Twenty-Seven: Second Set #1

by on Sep.16, 2011, under Comics

It’s the curse of success for comics, movies, really any popular entertainment: if it’s good, if it sells well, they’re going to want you to make a sequel.

The first four-issue run of 27 (now available as a trade paperback) was a perfect, self-contained story. As I wrote about the first two issues, guitarist Will Garland has a repetitive stress injury in his playing hand, and in trying to cure himself accidentally makes a Faustian bargain that leaves him with a console implanted in his chest. Every time he activates it he gains a miraculous ability for three hours, but after the 27th time he does so, he will die.

Much of that first story is spent on him trying to figure out what’s happened to him and what he can do about it. In the end, he confronts the deity that gave him the console and delivers a moving, multi-page speech on what artistic creation is really about. It’s not about a muse giving you genius, he declares. It’s a process of false starts and painful lessons, won gradually over years. Genius may be given to some people, but they still have to put in the work to make their gift grow. He plans to use his miraculous abilities no more.

The goddess recedes. Garland finds himself alone in his apartment. He flips over his guitar and tries to play with his off hand.

Sounds awful. But I’ll get better. And the music I make—it’ll be mine. And it’ll be loud.

I loved that ending. It was unexpected yet perfect, a real moment of character triumph.

Except now there’s this sequel, so it’s not an ending anymore. Worse, in order for there to be conflict in this new run, author Charles Soule has to take away Garland’s victory.

Yes, Garland is playing his music at the start of 27: Second Set, but it’s much more subdued than what he was playing before, and his fans aren’t going for it. He’s not going for it either: he can feel how the music should sound with the use of his natural playing hand, and what he’s able to actually prodce with his off hand dissatisfies him. Frustrated, he breaks up with his girlfriend/manager and sleeps with a groupie, who triggers the console in his chest. He runs outside, shooting light from his hands, and lets the world—and the news—see his unearned genius.

I should say that all of this is well written, appropriate to the character, and beautifully drawn by Renzo Podesta. But it’s still all disappointing. Garland had a transcendent moment at the end of the first series; the best he can do now is get back to the same height. I can’t see how it’ll be as satisfying to watch him get there a second time.

 

SIDE NOTE: The main comparison I thought of here was to Buffy’s resurrection before season 6. Buffy’s self-sacrifice at the close of season 5 was a high note for the show, and while Whedon & Co. had some interesting ideas when they resurrected the show and her, most of them were directly about how that transcendent possibility was forever spoiled. Now Buffy was stuck in the hell of everyday life. So even though season 6 had some great, memorable moments (Once More With Feeling of course chief among them), it was always clear we were never going to get as satisfying an exit the second time around. And in fact season 7 was utter shite, with a final battle that left us nowhere near the high of the season 5 finale. Sometimes when you stick the landing it’s better to leave the floor.

To give one more example: if Michael Jordan had stayed retired after the 1998 Finals, after the greatest walk-off moment in sports history, we’d all remember him that much more fondly. The pathetic run with the Wizards took a lot of the shine off that final shot.

And yes, I am comparing the end of the first four issues of 27 to both of those. I liked it that much.

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