Oni Press' 'Spontaneous' is Just Not / by Alec Berry

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There's nothing necessarily wrong with a cheap, throwaway yarn. That is, when it's cheap. Spontaneous by Joe Harris and Brett Weldele will run you 25 dollars, though. And it's a hardback book, no less. There's nothing really throwaway about this collection except for, well, the contents of the book. To be the blunt jerk, this comic book bored me. I found it neither terrible nor splendid but just run-of-the-mill with nothing special to add. Another comic book in a long list of comic books which could be easily read and easily forgotten. Maybe there's a purpose to serve there, but for me nothing significant was gained from my time with the book. Instead, I only feel a tad more cynical. Spontaneous could be told in any other visual medium and not be altered in the slightest, except for probably losing artist Brett Weldele's line work. But the actual storytelling, the spunk? It's generic fiction. It's simply one of those comics in which the comic book attitude is absent, telling me the choice of the medium lacks importance overall.

To be blunt again, Spontaneous just comes across as another Hollywood pitch comic. It's right on par with 2011's The Homeland Directive. It's a book that exists simply to somehow put another bubblegum high concept into the world, hoping it may possibly standout for that one, specific merit.

But let me step down from my high horse and actually discuss the work. I'll throw more jabs later.

Spontaneous tells the tale of Melvin Reyes, a young man who lost his father at an early age to a bizarre incident of spontaneous combustion. If that weren't odd enough, Melvin hears the voice of a fire god who is apparently trapped inside him, and along with that, Melvin becomes aware of a string of combustion accidents, tracking and studying different victims in hopes of uncovering some secret about his deceased father. Along the way, Reyes teams up with a young, wannabee Hunter Thompson who helps him uncover the truth about himself.  The story eventually devolves into a small town paranoia exhibition, following all the usual paths.

There's a summary.

If you read for plot, this book will probably sustain you because ultimately that's the majority of what Spontaneous is. The book banks most of its success and high points off its collection of events and pacing. Which is fine. Some stories work in such a manner, and I have enjoyed stories of such a manner. The problem is that Spontaneous, while starting out okay, splits itself into a series of predictable occurrences by the tale's third act. Harris commences his script interestingly enough, really centering his narrative on Melvin and his struggle, and he eventually brings in Emily, the Hunter Thompson wannabee, smooth enough so that the choice in direction is polished and of a correct fit. Within three issues, Harris crafts a nice, little plot with a visible heart and livelihood that is, by a majority, character driven. And the characters, luckily, possess a strong definition so they may drive the plot in front of them instead of being dragged along by it.

But then the book's supernatural crux slams the breaks, and all the nice building blocks of Spontaneous fly headfirst into the windshield, breaking their necks on impact. Maybe that comes across as a tad dramatic, but for me the supposed "creative" elements of the comic really hinder what was established in the story's opening. Not that they can't be there or that I needed this entirely to be a slice-of-life melodrama. I'm cool with supernatural; the hints of genre can be effective. The problem lies in execution. Harris brings all of his genre bits together way too late in the plot, ultimately turning his conclusion into one, big traffic jam of ideas. And they're not necessarily riveting ideas either. I won't ruin it for those who may actually go and read this. I'll be nice.

The only element of the entire comic I actually enjoyed was Brett Weldele's art. He sort of blends John Romita Jr.'s blocky, square-jaw line work with an array of grey tones to create an interesting visual style, and I'd say it compliments the core conflict of the book's protagonist pretty well. His choice in page design also stood out as peculiar, placing a majority of the story in grids (six panels or less). Weldele rarely gets flashy in this, which really builds up the moments in which he actually does.

Back to my original point, though: there's nothing special here. Spontaneous only exists to offer up another genre tale, and it sports very little creative storytelling or attitude. Instead, it's straight forward and formulaic. It serves a job, and that job is to be another forgettable product. Which is funny, because this is a creator-owned comic book where all rules are out the window and anything is fair game. Yet, this is what was made. Another book with, to my mind, very little purpose, soul or personality. Very little of the medium's characteristics are exploited or even tinkered with. Isn't that the point of non-corporate comics?  If nothing else, this serves as a lesson to remember: in the classic argument of "creator-owned versus corporate," even the little guy can produce the same muck as the Big Two. It  seems that it's just more disappointing when it does come from a creator-owned title, the very idea of which holds so much promise for me.

TL;DR: Spontaneous is another "Hollywood pitch" plot driven comic book in a long list of comic books which could be easily read and easily forgotten. You might enjoy it, but I didn't.

Spontaneous was written by Joe Harris and illustrated by Brett Weldele. It is published by Oni Press. You can pick it up at your local comic book shop or, support Spandexless and buy it in our Amazon web store.