"The Rudiments of Wisdom, Part Three: Enter With Drag On"
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Manuel Garcia (p), Mark Farmer (i), Guru eFX (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics/MAX
After the effortless hilarity of last issue, it's a shame to report that Wisdom tones down the humour a little this month, presenting another stand-alone story which also works as part of the series' larger arc - this time featuring a guest-star from the Marvel Universe in the form of Shang Chi. The martial artist shows up to help out Pete Wisdom with a troublesome Welsh gangster who also happens to be an ancient dragon, and the fight between the two powerhouses forms the centrepiece of the issue. Whilst the two warriors duke it out, we get some furthering of the subplot concerning Pete's marriage of convenience to Tink, some obvious jokes at the expense of the Welsh, and more hints which point towards the uneasy peace between the fairies and the humans being shattered by Pete's "playing away" with another member of his team.
The major change this issue is the replacement of penciller Trevor Hairsine with Manuel Garcia. Whilst I don't want to dwell on Hairsine's reasons for leaving (Marvel cites personal reasons, so we'll leave it at that), I will say that his departure is keenly felt in the book, and I wish that he'd been able to complete the series. One of the main reasons that the humour of Wisdom worked so well was that the irreverent gags were paired with Hairsine's deadpan Bryan Htich-esque visuals, and the clash of the two styles reinforced the silliness of Cornell's writing in the more serious visual context. Whilst Garcia's artwork is still fairly realistic, the style is slightly more skewed towards a lighter, slightly more cartoonish look, and it takes the edge off the book as a result. Scenes such as Pete's on-the-job tryst with Maureen Raven play more like a straight knockabout sex comedy than the slightly more mature and adult tone that Hairsine brought to the book, and even though the jokes are still funny and the writing is still sharp, something has been lost with the changeover. Having seen some of Garcia's pencils and been impressed with the similarity between his and Hairsine's style, I'm wondering whether the input of inker Mark Farmer might have something to do with it, too. He's slicker than his predecessor Paul Neary, with slightly thicker linework (not dissimilar in his style to Rachel Dodson), and it could be that this is reinforcing the more cartoony look of the book. Then again, some panels come very close to replicating the look of the previous instalments - particularly a headshot of Captain Midlands, which could have been drawn from either one of the first two issues - so it's possible that I'm being overly sensitive to the change.
Cornell continues to be fairly inventive as a writer, but some of his ideas don't come off here. A case in point is the "soundtrack" captions: a cute bit of fun at first, but which soon start to grate with overuse. Also, I'm not sure if Cornell is being willfully obscure with some of his track selections (especially considering the target audience of this book will be for the most part American), but the fact that he chooses to reference a selection of songs by Welsh artists which aren't exactly huge hits - even on this side of the pond - suggests that he's trying to be a little too cool for school in showing off his musical savvy (although the man clearly has good taste). The caption boxes which clue readers in to the scene's "soundtrack" are only going to work if the readers know the songs; otherwise they'll only serve as a distraction. I suppose I'd find it difficult to rattle off a list of ten international hits by Welsh groups without overdosing on Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, but I question whether the device is really necessary or useful if the songs are going to mean nothing to the majority of the book's readers.
Other than that, Cornell writes some good jokes (well, mostly - check out that awful title) and some fun characters (I'm still enjoying the surreal novelty of the Skrull John Lennon, and Captain Midlands is becoming more interesting with every issue), developing the series' soap-opera elements towards the end of the issue with a scene which adds yet another portent of doom for the book's finale. I'm looking forward to seeing the various strands of the series come together, and whilst I would have liked a few more imaginative details from Cornell to make this issue-long fight scene a little more interesting, there's still a lot of obvious potential in the book. I'm sure I'll get used to Garcia and Farmer as the new art team, and perhaps their style will grow to suit the book slightly better as the series progresses. This is still a fun, mature fantasy title with a strong sense of its British identity, and I'm sure I'll continue to follow it for its final three issues.
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