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SpyBoy: The Deadly Gourmet Affair

There are times when we desperately need to read a comic with depth; when we need to experience the merging of prose and picture into it's highest form of graphic-literature-as-Art. For these times, the industry possesses such great creators as Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Craig Thompson, and a bevy of other intellectual funny book makers.

For the times when you really want something with explosions, martial arts mayhem, and just plain old escapist fun, there are Peter David and his ilk to provide such.

SpyBoy was a fun romp through the world of espionage, super spies, and high school problems that debuted back in the late 90s/early 00s from Dark Horse. It came just on the cusp of the Manga explosion, when more and more ameri-manga artwork, like Pat Lee's Darkminds, was becoming popular, and I remember it fondly as my first comic ever purchased from Dark Horse.

Alex Fleming is a typical high school kid (how many times have you heard that in a comic book?): he gets beat up by drug-dealing bullies, suffers from a rare and strange epileptic condition…okay, maybe he's not that typical. But Alex has been noticing some things recently; a strange girl following him, experiencing blackouts, and hearing the name SpyBoy a lot. As it turns out, Alex is a super-spy with that exact call sign and is probably the most deadly adolescent on the globe. The only catch is that Alex has no idea how to trigger his transformation into SpyBoy, which would come in handy with ninjas, a sociopath gourmet chef, secret agencies from his father's past, and a sidekick who loves to blow things up.

Peter David is one of those writers I've always respected but never really read in-depth. Apparently, I've been missing out, because David manages to hit all the right points that make an action comic good: action (obviously), pace, characterization (you may think this isn't important, and you'd be wrong), and humor. The action is written and paced almost perfectly, and the work that must have been highly collaborative between David and artist Pop Mhan shows to their credit.

Our first introduction to Alex is a close-up of his face meeting the inside of the toilet on a full page. It's an interesting way to be introduced to our protagonist and I like that David found a creative way to show Alex to the reader. Mhan's visual of this close-up shows his knack for facial expression, which is sometimes sacrificed in manga style artwork in favor of more speed lines or a close-up of a pair of eyes large enough to serve a turkey on. Mhan does great action and David writes it just as well. The pace is always fast but the story never speeds by too quick to follow, and Mhan does some creative work with his panels: using a lot of up and down angle shots, using a time delay style for some sequences, showing the characters moving step by step through a single panel instead of breaking the action into small panel segments, making it choppy.

David's characters are all interesting (except for the cookie-cutter thugs, but they're for hitting, not emoting). Alex is an admitted coward, and has no problem giving up or taking cover if things aren't going his way. When asked to join forces with the Gourmet of Doom (not his actual title in the comic, but one I think is deserved) or to die in a fiery pit of oil, he asks for a pen and where to sign. It lends to the humorous parts of the book to have Alex be such a good coward, and David plays that cowardice off of the SpyBoy persona's cold determination and battle prowess. David also manages to demonstrate that Alex and SpyBoy are somehow connected mentally, showcasing their blatant indifference to the bad guys capping "innocent" drug-dealing bullies.

Alex's father and grandfather are also great characters, as they're the ones who tie directly to the mystery of where SpyBoy came from and who or what Alex really is. The grandfather has a small role, mostly handing out the colloquial sayings like, "[Y]ou're not too big to take over my knee…" but he also has some of the funniest sequences, when he manages to defend the Fleming home from invasion. The father shows an undercurrent of being a faintly dangerous man, and makes the reader more curious about what lead to the creation of SpyBoy, which helps get subsequent volumes published.

David writes some snappy dialogue and that's where his humor is found, along with several very good sight gags (I mentioned the toilet one and there's a great fight scene where someone gets beaten with a toilet seat; David likes toilets, people). It's not dialogue on a Bendis level, but it flows and the characters never seem stiff. I especially like the Gourmet who laments the lack of imagination in simply shooting someone to death when there's a vat of boiling oil to fry people in, making crispy people fritters.

Mhan's artwork greatly compliments David's script and his style is at the top of Americ-manga artwork. It's very much like if Chynna Clugston-Major's decided to draw acrobatic gun battles instead of punk-rock teen comedy.

This is only the first volume of the series from Dark Horse, and it does more to ask the questions about Alex and his past than to answer them. Not a bad thing, because it encourages you readers to go out and buy the rest of the trades. What's great is that this first volume is only $8.95, which isn't much to ask for a good story that might create an appetite for more fun super spy shenanigans. Heck, they charge you $5.95 for a "prestige format" comic nowadays, and you don't get half the story there (they average out at 30-odd pages don't they?) that you will here. Buy this trade, save some money, because the god of Christmas himself (I call him Santeus, Overlord of Brightly Wrapped Packages, Bringer of Battery-less Toys) knows you have others to spend it on. Happy, Merry, etc., etc.

Spyboy: Deadly Gourmet Affair

Robert Sparling

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