The comics wedding of the decade arrives and, of course, weddings being what they are in comics, everything goes wrong in the most spectacular fashion, with a Soviet invasion and sub-orbital laser cannons. And right in the middle of it all are military meathead Mike Battle and suave super-spy Roger Knightly, teaming up for one last adventure.
Writer/artist Graham Pearce's enthusiasm for Roger Knightly is clear and well conveyed; the character gets the best scenes and the most dramatic lines, to the extent that Battle himself is sidelined somewhat, although I'm not sure this is a flaw. As I mentioned last time this positions Mike as a Judge Dredd type figure; not the focus of the stories, but more as a vehicle through which the reader experiences Pearce's over-the-top world of Saturday morning super-spies. Yes, it's all melodramatic and even a little bit cheesy, but that's part of the title's charm, and cheesy and melodramatic are, after all, stylistic approaches like any other; just as a serious story can fall flat if the writing isn't good enough, the opposite is also true, and Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero is a perfect example of the latter. Broad drama and exaggerated characterization are a perfect fit for a title in which Adam West and Prince Phillip join forces to take on the wedding-crashing Soviet soldiers who have just killed Paul McCartney. "Paul is dead" is just one of the many jokes littering the issue, although it's a little disappointing that most of the gags are based on pop culture rather than satire this time around.
On the other hand, as this title has gone on, the writing has developed to a point where the comedy has become an embellishment rather than a key feature and, once again, Pearce turns in a solid adventure story with a cracking ending; as I noted above, it's melodramatic and slightly manipulative stuff, but it works precisely because Pearce has invested plenty of time and energy in making us care for his characters.
Pearce sets himself a tough artistic challenge with what is more or less a 30 page fight scene, but his chunky, cartoony visual style is well-suited to such an action-driven story. That said, the strongest sequence is Knightly's origin flashback, in which Pearce makes use of some clever, evocative designs and neat visual effects. The front and back covers, spoofing Nick Fury and James Bond respectively, are also striking bits of art, not least due to Jim Cameron's bold coloring. Cameron and Pearce are a great match, and I would very much like to see the former turn his talents to the internal pages one of these days. All that said, to my eye there's still something off about Pearce's female characters, but I really should stop grousing about that aspect at some point, since no one else seems to mind.
This Roger Knightly story has been the best arc so far in a title which is constantly improving and outshining many professional efforts. Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero is now easily one of my favorite reads, a creation which has transcended its spoof origins to become an exemplar of pitch perfect action adventure comics.
(WATCHBLOOD update: Once again, Pearce's Rob Liefeld/Alan Moore pastiches has been delayed. While the joke continues to work, I wouldn't mind actually seeing the real thing after all this build up!
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