Writer/Artist: Paul Grist
Publisher: Image Comics
This comic is an excellent example of what sets Paul Grist apart from his peers. This issue presents a done-in-one foray into an alternate reality, which a lesser writer would take as an opportunity to deliver some filler material, perhaps while preparing something more noteworthy for later on. Superficially, Grist does exactly that, but in fact it's clear that this isn't a bit of throwaway fluff at all, and that there's more going on than is first apparent. Most obviously, even though the parallel world setting is left behind at the issue's climax, Grist nonetheless lays the foundations for future storylines and continues to develop the hints, frequently dropped throughout the series, that great unseen powers have been manipulating the protagonists. A light-hearted, pulpy simian character introduced here is implied to have sinister motivations hidden beneath his adventurous six-shooter-toting exterior, and there are subtle flashbacks and flash-forwards all over the place. Another clever bit of subtlety is in how Grist portrays the relationship between parallel-Jack Staff and parallel-Becky Burdock; their lives and personalities are quite different to those of the characters more familiar to long-term readers, and yet there's a distinct impression that they're similar enough that what we learn about their personalities here might apply just as well to the original incarnations.
All that said, Grist does stumble in a few places. Perhaps as a result of the single issue format, there is a slightly rushed feeling, which is not so evident on a first read as the reader is swept up by the plot, but becomes more noticeable on later reflection. Also, Grist's designs are a little lacklustre this issue, with the reality-munching Sweeper Fish looking a tad bland, and the landscape hidden behind reality portrayed as blank and featureless, rather than something a bit more visually interesting. On the other hand, while a detailed Ditko-esque swathe of psychedelia might be a more eye-catching depiction of the inner workings of reality, it's a bit clichéd.
By Paul Grist's usually high standards, this is a fluff piece, but even so there's lots to enjoy and lots to think about, and that's why it still scores highly. Paul Grist's fluff is worth the fluff of twenty other guys.
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