This issue opens with an action-packed car chase and the execution of a Soviet spy, but it's all just part of the run-up to the comics wedding of the century, that of British secret agent Roger Knightly and Battle's sidekick Shapely Charms.
The usual satire and spoofs take a back seat this issue, present only in a couple of lines of dialogue and a few visual jokes*, and much more is made of Mike Battle's dimwitted buffoonery. Pearce judges the humor well, so the shift is no bad thing, but it is a definite and palpable change from previous issues. The comic is instead dominated by Knightly's story, and the drama arising from the conflict between his genuine love for Charms and his secret agenda in marrying her. There is a definite sense that Pearce enjoys writing the James Bond analogue, perhaps even more that the titular star of the comic**, as in only a couple of issues Knightly has become a compelling protagonist in his own right, and his dilemma here is gripping. All this from a comic that began, more or less, as a humor title.
The bold, dynamic art is as eye-catching as ever, a style vaguely reminiscent of the Bruce Timm school, but with a unique flavor of its own. I'm still not convinced by Pearce's portrayal of female characters though, which doesn't quite get across the sense of stunning beauty the writing suggests. Pearce might want to look at artists like Josh Howard and the aforementioned Timm, whose women combine an obviously cartoony style with an element of sexiness. All that said, it is only a minor complaint, and one I'll probably stop whinging about one day. One can't fault Pearce's storytelling, however, which is as confident as ever--the opening car chase is of particular note, as they are notoriously difficult to portray in comics form, and yet the artist delivers a suitably kinetic example. It is only a couple of pages, but it is nonetheless one of the best attempts I've seen. Also worth a mention is colorist Jim Cameron--he only contributes to the covers here, but his bright and vibrant style complements the angular art well, and I'd love to see them collaborate on a whole issue.
Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero has definitely had a change of tone and focus with the introduction of Roger Knightly, but it remains a compelling and often very funny title, easily one of the best comics being put out by the self-publishing movement and utterly deserving of a far wider audience.
(WATCHBLOOD update: The editorial page mentions that the Liefeld pastiche has been delayed due to "printing issues." I can't tell if this is a joke or not, but it's certainly fitting given its creative origins, and I'm willing to let the tardiness slide on this basis.)
*Of course, the whole wedding concept is a nod to the marriage of Sue and Reed Richards, acknowledged here by the presence of Stan and Jack in the wedding party, among a number of other cameos, including Roger Moore, Adam West and Richard Nixon!
**I can see Battle becoming something akin to Judge Dredd, not a protagonist as such, but rather the reader's point of entry into stories involving other characters and concepts. Again, this is no bad thing.
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