Monday, July 04, 2005

Battle For Comic Book Independence

In honor of the Fourth of July, I figured it would be interesting to have a USA/Britain rematch - COMIC BOOK STYLE!

I will match up an American tradepaperback against a British tradepaperback. Whichever is better, wins. Best two out of three!

FIRST MATCHUP: Jack Staff: Everything Used To Be Black and White vs. The Shield

This is a tough matchup for Jack Staff, as The Shield was the FIRST American patriotic hero, debuting in late 1939!!!

Written by Henry Shorter, with art by later DC mainstay, Irv Novick, the Shield tells a lot of strong Golden Age stories.

The concept behind the Shield is that FBI agent Joe Higgins has created a special suit that is both impervious to damage and also gives the wearer super strength. Working under J.E. Hoover, Joe defends America from the "Nordic" bad guys who keep trying to kill us in America or sabotage our ships.

The Shield's uniform has four stars on them, which stand for: Truth, Justice, Patriotism and Courage.

The Shield hands out little shields with that written on it to the bad guys after he beats them up - just to rub it in.

The package from Archie is an attractive one, and it reprints the first five Shield stories from Pep Comics #1-5, plus the three Shield stories from the Summer 1940 Shield-Wizard Special.

A particularly interesting story is the one where we see the Shield's origin, and we learn that Joe's father first came up with the formula to create the armor, but died before making it. The key to the formula, which his father whispered to him before he died was "SHIELD," which one day Joe realized stood for Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs and Derma.

This was all he needed to create the armor.

The stories are all strong, and Novick's art is strong (and also, his storytelling is very modern-looking).

In addition, there is a real sweet last page, as the comic reprints the 1948 message from the Shield when he was cancelled, informing all his friends that he was going to be busy on some missions for the FBI, so he would have to stop appearing in the comic, but that Archie Andrews would now be appearing in the comic, and all their fan club memberships would be transferred to the Archie Club. This is followed by a message from Archie himself! It is so sweet, as Archie is choking up over Shield leaving, but braving on to help the club members.

Good stuff.

So it is strong competition for Paul Grist's Jack Staff.

Luckily for him, Paul Grist is a freakin' comic book genius.

I have gone on in the past about how amazing I think Grist's art is, and this collection of Jack Staff #1-12 from Image is no different.

However, in comparison to his Kane, the best part of this comic ISN'T the art, but rather, Grist's writing.

This is particularly fitting with Albion just being released, as Jack Staff was ALL about Grist reclaiming the British heroes of his youth. In Jack Staff, he brings back all the characters featured in Albion, but also introduces new characters.

The way he does so is so filled with fun, joy and a love of the medium that it simply beautiful to watch.

Never taking himself seriously, Grist spins a veritable cornucopia of new, interesting characters. He never spends too much time on any one character, and the effect is to give SUCH a layered story that the 12 issues reprinted feel like twice as many.

And twice as much fun.

So even though the Shield was highly influential for other patriotically garbed heroes such as Captain America and Wonder Woman, Grist's Jack Staff is just a better comic book.

Round one goes to Britain!

America is on its heels!

SECOND MATCHUP: Captain America: Operation Rebirth vs. Union Jack

Marvel's costumed representatives of America and England go head to head!

If Ben Raab ever had to pick one single project to be remembered for, I think he would be well advised to pick the Union Jack 3-book series collected here by Marvel. It is a very strong, straightforward story.

On the art side, let me toss out two names that worked on this project - John Cassaday and Dave Stewart.

So yeah, this series looked a lot better than anyone would have expected for a Union Jack mini-series.

Still, Cassaday is not yet at his Planetary level of art, so he still has some of the tics that were common in his Desperadoes and X-Men/Alpha Flight work. Still, it is quite good looking.

The story is about vampires, and ties in to two old Byrne stories - the one, the Baron Blood story from Stern and Byrne's Captain America (where this Union Jack debuted) and the Namor story where Spitfire was rejuvenated.

The characterizations are interesting, and the action is handled well. This was a good series.

However, Mark Waid and Ron Garney just did a better job with their Captain America.

In addition, compared to the relatively untouched Union Jack, Waid had to take over Captain America from a very convoluted storyline by Mark Gruenwald.

Yet Waid manages to keep the story fresh, while still following the continuity laid out for him by the previous writer (granted, Gruenwald was a good deal more accomodating than other writers, as he wrote in an out for whichever writer followed him on the title and even helped set up a Waid plot).

Waid's big addition to the Captain America cast was the return of Sharon Carter, Agent 13, only now with a harder edge.

The chemistry between the bitter Carter and the optimistic Cap is really fun to see, and it is a theme Waid was to revisit a lot over his far too short run.

Garney's art also was never quite as good as it was as during this run, but one thing that is notable is how the four-part story had THREE inkers, and the only one to do two issues, Denis Rodier, was also the worst of the three (the other two were Scott Koblish, who did a bang-up job on Part 1 and Mike Manley on Part 3).

So while Union Jack was good, Captain America was the breath of fresh air that superhero comic readers really needed in 1995, and the story still holds up well.

So America has survived their Valley Forge, and has come back to tie Britain!

FINAL MATCHUP: Hellblazer: Rake At the Gates of Hell vs. Preacher: Alamo

Just like how ultimately another European country (France) resolved the original American/British conflict, so too, will a writer from another European country (Ireland) decide this match.

To be as even as possible, I decided to pick the SAME writer and the SAME artist doing two books - one starring a British character and the other starring an American character, and seeing who comes out the winner in the end.

Also, as this is the FINAL matchup, I chose the FINAL stories by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon on each respective title.

In both instances, the final storyline ties into early plots by Ennis, but of the two, Alamo just does a better job of resolution...which makes sense, as Alamo allows Ennis to ACTUALLY resolve the story, while in Hellblazer, Ennis has to set up the plot for the next writer.

Both stories featured "layovers" in the overarching story, but the layovers felt much more natural in Preacher than in Hellblazer.

For instance, Rake at the Gates of Hell is about Satan (one of the three separate but equal demons that Constantine tricked by promising his soul to each one of them) realizing that he can get at John in the MATERIAL world. Which is fine, but in the midst of it, we see a reunion of John and his old girlfriend, Kit.

Kit was a very important part of Ennis' run, but really, it could have been worked in better.

In addition - I liked Heartland a lot, but it really is out of place here as an "extra." It should have been in one of the other collections, like Damnation's Flame or Tainted Love (as an aside, why hasn't Ennis ever revisited Kit's story?).

Dillon's art is strong in both collections, but you can tell he is putting a little more into his Preacher effort (or perhaps he just matured and improved as an artist).

Preacher is Ennis exploring all sorts of American cultural archetypes (even the Alamo itself), and the classic conclusion to Jesse Custer and Tulip is an homage to John Ford's masterful dedication to the American Western in general, and Monument Valley in particular.

Seeing Dillon draw Jesse and Tulip ride off into the sunset is so beautiful...and so American.

The beauty of the conclusion, along with the smoother storytelling, is why Alamo is a better comic than Rake at the Gates of Hell.

And that is why in this competition, America defeats Britain, 2-1!

Happy Fourth of July, folks!

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3 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

U! S! A!

I agree with you about Ennis's work on both titles, but the thing that's "nice" about Hellblazer is that Ennis kills off pretty much everyone (which is why Kit is in there - she survived, so her story sets off the others' and shows that to survive John Constantine, you need to get the hell away from him). It always bugged me that Preacher ended with everything hunky-dory for all three characters. I'm not that bloodthirsty, but it seemed like Ennis was setting us up for at least one of them to die, but he chickened out at the last moment because he liked the characters too much.

7/04/2005 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Zaki said...

Bah! JUDGE DREDD shall pummel you all! HE IS THE LAW, BIZATCH!

And how can you forget Modesty Blaise, Tank Girl, Dan Dare, Jane, Garth and Dennis the Menace (UK) all those quintessentiall British heroes?

7/05/2005 01:24:00 AM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

That was no battle! But it will be a relatively balanced fight when compared to THE COMING WAR.

7/06/2005 11:18:00 AM  

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