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Union Jack #1

Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2006
By: Ray Tate



"Enemies of the Crown"

Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Mike Perkins(p), Andrew Hennessey(i), Laura Villari(c)
Publisher: Marvel

Meh. I’ve read worse.

Christos Gage brings Union Jack into a twenty-first century filled with terrorism, Middle-East strife and untrusting allies. In short Marvel would like to emphasize that its universe mirrors our own--minus the various Norse, Greek and Cosmic Jack Kirby gods running about. Marvel would also like you to disregard all the superior alien technology and Dr. Stephen Strange’s magical use as well as AIM's habit of wearing beekeeper costumes. This is nu Marvel, a tougher, grittier Marvel more in keeping with apocalyptic nature of the current worldview. There are no beekeeper outfits here.

The main problem with Union Jack is that Gage begins his story with a prologue that involves a hunt for vampires, and that to me is a far more interesting story rippling with potential. Gage shows originality in the disposal of the bloodsuckers through Union Jack’s unique approach to beheading. My disappointment that Union Jack would not be pursuing vampires in the series or even the entire issue was very deep and heartfelt. I'm not asking for Baron Blood. Indeed, Captain America took care of him. I'm asking for the promise of vampires being met.

Union Jack rather than continue with the vampire trailing and staking sticks the reader with a trite terrorism plot. Another alphabet soup sect of HYDRA has decided to blow up London. Let me repeat. They will not be doing this in beekeeper costumes. James Bond isn’t available so MI-5 recruits Union Jack. How they found Union Jack is a matter, I suppose, we’re not supposed to know. Regardless, they collect the hero and introduce him to his partners: Sabra, the new Arabian Knight and Contessa Valentina from SHIELD.

This is a stupid line up. You don’t put a Saudi and an Israeli together on a make believe mission to stop terrorism. Their predictable in-fighting proves to be tiresome and takes up valuable plot time--time that could have been used for vampires, I may add. Contessa Valentina makes sense, but since this is a European based story why wouldn’t you bring in European heroes?

Valentina while representing America also represents Italy. French hero Le Peregrine or better yet Batroc, who merits only a winning cameo in the book, and Irishwoman Shamrock, would have been better suited for this team. These heroes by the way are just as obscure as Sabra and the Arabian Knight whom are only likely to have been encountered by readers through The Contest of Champions.

There can always be trouble arising when an American writes for another culture, and visa versa. For an American, Gage does an adequate British. The dialogue frequently becomes generic, but he doesn’t make incredible errors. Still, he could have done a better job. To absorb some British slang all a writer needs do is rent or buy some of the numerous British productions available on DVD. A few viewings of Monty Python’s Flying Circus would have provided enough preparation. In fact, a writer short of coin can always tune the telly to PBS and watch a British mystery to hear a good chin-wag.

Mike Perkins' artwork is almost too realistic for the series. His art just doesn’t pack enough energy, but this may be a problem centered on the story itself. Perkins’ work does come alive when Union Jack fights the vampires and when Batroc appears. This may be because Gage recognizes Ze Leaper as a character that requires a flamboyant, lively portrayal, but zut alors! The majority of the book is filled with talking and yelling heads.

Union Jack and his team do fight a bunch of third-rate mercenaries, but the fights just aren't very satisfying. The heroes badly outmuscle the mercenaries. If they couldn't beat them, what a sorry day for herodom it would have been. That said. They really do not deserve to win. Jack's method of sai disarmament for instance is astoundingly stupid. Incidentally, the sai does not indicate Elektra's involvement in the affair. Elektra's an assassin not a terrorist. Somebody else wields the sai, and damn it, it's not a vampire.

The ending to this first issue is mighty convenient. The timing would have to have been astronomical for the terrorists to blow up some London landmarks at precisely the time that Union Jack unwittingly creates mass hysteria.

In summary, you can't go wrong with vampires and Union Jack. Sadly, the book doesn't fully explore Union Jack's role as a vampire killer. Instead, Gage teams him with dubious helpers and throws him against the terrorists d'jour. No vampires, no sinister beekeepers, no reason to read if it's a choice between this and Nextwave: Agents of HATE.



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