Editor's Note: Dominic Fortune #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, August 12.
Dominic Fortune, Marvel's '30s era mercenary/stuntman/swashbuckler, is a character that is long-associated with Howard Chaykin, and, for most of his earliest appearances, Comics Code-free stories. For those of you with no internet access, Dominic Fortune is, in the words of Chaykin, "everything a good comic book character is – tough, heroic, good looking – and a bit of a butthead. It is the butthead part I like the best." He was never the nicest guy and money was his biggest motivator, as he was originally conceived as a compulsive gambler.
His first appearance was in 1975's Marvel Preview #2, followed quickly by a story in Marvel Super Action #1 (both of which were then reprinted in Marvel Preview #20 (Feb 1980), from which the previous quote is taken). Five years later, he began appearing as a back-up feature in the code-free The Hulk magazine (issues #21-24).
I first encountered the character twice in one month when I was 12 years old; first in The Hulk magazine #23, and then in Marvel Premiere #56 (both cover dated October 1980). The stories in The Hulk were written by Denny O'Neil with Chaykin doing fully-painted art. The Marvel Premiere story was co-plotted by Len Wein and Chaykin with layouts by Chaykin, but it was then scripted by David Michelinie and the art was finished by Terry Austin.
That story had originally been intended for publication in the magazine Marvel Super Action #2 in 1976, but the title never made it past the first issue.
But when I opened those books, I knew I'd seen him somewhere before. It turned out that Dominic Fortune was Chaykin's reworking of his original character, The Scorpion. The Scorpion only ran for three issues in early 1975 and was published by Atlas Comics. I had the first two issues, the only ones written and illustrated by Chaykin. I don't know how I found them, but that was back in the days when comics were available nearly everywhere you looked. I figure I picked them up from a newsstand in the area. That was where I was able to find the old "off-brand" comics, like Atlas or Charlton or Gold Key.
In the foreword for Marvel Preview #20, Chaykin describes the process of creating the character as a conversation/improvised pitch session between Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and himself. Whereas The Scorpion had been the "heavy, intense, vaguely mystical sort of New York hero," this new character would be "the other side of that character[.] The light side. The Spirit, Plastic Man type side. The TA-DA!! California side[.]" Essentially, Chaykin came up with the character on the spot and then came up with the name the next day. Len Wein added a few details and together they plotted six stories, "three of which have never been realized."
Even though Wein and O'Neil were scripting those stories (Chaykin only wrote one Dominic Fortune story on his own in all that time, "The Messiah in the Saddle Resolution"), what grabbed me was the art. Chaykin was the first comic artist whose work I recognized, loved, and tracked down. And where did a 12-year old kid get introduced to Chaykin's work? What started it all?
Marvel's Star Wars adaptations.
All of that was why when American Flagg! launched in 1983, I was primed and ready for it. And my comic-reading life was changed forever as I followed Chaykin from American Flagg! to The Shadow (1985), and Black Kiss (1988).
But Paul, I hear you asking, what does all that have to do with this new Dominic Fortune comic, and are you ever going to get around to talking about it?
Well, you see, aside from one short story thirty years ago, this is the first time that Chaykin is actually writing as well as illustrating a Dominic Fortune story. And he's doing it in a Marvel MAX title: an uncensored format similar to the character's first appearances.
In effect, Chaykin is coming home to one of his very first original creations and is being given free reign to write and draw whatever he wants.
I'd suggest ignoring everything done with the character that didn't involve Chaykin. None of that crap matters here. Ignore Old Dominic Fortune helping out Spider-Man. Ignore whatever that bollocks was with new, young Dominic Fortune teaming up with Silver Sable. What the hell?
None of that matters.
This is Chaykin at his best. Which means we're getting a story dealing with Chaykin's main recurring subjects: Being Jewish and dealing with antisemitism; lots of graphic sex; and politics forcing its way into the lives of our characters. Remember, children, this is a MAX title, so we've got some serious swearing and serious adult situations.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is a character who's personality and basic concept was born out of the early '70s. There's nothing PC about him. Like Bond in his early films, or other swashbuckling heroes, he's a man the ladies want to know, as much as he's a man who wants to know the ladies. He's a fantasy sexual ideal where the man is objectified as much as the woman. No one gets hurt (unless that's part of the game) and everyone walks away happy and satisfied. There's no victimization here, just lots of consensual sex. Lots.
As Henry Miller once said about the '30s, "There was just as much fucking going on then, people just didn't feel the need to talk about it as much. It wasn't a badge of honor anymore than it was a scarlet letter, but it was the one smirking place we all slinked off to when we had a shadow or two to hide in."
Anyway, our story is set in 1935, beginning with the end of the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. Fortune is working as a mercenary before making his way back to America to, as Chaykin himself puts it, "baby sit three hell raising Hollywood stars on a junket from Los Angeles to New York to the Berlin Olympics. Along the way, he uncovers a sinister international conspiracy."
That's pretty much all you need to know about the plot at this point.
I don't know what today's audience is going to think of this book, to be quite honest. I love it. It's been a while since I've read a book that Chaykin has written that I really enjoyed. I didn't pay much attention to the books he co-wrote with David Tischmann after I lost interest in American Century, (although 2001's Angel and the Ape mini with Philip Bond on art was pretty awesome), so I guess it's been since Cyberella in 1996 that I've really looked forward to his solo writing.
Chaykin does not disappoint.
Unless you're disappointed by political intrigue, raucous hedonism, masterful pacing, and a refusal to compromise with the narrative.
Artistically, as we've seen with Chaykin's work over the past few years, the emphasis is on creating the entire scene within which the action takes place. Intricate textures and patterns are utilized in extraordinary detail to make rugs, walls, and clothing as realistic as possible without looking photo-realistic. The rooms are laid out and designed to be functional spaces, and the planes and cars are meticulously accurate.
This is then combined with Chaykin's traditional, non-traditional page layouts to allow the action to flow freely across the page and through the design spaces he's created, whether that action is a fight, a drunken revel, or a graphic tumble in the sheets.
As I've said in other reviews of his recent work, the characters are a little looser than Chaykin's characters have been in the past. There are some inconsistencies here and there in the face work, with heads sometimes being a little too large for the faces, or having odd shapes. But those are fairly minor complaints and the incidents don't occur very often.
I know the MAX line isn't really a money-maker, and I know that they have a reputation, a deserved reputation, for being as much about the swearing and the graphic violence as about storytelling. This isn't always the case, though. MAX has been the home of some of Garth Ennis' best work, the only comics work by JMS that I respect, and a few other high points (most notably Steve Gerber's return to Howard the Duck, Bendis' Alias, and Chuck Austen's The Eternal). If there was ever a place where Howard Chaykin's work-for-hire creation belonged, it's here.
It was a long time coming, but Dominic Fortune is finally home.
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