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Sunday Slugfest - Jack Staff Special #1

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Paul Grist
Paul Grist
Image Comics
Kelvin Green: 4-1/2 Bullets
Matthew McLean: 3-1/2 Bullets
Robert Murray: 4 Bullets




Kelvin Green 4-1/2 Bullets

It's been a while since the last issue of Jack Staff, so writer/artist Paul Grist has produced this special to not only remind readers of the title's existence, but also to provide a good jumping on point for new readers. You couldn't ask for a better introduction to the series.

Grist sets out his stall well, exploring the vast scope of the Jack Staff universe, introducing key characters, and displaying all of those skills and techniques that make him such a brilliant graphic storyteller. Meanwhile, for long-term readers, Grist brings back some old favourites and lays the groundwork for ominous future developments. Grist does a great job of accommodating both sets of readers; while newcomers may not know who Helen Morgan is, for example, efficient but elegant scripting lets them know exactly why Jack's premonition of her death has so much significance, and it's done with such pleasant subtlety too.

It is Grist's plotting that, as always, impresses the most. This kind of complex, intertwined narrative is fast becoming his trademark as a writer, and it's so refreshing to see plotting this well thought out in these days of sprawling non-stories that go nowhere, usually as slowly as possible. Multiple plotlines twist and turn their way through flashbacks, images from the future, and even the odd bit thrown cleverly out of sequence, and it all comes together in the most logical and satisfying way. A lesser writer would make a mess of all these threads, but Grist is in complete control, and for all the complexity of the plotting, there's never any confusion. And of course, it's all told through that wonderful conceit of the faux-anthology, so that Becky Burdock's scenes, for example, are portrayed as if they're pages from a "Becky Burdock, Vampire Reporter" strip. This comic is clever, and it's subtle, and it rewards repeated readings, but it's never pretentious, and all that cleverness and thought is bent towards the noble goal of having a great big heap of fun.

Some readers might be turned off by Grist's art simply because it's not a bad copy of what Jim Lee was doing fifteen years ago, or because it's not traced from pornography, but those short-sighted buffoons are missing out on some great visual storytelling. The pages pop and crackle with dynamic and vibrant imagery, and it's clear that the same intense thought that goes into the writing also goes not only towards layouts and panel-to-panel storytelling, but into the individual panels themselves; Grist does some great things with panel borders, shadows and negative space that clearly show his visual style is much more than simple cartoonery.

If I have a complaint about this wonderful comic, it's that the pace of the writing is perhaps just a bit too breakneck. Grist's strengths in plot construction work best when there's a bit more space; his multi-issue storylines come together beautifully, but this issue rushes from a Conan-esque ancient age, through the modern day, and into a dark possible future, and it does feel slightly like the breathless highlights of a wider story. "Slightly" is the operative word there though, and a rushed Paul Grist comic is still an absolute joy to read.




Matthew McLean: 3-1/2 Bullets

Given that this book is named after a single individual, the opening cast is varied and impressively large. Not being terribly familiar with Mr. Grist or Jack Staff, I have no idea how long this idea has been in development, but it's obvious even to uneducated swine such as myself that a great deal of thought has gone into this first issue. It's an unorthodox super-hero tale with an odd assortment of characters, and while it may at points be confusing, it's also a great deal of fun.

If nothing else, next time you are in your comic shop, pick up this issue and read through the first four pages. They're an excellent example of the overall book's tone and quality. The reader is immediately dropped into an unexplained situation that has some familiar elements. Anyone who's read a Moorcock (author, not an overly endowed swamp creature) book will recognize the concept of the eternal warrior. The narration is amusing, if not particularly useful in helping the reader figure out what's going on. Regardless, if you enjoy the first four pages of this book, pick it up. The rest is worth the price of admission.

Shortly after the opening scene, the titular character makes an appearance in an equally unexplained fight scene. Unfortunately, this lacks the wit of the previous pages. However, it does setup the rhythm of the book as a series of vignettes that are, the reader hopes, connected.

And, if you stick with it, they are, although the style of the narrative might leave you awhile to figure it out. Each piece introduces a character of Jack Staff, including an invisible paranormal investigator and a vampire reporter. Each one has the style and humor inherent to the book, culminating in an even funnier climax that seems reminiscent of The Venture Brothers.

Jack Staff's seemingly unconnected bits don't come completely together, or at least they didn't for this reviewer. The pages introducing Jack himself didn't seem to be for much other than to watch Jack beat a robo-knight to death with a conveniently placed rock. However, the book has enough going for it that it should be interesting to see if Mr. Grist actually pulls together its seemingly unaffiliated elements.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at http://madbastard.hypersites.com




Robert Murray: 4 Bullets

This is the second Jack Staff comic I have read in my life, so I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Paul Grist or his quirky world. However, both times I have read his creation, I have thought the exact same thing at about the same time. When you start reading a Jack Staff comic book, you’re immediately taken by the wonderfully constructed characters and the panels they are involved in. Then, you start reading the dialogue balloons and captions. So far, so good, until you reach the end of the third or fourth page, when Grist switches gears into another tale altogether. Just when you think this may only be a prelude to the larger story, he takes us to another tale that doesn’t exactly correlate with the small nugget you just read. Talk about Short Attention Span Theater! However, by the end of the issue, you marvel at how skillfully Grist was able to manage the many different aspects of his story to arrive at a satisfying conclusion that has you ready for the next issue. Plus, his sense of visual and narrative humor is something to behold and appreciate, with witty instances that had me chuckling out loud. So, when I closed the covers of Jack Staff Special #1, I thought of the mostly unrecognized talents of Grist and the excellent comic he has constructed that will be missed by most readers. Midtown Comics is trying their best to promote him (see the site for details), but Jack Staff will definitely remain one of those fringe treats that will delight a small group of devoted fans. Well, with Grist starting up a brand new run of Jack Staff comics, consider me one of the zombies. Staaafff...

You can’t see the mountain for the trees at the beginning of Jack Staff Special #1, but by the end you see how all the pieces fit together, similar to Pulp Fiction for you movie buffs. All of the various chapters are connected by the villainous undertakings of a man called Molachi the Immortal. Believe me, you’ll have his name tattooed on your brain since he makes it a habit to boldly announce himself to each person he encounters. Anyway, this decidedly egotistical villain is after an object called the Star Stone, which is a... stone shaped like a star. What did you think it would be? Now, why would you think an immortal would desire this seemingly mystical object? World domination? Revenge? Naw! He just needs a hobby to pass the time, so why not use this stone to call up an alien invasion? Now, that’s entertainment for an immortal! In addition to this funny parody of Vandal Savage and all the other immortals in our fanboy lives, Grist blends many other subplots and symbolic allusions into a spare twenty-nine pages of comic art, all at a pace that fits well with the frenetic story. You have the Eternal Warrior’s role in Molachi’s current form (or forms), our title character’s prophecy of a battle to come with the Claw (?), and a few other surprises I won’t mention. Plus, there is the aforementioned humor that is seemingly non-stop, varying in tone from Becky’s smart-ass remarks to a Nagarik’s verbal bitch-slap of Molachi’s ambitions. I guess the axiom “better late than never” doesn’t really work for them...

In addition to the out-and-out fun that flows throughout the story, the artwork is a sheer joy as well, adding frantic kinetic energy that fits snugly into the overall craziness. The departure of the “Cosmic Chamption” from the stage in the first segment looks like a classic cosmic Marvel moment. Plus, Molachi losing his head early in the issue is a nice image, but not nearly as entertaining as what this decapitation means in his later life. What is he, a starfish? (Hey, he is after a Star Stone. Hmm...) The battles and movements are produced with a grand amount of style, as each panel is utilized to the utmost storytelling potential. Grist knows his craft very well.

In the final analysis, this is the perfect starting point for readers who have never touched Jack Staff previously, since it is a nice introduction to the fractured fairy tale that Grist constructs on a regular basis. Trust me, fellow uninitiated: once you finish this Special, you’ll want to pick up more issues of this fun series. I certainly will!



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