Review: Sgt. Mike Battle: The Greatest American Hero #18A comic review article by: Kelvin Green
This issue of Graham Pearce's long-running action satire has been released in two versions, one with the usual title and one -- and this is the copy I have -- entitled Last Admin Hero 2. The contents are identical, but I'll refer to the comic by the latter title from now on as it's not really a Mike Battle story, even by the comic's sometimes loose standards. Which is not to be taken as a criticism, as Judge Dredd is almost never about Dredd himself but rather the setting and characters around him, and Pearce often takes a similar approach with Battle.
As the variant title suggests this is a sequel to an earlier storyline in which Pearce poked fun at '80s action movies as a lack of available burly meatheads led to office worker John Trojan taking on the terrorist group that had occupied his company building. This time things are subverted further and double back on themselves as Trojan is brought back from, well, not retirement as such, but a mind-numbing job in the print room for one more mission: to infiltrate the admin department of a well-known evil organization.
I love how the jokes are layered even at this early stage. You've got the parody of the One Last Job topos -- complete with some missed but familiar guesses as to what Trojan has been doing since his last adventure -- mixed with an inversion of the previous story's setup, as well as the absurd but oddly plausible idea that not only do terrorists need to do paperwork too, but given their line of work they tend to get through a lot of temporary staff.
It's a shame then that it all takes a bit too long to get started. <em>SMB: TGAH</em> is often a dense comic, with lots of panels per page and a fair chunk of dialogue, but Pearce's witty scripts mean that it's an entertaining read; alas, Last Admin Hero 2 does drag a bit and feels strained in places. On the letters page, Pearce mentions that the cliffhanger ending was planned to occur at the halfway point of the issue, but he decided it made for a better finale and moved it to the end. It does indeed make for an effective final page, but some of the material leading up to it feels rather too much like padding as characters run around achieving very little. The opening sequence set in a terrorist training camp is both a fun bit of comedy -- and yet such an in-hindsight-obvious joke that I'm shocked no one's thought of it before; perhaps the subject matter puts comedians off -- and a nice nod to the traditional James Bond movie pre-credits sequence. It also -- unless later issues reveal a connection -- has nothing to do with the rest of the story; the Bond films get away with it as they only spend fifteen minutes out of two hours on the superfluous explosions, but here it takes up almost half of the issue.
The other half of the issue has Mike Battle taking the long way around to realize that sending an office worker to infiltrate an office is a good idea, then takes even longer to recruit Trojan. Along the way, we get gags about Shapely Charms' over-subscribed self-defense class, Mike's general stupidity and the horrors of office gossip, and one might argue that if we get jokes then that means the pages weren't just pointless meandering, but I'm not sure that any of the sequences are strong enough to carry half an issue of thumb-twiddling as the plot meanders about like a drunk at a disco.
Maybe this is but the picking of nits. This is still an entertaining comic, and it is often very funny indeed; it's just that in the past Pearce has shown himself to be adept at balancing comedy with a more traditional dramatic storytelling structure, but here that structure seems a bit wobbly. Perhaps with the setting up now out of the way the next couple of episodes in the storyline will be up to this title's usual high standards.
Find out more about Sgt. Mike Battle at its official website.
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, The Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don't get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn't hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.