly sidekick to rescue her, which is good for a couple reasons. He’s a dope and he also tries to rape her the first time they meet.

But in a playful, wrestling sort of way.

Somerset and Brian. He’s lying to Somerset again. He’s the closest thing to a good guy in the comic.

And I just now realized how gross it turns out to be when you factor in the later revelations. Jones’s lack of character continuity is a problem. It’s more a problem with his writing in general than anything in Somerset Holmes because to mess up Brett Anderson’s art on this book, you’d have to be intentionally malicious. And Jones isn’t malicious, he’s just not interested enough. Not in making the characters have internal logic, not in the flow of the story. Maybe it reads better in the floppies, but collected, it’s start and stop, start and stop.

But it doesn’t really matter, because Brett Anderson.

So the dude sidekick is a gross, rapist, early eighties cheeseball. Turns out he’s even worse. But he’s still her sidekick who ostensibly is helpful in Somerset’s attempts to find herself.

I forgot to mention she has amnesia, didn’t I? Sorry. She has amnesia.

Somerset’s friendship with Barbie gives the character her only choices not directly related to survival.

The other sidekick, the bisexual prostitute turned Somerset stan–is so much better. Jones’s handling over everything is so exploitative, but it’s still better than “if she’s not wearing a wedding ring, she must want it” man. Somerset Holmes is kind of jaw dropping in how messed up it gets just because Jones is so disinterested in writing it well as opposed to packaging it right for Anderson. But the female sidekick is at least nice. She’s at least a nice character to have in the comic. Once she forces herself on a sleeping Somerset… well, okay. She at least apologizes. She gets a lot better after that turn. The dude sidekick just keeps explaining, lying, and apologizing.

So. It’s problematic. Somerset Holmes is a problematic, exceptional piece of work. Jones mixes a bunch of genre elements, bunch of genres, throws it all to Anderson, who makes that mess visually seamless. And, despite his other problems, Jones does give Anderson all the right material to make Somerset Holmes a captivating experience.

CREDITS

Writers, April Campbell, Brent Anderson, and Bruce Jones; artist, Anderson; colorists, Anderson and Joe Chiodo; letterers, Gary Cody and Ed King; editor, Campbell; publisher, Eclipse Books.

The Incredible Hulk 76 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #76It’s hard to feel bad about Doc Samson getting his butt kicked after he just lectured the Hulk on the importance of corporal punishment for children.

Did Jones even think about what he was writing? Did his editors read the scripts?

Braithwaite and Reinhold are back on art. Sometimes they’re a little better than usual, but Braithwaite’s Hulk is still awful.

I guess Jones’s wrap-up of his huge conspiracy story line makes “sense.” It’s not a good wrap-up, but it’s better than where he tries to leave Bruce Banner at the end of it. Maybe the closing line–with someone being real mean in a Hulk description–calls back to an earlier comic. I hope so, because, otherwise, it’s just a crappy line.

Jones leaves the comic much in the place he started it. He wipes the slate clean and leaves Bruce Banner far less a character than he started out with.

F 

CREDITS

Shattered; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, Cory Sedlmeier and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 75 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #75Here I thought Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer on the art would help….

It does help for a while. But the issue’s double-sized and once Doc Samson shows up, maybe a quarter of the way in, the art starts sliding.

Jones reveals the mastermind behind all of Bruce Banner’s troubles. It gets sillier when the villain explains all of it; the ludicrousness of Jones’s conspiracy doesn’t hold up well under examination.

There’s a slightly interesting gimmick, which Jones shuts down so he can bring back the supporting cast. I’m not sure how Nadia–just a regular small business owner in Nevada or somewhere–can get to L.A. in a matter of hours to help save the day. Worse, Tony Stark is around to hang out with Doc Samson. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Tony to help as Iron Man? Or maybe call the Avengers.

It’s a lousy comic.

D- 

CREDITS

Wake To Nightmare; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Darick Robertson; inker, Tom Palmer; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 74 (September 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #74I don’t like finishing a comic wondering what the heck I’ve just read. Getting through this issue of Hulk isn’t just troublesome because of the incredibly uneven art–Braithwaite and Reinhold spend the least amount of time on the big fight between Hulk and Iron Man–but through the constant stupidity.

Jones boils down his resolution to a confession, which doesn’t make much sense. Of course, having the drama hinge around Tony Stark having a suicidal girlfriend with a lock-picking, would-be amateur assassin brother doesn’t make much sense either.

Then there’s poor Bruce Banner. What’s he doing this arc? Following Tony around mostly. Only neither character has a real arc. Tony’s is superficial, Bruce is just a spectator. Jones doesn’t spend any time on Bruce outside him helping with the experiment.

There are numerous false endings too. It’s easily the worst issue Jones has done on the title.

F 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Four; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 73 (August 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #73Watching Braithwaite try to do depth in panels gets painful fast. Bruce is pointing at Tony Stark in one panel and the hand is at exactly the same depth as his body. Maybe it’s Bill Reinhold’s inks, but there’s something definitely off with the art.

Also off is the story. Bruce Banner is still helping Tony Stark on a government contract. There’s a third scientist on the project and he’s mad at Tony, then there’s the guy who Tony’s holding hostage (he did try to kill him so apparently it’s okay). Throw in a Playmate who plays waitress to everyone and Jones has set up a really disturbed version of “The Real World.” Oh, and they’re all stuck in the Stark mansion.

Lousy dialogue and bad characterizations don’t help things. Bruce isn’t just different from the rest of Jones’s run, he’s different from the last issue.

Jones’s checked out completely.

D- 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Three: Shock Waves; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

John Carpenter’s Asylum 5 (April 2014)

John Carpenter's Asylum #5It isn’t enough for there to be one exorcism this issue, Jones has to flashback to a previous exorcism. The flashback does get some of the back story between the priests out of the way, which is good, but it’s a whole lot of demonic art. Manco has almost nothing to draw except demons in various stages of upset this issue.

As for Jones, for the most part he’s just got to write priests saying lines out of Exorcist movies. Not particularly heavy lifting for him. Manco at least has a lot to do. There’s a double-page spread of angels and demons–it’s totally useless as far as narrative value, but it’s very detailed work from Manco.

There are some big plot developments and big things for cast members. Unfortunately, there’s so little concern for the cast it doesn’t really matter who’s in danger.

Besides Manco, Asylum’s running near on empty.

C- 

CREDITS

Writers, Bruce Jones, Sandy King and Trent Olsen; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Kinsun Loh; letterer, Janice Chiang; editor, King; publisher, Storm King Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 72 (July 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #72Deodato has some kind of painted thing going on. It’s not good and it’s often unclear what’s going on–and there are real problems with montage–but at least he’s not doing the little panels for big action.

The issue continues with the Iron Man guest appearance. There’s a strange fight scene where Bruce is in Iron Man armor fighting Tony. Because Tony wants to prove his innocence regarding a girl who committed suicide. It makes no sense; Jones’s editors must have been napping.

Even though Bruce Banner is front and center again, but Jones is more using him as an add-on to an Iron Man story. And the Iron Man story is bad. Jones doesn’t have much insight into Tony as a character; none of his actions make sense. He’s just around for the murky art crossover.

The crossover is a complete misfire. Jones has lost his grip.

D 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Two: Strange Bedfellows; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 71 (June 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #71Bruce is in L.A., no matter why, and he runs across a Tony Stark press conference. So they fight and team up. They fight because Tony can’t recognize Bruce in his sunglasses. Very convenient disguise.

There’s a lot of talking, some confusing art from Deodato–though he’s better than usual–and more of Bruce being able to turn immediately into the Hulk. One thing about that instantaneous change? Jones has never really said how Bruce feels about it. Has he turned the Hulk into a tool? Isn’t the Hulk his own guy to some degree? How does he feel about it?

All these questions go unasked and unanswered and are far more interesting than the comic itself. It’s unclear what Bruce is on the run from this time, which is another thing Jones could have explored but does not.

Worse, the arc’s four parts and Iron Man’s a lousy guest.

D 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part One; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Hermes Tadeo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 70 (June 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #70Deodato is back once again. And, once again, the art is bad. This time there’s a lot Deodato can’t do. He can’t do the talking heads, he can’t handle Bruce willfully turning into the Hulk for a quick emergency.

And it’s too bad, because the issue’s a reasonable done in one where Bruce meets up with a clairvoyant on the FBI payroll. Most of the issue is the two men talking while the clairvoyant can see things unfolding.

Jones doesn’t exploit it as a narrative device enough, but Deodato couldn’t handle it if he did anyway. But the issue’s decent. Bruce and the guy talk through the issue, Jones getting in a couple twists. It doesn’t explain why the guy didn’t try to find the Hulk before, like during the national manhunt, but whatever.

Too bad Jones didn’t do his run more episodically, it would’ve worked. Minus Deodato, of course.

B- 

CREDITS

Simetry; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Hermes Tadeo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 69 (May 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #69After spending the first third of the book setting up the best Hulk fight since he’s been on the run–the way Jones paces out the banter between Hulk and evil spider-clone Hulk (don’t ask) is perfect–Jones trashes the whole thing. He goes back to his talking heads model. Down to no one really having anything to say to one another.

There’s an awkward lack of ambition to those scenes. Doc, Betty and Nadia’s lives are wrought with angst and Jones goes for easy bickering. Not even inventive easy bickering, just page-filling easy bickering. He comes up with a mystery and has to do everything in service of it. The mystery isn’t a good one and he handles it poorly.

The lack of ambition isn’t just lazy dialogue, it’s much worse–it’s Bruce Banner. He’s a marionette. Jones has stopped implying he has any depth. Hulk’s the only interesting thing about him.

C- 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Four: Trust Me; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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