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Jack Staff

Image Comics has been slowly building a reputation for rescuing older or smaller company comic properties from cancellation, many of them finding new life in trade paperback form. (Dark Horse is doing similar things, more so than Image in fact, focusing more on the Indies and small press,) One title that has found new life in the US is Jack Staff.

Originally published in Britain by Dancing Elephant Press, Jack Staff is written and drawn by Paul Grist. Image puts it out as a monthly, so when I went searching for a collection of "Britain's Greatest Hero," I ended up with the original trade from Dancing Elephant.

The story is pretty straight forward (at first): Becky Burdock, Girl Reporter for a British tabloid is investigating the disappearance of Jack Staff, Britain's Greatest Hero, who after fighting in World War II and making a brief resurgence in 1976, disappeared. People seem to have forgotten their once beloved hero. Becky's life is saved one day by a construction worker (the oh-so-cleverly-named John Smith) from falling debris, and gets it in her head that he may know something about the topic of her story. She isn't wrong.

Also, female corpses are being found around Castletown, with broken necks, bodies drained of blood and sporting some lovely bite marks in the neck region. The Castletown Slasher, as the newspapers have dubbed him, may be a foe from Jack's past, so the rebar wielding vigilante reappears just in time to be found standing over the dead body of the Slasher's latest victim.

As in the classic tradition, another superhero (from today's generation, possessing no idea of who the Hell Jack Staff is) happens by and starts a rather nasty tussle. Luckily, the police intervene before Tom Tom the Robot Man (you wish I'd made that up) can whomp on Jack too much, and Jack is taken into custody.

Jack now has to find the fiend from his past and put a stop to his murderous rampage, but some unexpected interference from the US Army and a surprise from his World War II days will make it difficult.

The entire book is either parody (as I mentioned, Tom Tom the Robot Man) or homage to many of Marvel's classic characters. Jack Staff is a nod to Union Jack, (yet I never remember caring about Union Jack the way I do about Jack Staff, so kudos to Grist for making a bad character seem interesting); Sgt. States is the Captain America clone. There are parallels for the Human Torch, Iron Man, and even Blade in this book.

The danger in doing this type of book is ending up with a Rob Leifeld Fighting American (please just die, Leifeld, and save future generations from your bad art and non-existent storytelling).*

Thankfully, Grist doesn't fall into that category; he manages to juggle a large cast of characters well. He keeps the characters familiar by using their Marvel prototypes, but keeps it different. (Grist's explanation of why Sgt. States is still around forty years after the war makes infinitely more sense than "Uhm…well…he was frozen.") There's also about five or six plot twists that keep the reader from getting bored, not to mention Grist's penchant for doing flashbacks between the present conflict and Jack's first encounter with the Castletown Slasher in 1940.

The only problems arise from Grist's bad pacing and sometimes-jerky storytelling. While I mentioned the flashbacks to 1940 above as beneficial to the comic, Grist uses the device too much. He actually flashes back during the present story to events that just happened, and all this is done without warning (I'm reminded of one scene where Jack is fighting off the Slasher with his trusty pole, then I turn the page and he's in a roadster with Sgt. States, racing down a highway, and then it switches back again…what the #@$%?).

There's also the problem of how Jack, who is in fact the same Jack from 1940, has stayed so young and virile for the last half-decade. I assume the answer comes in a later volume.

After seeing Grist's art on the pamphlet style Image Comics, I find that I like it better colored. This edition's black and white scheme creates great atmosphere for the scenes with the Slasher (and the occasional spelunking adventure), but the characters are sometimes crude looking with only ink to flesh them out. Color would do them more justice and give the book a little kick (and not just in price).

Overall, it's a pretty good read that could be better served by some re-editing on Grist's part. It is a little pricey though: $15.95 for four black and white single issues might scare a few people off, but it's worth a read if you have the extra cash lying around. And hey, if you're British, it's only 8.95 #'s (my computer doesn't make that squiggly thing they use for "pounds" so, uhm…. bugger off).

*The opinions expressed by Rob Sparling are his alone and not a reflection of the editorial staff at Fanboy Planet. For instance, we believe that Rob Liefeld is welcome to live a long and happy life, as long as his online comic strip "Shrink" never gets made into a movie by Jennifer Lopez. And even then, we're likely to take our own lives first.

We'd rather Liefeld live with the guilt. Or just bugger off.

And there's no Amazon link because they don't carry the book. Sorry. But it's worth asking your dealer.

Sheesh. This disclaimer has gotten out of hand.

Robert Sparling

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