“Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.”Fulton J. Sheen
More about jealousy (and tribute) later.
I read the first issue of Adventureman a few months ago and enjoyed it. I got that Adventureman is all about action. But I was a little bit confused about the pacing within the narrative. At the time I remember thinking, “The artwork is amazing and I like the premise. Maybe this could turn into something good,” but because of the first issue’s chaotic internal transitions, and my own hectic schedule at the time, I didn’t seek out anything yet to come.
I recently devoured the entire four-issue hard cover edition in a single session — lickety-split .
Yeah. This time I got everything I’d missed before … and it didn’t disappoint.
THE FRACTION ACTION FORMULA (Spoiler: It’s Not All Action)
Fraction Action: Adventureman drops the reader into the middle of a crisis of epic proportions. Looking out of his window within the confines of a very well-drawn New York City, the mayor knows he’s in a world of hurt. Literally, a WORLD of HURT. Nasty zeppelins and enemy aircraft abound, explosions erupt, and havoc is in full sway. So what does he do? The only thing he can; using a very specially designed phone he dials up his secret savior: Adventureman.
Our hero jumps into action, aided by his six-person cadre of super-powered aides:
- Jim Royale (aka: The Gentleman);
- Chagall (Super pharmacologist Science Witch);
- Akaal (the Timeless One);
- Sally Sweet (Ace Aviatrix);
- Lonnie Langlois (Brawler of the Bowery); and
- Phaedra Phantom (Ghostly Saint of the Burlesque).
Each have their own attributes which complement those of their adventurous leader. There’s even a potion that everyone drinks, after safety protocols are discussed, to heighten their already extraordinary powers.
And they’ll need all those over the top fighting skills as they’re going up against Baroness Bizarre and her own skein of sinful sidekicks: The Automaterror; Slugger Dunphee; Metamage; and Hellcat Maggie.
The battle is pitched, and it looks like it won’t end well for the comic’s namesake. Adventureman has a gun pointed at his head by none other than someone probably known as … hold on there! No spoilers (though this would be mild, as spoilers go). I will, however, divulge that the bad guy’s last words to his captive are, “Have you ever noticed … how all good stories … end the same way? The hero must always die. “
Not All Action: The standard formula would continue the story’s pulse-pounding pugilistic action, but instead, Fraction bobs when others would weave, and for good reason. The action story leaps off the tracks to become something new, something different. The transition begins when dramatic panels of art and dialogue are superimposed by lines of typed text. A new character, Tommy, is gobbling this text down as he reads it from an Adventureman! novel while his mom, Claire, sits nearby. Tommy screams out loud because he’s at the cliffhanger ending of the book and is incredulous that his mom doesn’t have the next book for him to jump right into.
The story continues later with Claire and Tommy at a large family gathering. They have all come together for the regular Friday night Shabbat dinner. Claire’s six sisters, each with a different talent / occupation, are as united as a family as Advenureman’s team was inside of Tommy’s book. The talk is loud and enthusiastic, and Claire, who is mostly deaf from an unspecified earlier accident, turns her hearing aids down so she can exist in her own quiet little bubble without anyone noticing.
Do we stay in the calm with Claire? Not on your life, effendi. Anything but that.
At this point you’re going to just have to just trust me. While author Matt Fraction makes you work for your rewards, the material is engaging enough to keep you going. He has put together a story that bounces around between a pulp-action inspired fantasy world (or worlds) and much more well-grounded reality in a way that keeps you guessing about what’s going on right up until the final frame. Just like young Tommy, I was discouraged at the end of the first issue because I didn’t have another issue to immediately jump into. And also just like young Tommy, I learned by the end that to read this is to love this and love is what brings a story like this to life.
Fraction has been a fan of the pulp genre for a long time without becoming a fact master of any of it. “What I really responded to and what kicked off what would become the Adventureman story in my head was Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, the biography and concordance of Doc Savage. Actually, in that whole Men Of Mystery-kinda realm, I like The Spider more than Doc Savage, I think, The language in the books is sharper, the pulp is more pulp-y, it’s trashier and more kinetic and violent.”
Fraction says that constructing Adventureman was relatively straightforward. “It felt like a blank page. When dealing with a character who has a patchy memory, and a fictional history that will come back in fits and starts, I can just make stuff up, moment to moment, and worry about how it will all jigsaw together later.”
Advenureman’s huge cast of characters was seldom a problem because Terry Dodson was able to keep track of everything. “There were so many characters with so many options set in different time periods and worlds that it really was a lot of work to do,” Dodson says. “Matt had a basic character description – and from that I went to my sketchbook and came up with multiple versions for each character. From that Matt worked up more detailed descriptions and then reworked more finalized versions and finally details from the script and on the page. And like most projects I work on, I continually change the looks. That’s the great thing about comics compared to animation there is not a style guide for me so I am able continually to adjust the look, the designs, etc., for the better.”
Inker Rachel Dodson also helped. She never shied away from all those people and poses. “I love inking organic stuff, faces, hair. The more character/characteristics in the art, the more fun it is to work on, definitely.”
MORE ABOUT THE ART
The art of Adventureman is, in a word, amazing. It almost seems like artist Terry Dodson downed one of those vials of super serum before lifting the pencil because the work is simply stupendous. What is so good? Draftsmanship, for one; the cat can draw (and did I mention there are cats in every comic?). Pacing, for another. Everything in Adventureman’s world is over the top with almost, but not quite, too intense figure poses, extreme up and down camera angles, and very controlled use of color. The action, mostly held inside Adventureman’s headquarters or in the skies above it, makes a pinball machine seem calm by comparison.
Exit the chaotic, pulse-poundingly pulpy Adventureman world for that of Claire’s family’s environs and the extreme nature of the visuals gets dialed back. It’s almost like taking a visual breather from the drastic pace, but not for long. Events occur that drag Claire into the darker world of Tommy’s book and those more extreme visual devices are employed again. It can appear a bit under the radar for the reader, but it’s effective nonetheless.
Working with artist Terry and Rachel Dodson was, for Fraction, a joy. “They’ve built the book from the ground up,” Fraction notes. “If it were possible to design the nails that got driven into the wood that built the sets, they’d have designed them. Anyway there’s been a lot of exploring between us, and I try to write for Terry as collaboratively as possible, rewriting around his explorations and discoveries, growing and changing the shape and specifics to better serve the art, rather than try to force things the other way around.”
Fraction and Dodson are also fans of their letterer, Clayton Cowles. “Clayton is a key collaborator!” Fraction says. “We asked very specifically for him, because we knew he’d get the gestalt and be willing to do the legwork and play and explore with us. He’s the best, and he so seamlessly ties together the book that has something like a dozen different typefaces in it.”
In Cowles’ own words, lettering turned out to be a challenge, but one he relished from the start. “[Adventureman is] pretty different, stylistically. I developed the style specifically for Adventureman, especially the balloon tails. Since the book is inspired by pulp comics from the mid-20th century, I tried to mimic the balloon tails from Alex Toth books and Terry and the Pirates. But I stuck with round balloons instead of the bubblier ones from back then, since Matt seems to be a fan of those.”
Faction resists ruminating too much to his own work … however, “I swear this Adventureman hardcover is maybe the most beautiful book my name’s ever been on. It looks so good. Terry, and our designer Leonardo Olea, have crafted this … gorgeous thing. It feels both of its time and brand new, all at once. It was drawn at a European BD (Bande Dessinée) page size, as opposed to the smaller American comics page size. You’re literally getting MORE art in the hardcover than you did in the issue, not just the same art blown up. It’s like the difference between seeing a film pan-and-scan vs. in its original aspect ratio. I keep looking at it and marveling I’d ever be so lucky to be a part of such a thing.”
THE GREEN(ISH)-EYED MONSTER
Matt Faction’s four-issue Adventureman story pays homage to so much content that I hold near and dear, such as borrowing structural elements of the original Doc Savage super sagas, weaving them into a manic action-oriented adventure team-up, and folding in somewhat more than a soupçon of dramatic character transformation.
I’m sure that many people have tried and failed where Faction succeeded, and succeed he had done. Completely reimagining the Doc Savage universe, his trusty team of adventuring sidekicks, and all the trappings of the life of an apocalyptic superhero is itself a feat of Brobdingnagian skill. However, doing this on both sides of a fiction vs. reality story and then carefully braiding the two together is, and here I paraphrase Fulton’s quote at the beginning of this piece, “the stuff of genius.”
Luckily, I have an amulet that wards off the Green-Eyed Monster of jealousy. Well … at least for a little while.
I should thank Adventureman He had one in his Fortress of Semi-Solitude …
… and loaned it to me.
NOTE: If you want to read the full interviews with Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, and Clayton Cowles, please check it out here!