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Common Grounds Common Grounds by Troy Hickman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever since I discovered that my library had a good selection of graphic novels, I've been reading lots of them. And I've learned a few things:

Anything from Marvel or DC is likely to be surprisingly bad, unless they're written by Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman. There are a couple of other writers who can turn out decent work too, but the vast majority of stuff published by the Big Two is just awful.

This can't be a coincidence. I can't believe that DC and Marvel simply keep having bad luck finding decent writers. No, the blame must lie with the editorial staff and management; they must want bad writing. Perhaps they've become overprotective of their big-name characters, who are now such huge media properties. It's ironic, because putrid writing is now killing those characters - at least in my own estimation.

Another thing I've learned from the library: there's still good work being done out there, and almost all of it is being published by smaller companies. Common Grounds is an excellent example of this. It's a series of stories based around a chain of coffee shops that cater to superheroes. It's an original world-setting, of course, but many of the heroes are reminiscent of some of the classic major-company characters. In fact, there are a number of references to that very point (for example, one high-speed "Flash"-like character is called "Speeding Bullet", and when asked about his name replies "as in faster than a - "). It's clearly implied (if you were wondering) that the world of Common Grounds includes comic books, the same ones that are published in the real world.

The stories are generally unrelated to each other; this isn't your typical never-ending serial, but rather a series of stand-alone short stories set in a common universe. There's also virtually no overlap of characters between stories. Each one focuses on a different character or set of characters.

And they're incredibly refreshing. There's almost none of the tired old cliches; instead, it takes a more real-world approach to the interaction of the characters, with a nice touch of humor. For example, how often are you going to read a story which takes place almost entirely as conversation between a superhero and supervillain in adjoining stalls of a coffee shop bathroom? There's a love story, stories about...well, I don't want to spoil it. All I'll say is that while every story in the book is related to superheroes (of course), none of them use the cliched plots that have been inflicted on the comic-book-reading public for so many decades.

All in all, the stories are very well-written. There are some slightly awkward spots, I'll admit, and the author gets a tiny bit preachy at times. He also has a small tendency to be cute (particularly with puns), and there's a slightly juvenile feeling to his work when compared to the works of Moore and Gaiman (although it's still far more mature and less insulting to the intelligence than anything that's normally put out by Marvel or DC). But these are very minor flaws indeed.

Just to be clear, I really like this book quite a lot. Enough so that I've now taken it out twice from the library, and I plan to buy a copy as soon as I get the chance. Whoops, almost forgot to mention: the art is very nicely done as well.

It's just a pity that the series didn't continue. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for Troy Hickman in the future.

View all my reviews.

Date: 2008-11-24 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks! I really appreciate the mention. Glad you liked it.

Y'know, usually the only folks keeping an eye out for me are my creditors...

And if you haven't yet, you might want to check out my new comic, Twilight Guardian, which just won this year's Pilot Season competition (which means there will be a mini-series with the character next fall). It's sort of Common Grounds taken to an even more mundane extreme (eventually I'm going to write a comic about someone BREATHING).

Thanks again! I needed that!


Date: 2008-11-24 08:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you. You wouldn't believe how painful it has been, plowing through all the crap that Marvel and DC have put out over the years. A friend of mine worked at both companies, and I'm endlessly asking him why they publish so much garbage! :D

I don't know if you're likely to see this (I'm fairly sure Ron Goulart didn't see my response to his comment on my journal), but if you were to write more Common Grounds, I would definitely subscribe. I'll definitely check out Twilight Guardian.

As for one about breathing, I seem to recall that a very memorable episode of Alfred Hitchcock's TV show featured little else - plus a few tears at the end. :D

Date: 2008-11-25 04:03 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
A lot of breathing followed by tears? They must've filmed my honeymoon!

I'd definitely like more Common Grounds myself. It seems to have done well, with the Eisner noms and such, and the trade is in its second printing. Now if we can just get Top Cow to comply...


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