Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Common Grounds

I was feeling in the mood for some sumptuous graphics and vibrant storytelling this past Quarter, and in a fit of Amazon-fueled consumer greediness, I ordered three. Here's the first - and only - one I've been able to enjoy thus far; but believe me, this "Baker's Dozen" really hit the spot! 

Common Grounds, Bakers Dozen (Volume 1), by Troy Hickman, may be a little antiquated in terms of publication - it came out back in 2004 - but the concept was new to me, for sure: instead of just extolling the virtues and vices of a singular comic book character and following them through the crushing of crime in their generic metropolis city, Common Grounds takes a deeper look at what's behind the domino masks, via the coffee schedule of caped crusaders. This comic book collection of thirteen stories depicts superheroes frequenting a chain of coffee and donut establishments - called "Common Grounds" - where both crime fighters and causers alike can sit and rest for a while.

Catering to characters of all kinds, Common Grounds explores elements of the super-community you don't usually see, like the ties between heroes and civilians, heroes and villians, and heroes and themselves, as well as how and why those relationships form and develop. Long story short: CG explores why being super isn't always super. 

The inventive stories hone in on specific heroes and subsets of heroes, each different from the next, and far from any standard set before. From a super weight-loss club, to an alumnae party for a super team, the ways in which these heroes and villians gather and interact is surprisingly normal. With this many characters running together, from all walks of life, sometimes it felt like the floor got a little crowded: when you're introducing the lives and backstories of so many people, it can end up feeling like all it is is exposition.

However, the intersections of various heroes and villains were the coolest to me, and every time a familiar name came up - introduced in a previous chapter - I'd smile. And they were clever, too, and all very unique. They could be classically stylized, and with plenty of cool names and costumes, but they were all ironic and self-referential enough for the doses of humanity being put on display.

That's probably why it reminded me of a sort of grown-up The Incredibles. Kind of. It very much focused on the relationship side of things rather than any of the normal trappings of super-stories. For instance, take my first introduction to the series:

Like I said before, the book came out in 2004; however, I'd only found one of the chapters recently online, and it still is one of my favorites, after reading the rest of them. Titled "Time of Our Lives," written by Troy Hickman, and illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Marino, and Guy Major, it discusses the meeting of old archenemies in the back alley across the street from the coffee shop, but it wasn't the storyline that impressed me so much. It was the subversion of typical hero and antagonist dynamics that got me... playing into the concept of what a good or a bad person really looks like.

That's where the stories really found their strength: in those doses, sometimes liberally delivered of not moralism, but just understanding of a human concept, on a super-human scale.

Final Verdict: With compelling and unique visuals, tongue-in-cheek humor, and compelling storylines that fly beyond the expected realms of superhero comics, Common Grounds was probably one of my favorite comic books I've read in a while.

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