Issue one of Dark Horse’s Pop introduces readers to a world where pop stars are grown in vats and managed by nefarious taskmasters. The primary action concerns the escape of the ever-lovely “Elle” from one such vat, and her awkward rescue by a depressive named Coop. In the closing pages, the story takes up a subplot about a Justin Bieber-ish character who runs afoul of his management — and pays for his indiscretion with his kneecaps.
Despite its name, the book is colored in dingy browns and grays. The environs are generally murky, and the primary characters look a great deal like refugees from the EC universe. If any of this felt ironic, it would be a saving grace — but it does not. It just feels poorly managed.
The chance sidewalk meeting between a harried and nearly naked Elle and a brooding and very hairy Coop is the stuff of post-pubescent male fantasy. She literally collapses in his arms — and he feels compelled to care for her in his own weird way. He can’t go to the police, he tells us, because of all the “weed” he is carrying. So, he drives her home and gives her a big plaid shirt to roll around in. As you do.
This is a concept piece, to be sure. The thrust of the issue is to establish the nature of celebrity culture in the book’s oddball world. It is a vaguely interesting premise, but the execution is uninspired. The central problem with the story is that so much of it depends on the reader’s understanding that the villains behind the vats are evil men capable of great harm; however, this is not established until the final pages of the book. I’d recommend that the author check out Stephen King’s Dead Zone, which does an excellent job of establishing the horror of its central villain right away — in the first few pages after we meet him. Without any real threat — aside from the peculiarity of the vats themselves, of course — the reader can only have limited concern for Elle for too long. We just don’t care about her, and we certainly don’t care about Coop.
The character constructions have some other limiting implications. Highly sexualized and with a childish vocabulary (e.g., “Help,” “Thank you,” “Get a knife!”), Elle’s personality is not engrossing. Consider LeeLoo from The Fifth Element. While she could also be described in a similar way, she is captivating from the first, because she is capable and self-determined. Not so with Elle; however, the real tragedy here is Coop. The author goes to some length to convey his depression to us, but in the most hackneyed manner. He has a noose in his kitchen, so — you know: *Depression.* If he’d been fleshed out so that we could sense his depression without being hit over the head (or wrapped around the neck) with it, he would have been an immensely more satisfying character. Surely, children are not the target audience here, right? So, why not take a risk and treat the disease with an adult sensibility?
Some might feel compelled to argue against these observations by noting that the subject of the book — ostensibly the horrors of pop culture — has thematic resonance with superficiality in all its forms. That’s true, but Pop issue one does not deliver the experience of superficiality in a form that begs larger commentary. Rather, it appears to be the primary vehicle for the story itself. The work may be of interest to fans of the author and artists, but it won’t be of interest to a larger audience.