Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Middle Man #3

The Middle Man #3, September 2005, Viper Comics
writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
illustrator: Les McClaine
cover colorist: Dean Trippe

The Middle Man is Men in Black meets Tom Strong, combining the ne’er-do-wrong innocence of Alan Moore’s global adventurer with the MIB’s paranormal intrigue, not to mention that certain aura of oddness that permeates any story that features talking monkeys.

The Middleman is indeed a paranormal investigator, heretofore solo in his mission until his recent recruitment of one Wendy Watson, an aimless twenty-something that provides the voice of the every man in contrast to their cases’ peculiar circumstances. In this issue, cleverly titled “The Experimental Simian Identity,” the Middleman is investigating the murders of the criminal underworld’s major players, and when his research leads him and Wendy to Simionics Animal Research Laboratories, the mafia movie-lovin’ talking chimp isn’t far behind, having escaped the facility and secured himself leadership of the city’s mob. Unfortunately, the monkey escapes into a local zoo, leaving the Middleman a next issue’s worth of work ahead of him.

The Middle Man (I’m not sure why the character is granted his moniker as a compound word, whereas the comic’s title separates the term to two words, but I attribute the distinction to the other typos in the inside cover’s “previous issue” blurb) was a fun read with a well-paced, beautifully illustrated story. Writer Grillo-Marxuach captures the essence of the paranormal genre enthusiastically, and while the Middleman/Wendy relationship risks the trappings of The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully, the focus is more on the craziness of the case than the quirkiness of the characters, sans the necessary origin-like explanation of the Middleman’s background in the Navy Seals. How else could a guy that refuses to swear (“Profanity cheapens the soul and weakens the mind,” he says!) kick so much butt? I was most impressed with the creators’ ability to integrate a few genuinely chuckle-worthy sight gags into the story, a tough to feat to pull off for quite a few reasons, but these guys fit the bill. A little too heavy on the zipatone in some cases, but a choice that can be forgiven in the context of the Middleman’s entertainment value.

Sure, The Middle Man piggybacks a few concepts previously established in sci-fi/adventure, but it also establishes a few ideas all its own, in a well-rounded, pleasing package that so delivers its content that it, ironically, cuts out the middle man.

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