WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT COPRA
Michel Fiffe’s COPRA is hands down one of the best comics currently being published. Every issue is crackling with an energy you don’t regularly see, especially in superhero stories. Fiffe has a deep, deep love for the medium, of the characters and the creators, and it shows. I feel excited just holding a copy of the newest issue in my hands, let alone reading it. He’s never not running at 100%.
But there’s a thing that happens whenever anyone talks about COPRA; they inevitability compare it to the late 1980s Suicide Squad run created by John Ostrander, Kim Yale and Luke McDonnell’s Suicide Squad run. Which is fair; characters and designs from that run are taken wholesale and reinterpreted to fit Fiffe’s needs. It’s easy to call it fan-fiction, but at the same time calling it that is like saying the same about Watchmen and Charlton Comics. Yeah, you’re not wrong but you’re also missing the point.
The 17th issue of COPRA is drawn in a style reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s work and focuses on Rax, a character based on Ditko’s Rac Shade. What’s great about this issue is that you don’t need to know this connection to enjoy and understand what’s happening. The comic exists both as an individual entity and a work of homage. And it’s with that combination of the unique and pastiche that COPRA approaches Suicide Squad. Sure, there’s a character that looks like Shade The Changing Man but he’s not Shade The Changing Man.
Comicbooks are a medium with a long history of pastiche and tribute. It’s part of the medium’s language. If you know what the cover of Fantastic Four #1 looks like, you’ll easily be able to pick out when another artist riffs on it. . One of the more recent examples of this is the recent DC series The Omega Men, which uses of a consistent nine-panel grid layout as a direct allusion to the page layout of Watchmen. It’s a nice reference, but it doesn’t detract from your reading of the book. You don’t need to read Watchmen to understand The Omega Men. Even the characters of Watchmen aren’t “original”; they’re based on Charlton comic characters. But you can read Watchmen without knowing what that Charlton connection is. COPRA operates in a similar manner. Yeah, there are references to Suicide Squad –and even other comic properties– but they never obscure the comic’s readability. At no point does COPRA feel like you’re having an inside baseball conversation.
Another thing people always bring up when discussing COPRA is how great it would be for Fiffe to take over creative duties for Suicide Squad. I could not disagree more. Sure, I have no doubt that he’d do a good job, but it’d be a waste. COPRA is great because it isn’t restricted by editorial limitations of a book like Suicide Squad (especially now that it’s become an A-List DC title). Fiffe has complete autonomy. If he wants to kill off a character, he can. If he wants to add characters from non-DC properties he can do that (and he has). If he wants to experiment with his art style and make every issue look different, he can do that too. COPRA is a lot of things. It’s an exploration of violence and revenge, and how these affect people. It’s a love letter to artists like Ditko, Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. It’s an experiment of what one can be done with the superhero genre, both narratively and artistically. At one point, Fiffe introduces a character that moves so fast that he’s rendered with lead pencil scribbling instead of the solid inks and colours of everyone else. But most importantly it isn’t the Suicide Squad.
Now go read COPRA.