Monday, March 16, 2009

Jack Staff: Everything Used To Be Black and White

Apparently, Jack Staff was originally Paul Grist's pitch to Marvel for a new Union Jack series. However, for whatever reason, it didn't happen so Paul Grist adapted it into Jack Staff and wrote, drew and published 12 issues under Dancing Elephant Press. And, certainly, when you look at this collection of the 12 issues of volume 1 of Jack Staff’s adventures, the link between the titular hero and Union Jack is clear.

It tells the tale of "Britain's Greatest Hero" who has been missing for 20 years. Jack Staff, whose alias (like the Doctor's) is John Smith, reappears and saves Becky Burdock, a reporter. Unfortunately, Becky is soon after bitten by the supernatural Sergeant States and becomes a vampire reporter. The stories go on to tell of Jack Staff’s fight against Sgt. States, his confrontation with the retired Alfred Chinard (aka the Spider) and meetings with various homages to old British comic book characters.

Although in summary the stories seem interesting and involving, the problem with this TPB is that the small chapters within each issue tell a non-linear story. One chapter will end on a cliffhanger only for the next one to go back and show the same events from a different point of view. Or zip back to some earlier point in time to explain what went on before. Or jump ahead only to come back and explain what happened later. This is purely a personal thing but I prefer my stories to follow a linear fashion - A to B to C and then to D. Not A to C then to B then back to C then A again before confusingly arriving at E, leaving D to be explained sometime later. I have a simple mind and this tends to confuse the bejesus out of me.

Also, although the art does manage to tell the story aptly, it really is rather minimalist. As the witty title indicates, it's all in black and while. Not only that but Grist's art style is quite simple and thus it reminds me of black and white cartoon strips in newspapers (and only a middling version at that). It's far from impressive. It also doesn't help that his faces, and body shapes, all look quite similar. Oh, and there's often oodles of blank space around the edges of some pages which just makes some parts of this feel a little empty.

On the positive side, the book is quite thick and well put together. It looks pretty impressive. And the cover looks quite nice, which makes me wonder whether a coloured interior would work better - I'm generally not a fan of black and white TPBs (I'm not that much of a fan of Marvel's Essential books either). The versions of old British comic characters are also quite welcome. It's great to see characters like Tom Tom the Robot Man, whose look is based on Robot Archie, and Alfred Chinard, who's The Spider.

Although I had hoped this would be a great British superhero yarn, for me it turned out to be more of a yawn (the first time I read this I became disinterested half-way through and gave up). Other people seem to think it's great so it seems to be just me who thinks the art and writing are only average at best. You can make up your own mind by viewing issue #1 of vol 1 and issue #1 of vol 2 at Image Comics website. But, for me, this TPB just gets a Good grade.

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