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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/03/2004 Archived Entry: ""Common Grounds", Issues 1-3 by Top Cow Productions"

Common Grounds, #1-3
Publisher: Top Cow

Reviewed by Kathy LaFollett

32 years ago I was introduced to comics by my father. He presented me with a copy of Swamp Thing, Spiderman, and Captain America. I was hooked. Normally I’d buy comics by judging the cover art, and thumbing through the pages looking for action scenes and inviting layouts. I built quite the collection over 10 years. Which through the passing of time, somehow became lost between High School and College.

Today I lurk through comic book stores searching for and buying the old issues that I loved back then. You could call me an aficionado of “old school” comics.

Common Grounds presents the same lure as the old issues I sought as a child. The cover art is solid and consistent is flavor, the layout and ink work expressive yet simple. Line weights and coloring within the issues present suggestive visuals without clutter. Clean and crisp. I consider this series a collectible based on the art alone.

The writing is quirky and dated relying on current events, political beliefs and named products of this generation. This is not to suggest a negative opinion towards the flavor of the writing. I find references, rhetoric, and syntax familiar to the point of everyday expressions that are the very foundation of the premise presented.

Simply stated, Common Grounds is a franchise of donut shops (Dunkin Donuts?) specifically serving superheroes and super villains. One storyline presents the rules for Common Grounds that no fighting or combat is tolerated within the establishment. Bouncers are on hand to remove those super types that start trouble. (My only question being, what type of bouncer can efficiently remove super individuals engaged in combat?) Contained within the parameters of Common Grounds we are introduced to a set of super individuals through conversations, thoughts, and in one story, a bathroom conversation between a villain and a super hero.

Common Grounds employs everyday humans for customer service. In one story a look into the moral of not giving up on one’s dreams is presented through a threatening scenario between two humans. I found the conversation and storyline engaging, but within one graphic cell, the presentation of a PT Cruiser vehicle was distracting.

The humor contained within the writing and presented conversations can be quite good. I found myself laughing out loud at one punch line. Conversely, I often found myself thinking that a group of high school boys got together and wrote the dialogue. It’s a bit thin in context and light in vocabulary. Within three books, there were references to “horny high school girls”, an attempted kidnap/rape, a bathroom conversation presented between two toilet stalls, failed sexual exploits due to superpowers, the stereotypical waitress wannabe an actress, a female superhero declining a donut due to watching her figure, and an additional scene reference to a possible alley rape or “pulling a train”. These points of dialogue were distracting as well.

What I found completely solid and quite impressive were the transition scenes and layouts supporting those scenes. Balanced, supportive of thought, and easily followed they offered a solid foundation to any weaknesses in dialogue.

The series delves lightly into everyday issues concerning familial interplay, social injustice, political ramifications, human interaction, anger, frustration, hopes, dreams, and life itself as a struggle. These are examined within the context of a superhero individually, in a pair, and expressly between a protagonist and antagonist. The very idea of examining super heroes against and within the context of regular human life and struggles sets this series apart. But it is a double edged sword at times. Just as I was losing myself in a character or scene, I would be jarred by a graphic or conversation so timely in reference I’d immediately be asking myself, “what’s THAT doing in there?” or “God, I hate it when people speak like that.”. Character syntax and vocabulary do not support personality differentiation. There is a Hebrew super hero, who speaks guarded English, and within a few cells a German superhero speaking his native language. But generally the characters, female or male, tend to sound alike is verbiage.

There are two hidden gems within the series. The first gem being two page spreads presenting an insider’s look at the processes taken by the artists and writers in developing the art and stories. The second is found in Issue 2, an opening salvo showcasing Stryke Force, another Top Cow Production. This short excursion into another comic leaves you wanting more of the same, a lot more.

I’m smitten with the storyline found in Issue 3 and the Character of Charm. She has a substantive personality that could yield a great long term story. Her brother Strangeness seems a bit dismissive and baseline in personality. I’m not sure if the Top Cow team has plans for development in characters or rather in philosophy framed within random individuals.

All in all, I’m quite willing to give Common Grounds another 10 issues to mature in writing.

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