Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 6: “Jack Staff,” “Hellblazer,” and More

Written by Books, Comics Reviews

Continuing to take the opportunity to point out various releases of the graphic narrative-type variety that I deem noteworthy for this or that reason, some of which may even be on sale at a comics shop of retail bookstore near you if you’re lucky…or not, as the case may be.

THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #1
Script/Art: Paul Grist
Image Comics, $3.50 per issue

Jack Staff began as a pitch for a series starring Marvel’s Union Jack character; when that didn’t happen, Grist decided to rework it and put it out on his own after he put his excellent Kane series on hiatus. It gave us the exploits of one John Smith, who fought evil during WWII in a Union Jack-style costume and a staff through which he channels energy, hence the title, along with a large cast of characters that include a host of WWII-era Invaders simulacrums, one Becky Burdock, Vampire Reporter, a pert young lady in big glasses and a penchant for wearing the same outfit day after day- and oh yeah, she’s a vampire. Who writes for a small town scandal sbeet newspaper. There’s also Bramble and Son, Vampire Hunters, Tom Tom the Robot Man (who’s actually neither), the Q Divison, which investigates the “question mark crimes”, Ben Kulmer alias the Claw, The Spider (who Jack fought in WWII), Charlie Raven, the World’s Greatest Escapologist, and…well, you get the picture.  After 10 years, which included 12 self-published black and white issues, as well as a much-hyped color relaunch via Image which has come out on an infrequent bases for 20 issues, with so-so sales figures to boot, someone decided another relaunch was in order. Thus we have Weird World, which is being presented as something of a return to the character’s roots, indeed, to the point where the author almost seems apologetic in the inside cover editorial for the complexity of the tale he’s presented so far. Grist is a wildly imaginative storyteller with a daredevil sense of page design and storytelling chops; he also has a nicely understated writing style, dryly witty and never lapsing into comicbookspeak. If you’ve never read a Grist story, then you’re missing out. That said, there were times in the previous run when it seemed like he was spinning his wheels and not really advancing/resolving all the multitudes of plot threads/characters he had introduced over the course of the decade, and the book was losing momentum, between that and the increasingly-infrequent schedule on which the comic was released, in part because he is such an exacting craftsman. Weird World opens with a scene almost exactly like the first issue from 1999 did, and even the other multiple storylines seem to be presented in such a way as not to lose the (hopeful) first-time reader. Yes, kids, this is one of those “good jumping-on point” issues you hear so much about, Grist wants to establish that while Jack is on the cover, he’s just the hub around which everything else spins. And I do suggest you do jump on, if you haven’t already; this is intelligent superheroics, presented with a maximum of panache and a soupcon of wit, and if you’re the discerning type of reader that I think you are, start here. It’s a good introduction which launches a typically oddball storyline, and if you like this, it’s easy to get caught up- all the previous issues are collected and available for purchase.

HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM
Script: Jamie Delano, Art: Jock
DC/Vertigo HC, $24.99

Jamie Delano, who wrote the first couple dozen or so of the ongoing John Constantine: Hellblazer series way back in the pre-Vertigo late 80s-early 90’s (and had actually returned to script a fill-in issue or two at different times since), is back with a hardcover graphic novel that on the surface seems like the run-of-the-mill sort of situations ol’ Conjob has been dealing with since Delano’s previous tenure- demonic doings and conflicts with authority- but manages to transcend that. Delano teams up with Jock, of Losers fame and more recently, filling in for J.H. Williams III on the Batwoman feature in Detective, to bring us a longform account of Constantine, coerced by British Military Intelligence into helping them with the threat of some sort of demonic presence that they’ve apprehended in Iraq, but isn’t taking his captivity well at all, driving his interrogators to illness, terror and even suicide. With the assistance of the agent that was also coerced into drugging him and setting him up for a bombing and theft of Iraqi artifacts, John eventually gets to the bottom of what’s happening, and even ends up in a high stakes game of poker, yes, poker, with their souls, along with hundreds of innocents, on the line. What results is just part of the most entertaining Constantine tale I’ve read in a good long while, and I’ve been reading ’em since day one; Delano gives John a cutting, nasty, biting wit and sardonic sense of humor that I just don’t remember him giving him back in the day, and Jock, with his angular, sloppy, but always nicely staged for maximum dramatics art enhances the script, making the occasional infodump or clumsy line palatable. Jock also does a nice job with the whole desert/military aspect of the visuals as well (unsurprising for the artist of The Losers); combined with his saturated color palette, all crimsons, golds and browns, they succeed in evoking the whole Iraqi war experience, at least what we’ve seen in films such as The Hurt Locker and the like. I don’t have a clue why this couldn’t have been serialized in the Hellblazer comic proper; the price tag is daunting enough. As I understand it, this was completed in 2008 and held back until the 25th anniversary of the character. If you’re a fan, you’ll want this.

POWER GIRL  #9
Script: Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Amanda Conner
DC Comics, $2.99

Although there are many that would hold that the superhero genre of comics is mostly creatively bankrupt, and I can’t say that I’m not one of them on many occasions, here we have an enjoyable exception. After a tentative beginning, Palmiotti has settled into a very good groove with this title, which stars yet another DC character with an enormously confusing backstory and whose costume is an offensive symbol of sexism to many to boot. By emphasizing the ordinary, everyday existence of Power Girl (she’s even shown sitting on the toilet- from the shoulders up, get your mind out of the gutter- at the beginning of this issue), not only at home, but in her job as a civilian and as she encounters weird menaces too, he succeeds in making her identifiable and even more likable than she already was, despite decades of continuity shenanigans at the hands of various writers. Of course, a big part of the reason he’s been so successful is Amanda Conner’s art, a clean, accessible, and eye-pleasing style that’s as adept for spandex slugfests as it is for the lighter moments. This issue, she has to deal with a threat from the colleague/girlfriend of the Ultra-Humanite, with whom she tangled back in issues 1 & 2; Satanna (I keep either scanning/pronouncing it as Santana, or even worse, confusing it with Marvel’s Satana character)  is her name, she wants revenge, and she shows up with a posse of intelligent man-animals in order to achieve that goal. What ensues, after all the slice of life stuff, is several pages of orchestrated mayhem…but Conner draws ’em so purty that all resistance becomes…well, if not exactly futile, then a lot more difficult than if your Ivan Reises or Tony Daniels were drawing it, that’s what I’m saying. Here’s proof, I think, that superheroes can still be done well, even by DC. The first trade is scheduled for release in April.

SUGARSHOCK
Script: Joss Whedon
Art: Fabio Moon
Dark Horse Comics, $3.50

Remember Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space? Well, Joss Whedon does, and last year he teamed with the prolific Mr. Moon to bring you an edgier, more out-there take on the concept of a all-female pop/rock group having adventures out in the cosmos. Between this and the Earthbound, post-apocalyptic Josie-meets-Mad Max saga The Apocalypstix, I think this sort of thing is well-covered. This was originally serialized on Dark Horse’s MySpace Comics site, and now it’s all collected with some production notes and sketchbook extras and so on, so you can have a physical souvenir of the experience. I may sound sarcastic, but I’m not trying to; this is tremendously entertaining and fun, and Moon does his typically stellar job. Whedon’s trademark witty repartee is in evidence, as well. Hardly essential, but a good time just the same. Maybe Whedon should have developed this instead of Dollhouse…

Thanks for reading, and see you next Tuesday!

Review inquiries? Send to johnnybacardi AT gmail DOT com.