Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cobb #2

Cobb #2, June 2006, IDW Publishing
writer: Beau Smith
artist: Eduardo Barreto
letterer: Robbie Robbins
editor: Dan Taylor

Tough guys are cool. Everyone knows that. The real argument is, what makes a tough guy? In the plot synopsis of the previous issue on the inside cover of Cobb #2, we are led to believe that Frank Cobb is quite the tough guy, established as a former Level One Secret Service agent that was jailed for “sending five men to the hospital.” Now, working for his mentor Jack Murphy’s security and investigation agency, Cobb finds himself in the crosshairs of the Russian mafia in an attempt to protect their godfather’s ex-lover. This second chapter begins with the mob at Cobb’s front door –

– but the natural way he reacts practically betrays the previous issue’s cliffhanger. Cobb tosses a baseball at the goons, who misunderstand the red herring as a grenade (a process that unnecessarily consumes an entire page), then barrels at them guns blazing, which is an entertaining device, but hardly an impressive one. In fact, until he runs out of ammo three-fourths through the issue and finally resorts to using a baton, the “Level One Secret Service agent” is less Frank Cobb than Frank Castle, carving his way through the imposing mobsters with a barrage of bullets. In the end, Cobb’s efforts protect the girlfriend, but the henchmen swipe Jack’s granddaughter; however, if this issue is any indication, I assume Cobb will simply stroll through the godfather’s front door and simply take her back.

So, you see my dilemma. Is Cobb really a tough guy? The way he used that baton was impressive, noticeably and strategically wounded the mobsters’ hands, rendering them ineffective even with a gun. Still, a solid twenty-two pages of story offers plenty of room to show off a thing or two, and with an issue seemingly dedicated to violent confrontation, a little variety goes a long way. Cobb and company strike me as likable characters, but I can find plenty of comics featuring excessive gunplay. It’s those characters that don’t resort to hiding behind a trigger, the proverbial renaissance men of violence and/or combat, which make these efforts so thrilling. That line from The Dark Knight Returns about the seven ways Batman can disarm a gun-toting thug (“One of them . . . hurts.”) evokes such admiration, and in the Punisher archives, the most entertaining scenes are the ones that depict Frank’s creativity in combat – you know, Popsicles and blow torches and stuff. To me, a tough guy uses his brain to best use his brawn. His brutality leaves psychological scars, as well as physical.

A few more notes about Cobb #2: I’ve always enjoyed Eduardo Barreto’s art, and his involvement was one of the reasons I purchased this issue. I think Barreto is responsible for many of the generic images of Superman and Batman that we see on the mainstream merchandise clogging the seasonal aisles at Target and Wal-Mart, since his style is clean. In Cobb #2, however, as much as I enjoyed the vitality of this issue’s nonstop action, Barreto’s lines looked muddied, as if the resolution of his work hadn’t been translated from the page properly. Even if this is just a technical error, something he couldn’t have been responsible for, it affected my impression of the overall package. Further, I must say that Beau Smith’s pacing was adequate, but much of his dialogue came across as terribly unnatural, as if the characters had written their lines and were reading them professionally in an otherwise highly suspenseful situation. Some of the awkward syntax may reflect Smith’s attempt to capture the broken English of the Russian mob, yet if that’s the case, his effort is more insulting than accurate. Makes the KGBeast look like Tom Clancy.

One funny line: When Cobb throws a few dead associates in the way of some oncoming thugs, remembering that baseball volley, one of the henchmen blurts, “Agggh! He is always throwing strange things at us!” Heh heh.

Something with real potential was brewing beneath the surface of Cobb #2, as if each page concealed an essence that I really enjoyed if not for the pesky semantics of its actual presentation. Perhaps the creators’ execution of this story was as flawed as Cobb’s plain old shoot ‘em up strategy – yes, it gets the job done, but there are better ways to do it. Other ways present more risks, and you may have to get your hands dirty by stretching your bounds a bit, but the payoff is worth it. Tough guys don’t come from the easy way out.

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