Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Art Ops, Volume 1: How to Start a Riot Review (Shaun Simon, Mike Allred)

The Art Operatives protect art from people who want to steal and destroy them, literally taking the subjects of the paintings out of the canvas into real life and putting them into a kind of witness protection! But one day nearly all of the Art Ops disappears suddenly and it’s down to the Art Ops head’s son, Reggie Riot, to partner with a superhero character to save the Mona Lisa from destruction.

This comic sounded like a lot of fun but it turned out to be utter pants. The premise is garbage - this idea that art is literally alive is just stupid. Zapping a painting like the Mona Lisa with something and taking out the person inside, who’s alive and speaks English and is ok with the modern world and knows they’re living in a painting and are made of paint but are somehow human and have somehow been conscious for centuries and so on is too broad and inadequately explained. 

I think Shaun Simon is trying to mimic comics like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which features literary characters as real people. Except, as far as I recall, the LXG literary characters were always real people, they weren’t created and brought to life by artists somehow, so the concept falls apart in Art Ops where all of the artistic creations are clearly the product of artists. 

Then there’s the idea that saving a part of a painting - the figure of the Mona Lisa rather than the background detail - is all you need to do to preserve them. Aren’t masterworks celebrated because every part of it contributes to the overall effect? And what about those works of art that don’t have a human subject like John Constable or El Greco’s landscapes? Once again the concept fails. 

The villain of the story is an “ugly” piece of art that wants to destroy “beautiful” works of art because everyone looks at them and no-one looked at her. She’s drawn to look like a cubist piece of art and she goes around making every other piece of art “ugly” like her. And this is another problem I have with this concept: great art does not equal conventional beauty every time nor is cubism necessarily considered ugly by everyone; “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, art is subjective, etc. Goya, Munch, Picasso, Fuseli, to name a few, all created critically acclaimed works of art that have stood the test of time, none of which you could say feature attractive people but that doesn’t make the paintings worthless. This comic is so ass-backwards in its views on art! 

More than that the Art Ops feel weirdly antithetical to the idea of art - “policing” art, ensuring it “follows the rules”. Doesn’t a lot of great art come from artists breaking the rules of their time? We wouldn’t have Pollock paintings if someone told him he had to paint with brushes and create visuals that are easy to understand. “Protecting the public from dangerous art” reeks of censorship when the Art Ops are supposedly the good guys. Writer Shaun Simon stretches to make this dumb idea work by saying that, errrr, someone painted a picture of a guy called Jack that was, ummm, evil and he escaped and went on a killing spree in 1888 Whitechapel! Incompetent writing. 

Moronic artistic ideas aside, the story itself is meandering and dull. The Art Ops disappear and that’s it - the remaining characters do nothing to find them but nor did I care or want to see them found. Reggie Riot (awful name), our protagonist, is a whiny douche with mommy issues who behaves like a bratty teen despite being in his twenties, failing to win over the audience with his obnoxious personality or seem even faintly like a real person. The Mona Lisa running around the place becoming a punk rocker wasn’t fun, it was boring and completely pointless - no part of Shaun Simon’s script was worth reading; it was muddled and the issues were poorly structured. 

Appropriately for a book about art, Mike Allred’s art is the only positive thing about Art Ops. The Body’s design was awesome (the superhero character who escaped from the pages of a comic), and, while I despised him, I liked Reggie’s arty arm. Laura Allred’s colours too are outstanding and gorgeous as always. 

Shaun Simon basically read Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and The Invisibles and said “Me too!” except his series is total crap. Boring, infantile, stupid, Art Ops is the latest in a long line of disappointing Vertigo releases - don’t bother. 

Art Ops, Volume 1: How to Start a Riot

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