Ancient Joe #1, October 2001, Dark Horse Comics
created, written, & illustrated by C. Scott Morse
First Grim Jack. Now Ancient Joe. No, I am not on an obscure-adjective-meets-common-name marathon.
Have you ever been invited to a party where you're sure you wouldn't know anyone, but with the hopes that you'll meet someone cool enough to become a new friend? Where, a half hour into the shindig, you realize you'll probably never see those people again?
That's how I feel about these unknown comics, or more specifically, their feature characters. The Fighting American, Grim Jack, Ancient Joe . . . someone, somewhere, liked these characters enough to give them a chance in print, then to order them for their store, then to add to their comics collection. My brief encounters with these characters are like the awkward conversations over chips and dips at the party: short, sweet, and ultimately pointless. I'm left holding my drink in the corner.
Now, Ancient Joe has potential, if not for its content, then for its creator, Scott Morse. In my opinion, despite his best attempts toward dialect in dialogue, Morse is not a prolific writer, but his unique Picasso-on-paper style blows me away every time. Unfortunately, the first issue of this Ancient Joe series features too much conversation, not enough ambiance. With so many head shots, Morse fails to let the sequences breathe, and even this chapter's climatic blow-by-blow boxing match seems too tight, like a movie shot close to conceal the inconsistencies in the choreography.
Again, like Grim Jack, I don't know much about this story's protagonist based on this singular issue. From what I gather, Ancient Joe is an ageless widow, trying to buy his wife's way out of hell. An old friend is willing to help, but for a price: a gentleman's boxing match, just like the good old days. I don't get it either, but Morse hooks me 'til the end, with a cliffhanger that leaves me wanting more, not from the next issue, but from the cliffhanger itself. Morse could be one of the most unique artists of our time, if he just shut up and drew.
Maybe I'm being too harsh. I just selected this issue from my quarter bin batch in the hopes of escaping the capes and tights for a day. I wanted a slice of life. I guess I got one, but this life ain't mine. These friends aren't mine. If I see Ancient Joe again, I might strike up another conversation to see if something clicks, but tonight, I'm going home early.