Monday, June 11, 2007

Marvel Knights Double Shot #3

Marvel Knights Double Shot #3, August 2002, Marvel Comics
writers: Greg Rucka & Peter Gross
artists: Greg Horn, Peter Gross, & Ryan Kelly
letterers: ComiCraft's Richard Starkings & Jason Levine
colorist: Avalon's Jeromy Cox

With less than twenty days left in the A Comic A Day challenge, I realize I have a few self-indulgent objectives to accomplish, including an emphasis on some of my favorite B-list characters that usually don't inspire mainstream attention and review. Not that A Comic A Day isn't already self-indulgent, or mainstream for that matter, but if I have any forum to discuss my favorite underdogs, I'm more than happy to give back. After all, these characters are the kind of guilty pleasures that writers and artists dust off when they need pages to fill, or when they have ideas too lofty or silly for headlining heroes. Therefore, just when you think you've seen the last of the likes of Cloak and Dagger, and when you believe you actually own all of their appearances, you can find them in forgotten issues of Marvel Knights or Marvel Presents, like I did a few months ago. Indeed, these are the characters that keep on giving.

So, before I review today's issue, I have a dangling thread to tie up; in December, I told my story about surprisingly meeting artist Bret Blevins in Prescott, Arizona -- Blevins, one of my favorite artists that illustrated two of my favorite B-listers, Cloak and Dagger, in the short-lived second volume of Strange Tales. Blevins, who also illustrated Legends of the Dark Knight #50, a landmark issue I reviewed here several months ago, was kind enough to briefly chat about his early comic book career and actually agreed to sketch my favorite Marvel runaways for me, a sketch that might have set me back thirty bucks at a convention. It was a memorable moment for me, one that deserves some attention for its humble timelessness:

Yes, a series of reviews with a major in Cloak & Dagger, and a minor in Bret Blevins -- self-indulgent, indeed . . . but no more so than the stories in this very issue of Marvel Knights Double Shot, also starring Elekra, the crimson-garbed assassin. In the first half of this issue, Matt Murdock's unrequited love is hired by a frustrated producer, a young attractive female executive, to "take care of" an over-budget director whose only other "crime" seems to be his abrasive possession of his perpetual filming. While this short conveys the tension that stems from hiring an assassin, Elekra's methods are definitely brief and to the point: a small, poison spike slightly sticking out of the director's chair does the filmmaker in. With very little real action, Rucka emphasizes the relationship between client and hired gun (or hired pin . . . whatever), and though their conversation about trust is insightful, at the risk of sounding sexist it only makes sense because the two characters are women. Bullseye wouldn't have entertained his client's uneasiness, and in fact might've killed her, too, just for annoying him. Rucka's quiet ending, with the Hollywood sign looming in the background, fails in the poignancy department, especially since the executive gets away with the crime and one of Marvel's "knights" essentially commits wanton murder. Greg Horn is the real storyteller in this tale; his rich visuals, though sometimes volleying between dramatic stiffness and twisted proportions, generally exceed his usual cover work, and, akin to Cassady and Bradstreet, makes me wonder why he doesn't tackle interiors more often. Perhaps short stories like these exceed his limits. Well, it's nice to know that somebody made the effort.

Despite my affinity toward the characters, the Cloak and Dagger yarn wasn't anymore relevant, and in fact coupled with the Elektra non-adventure this issue of Marvel Knights may be one of the most worthless comics I've ever read. In the second story, Cloak and Dagger, in their civilian identities Tyrone and Tandy, meet an old friend of Tyrone's grandfather -- a self-proclaimed former superhero dubbed the Persuader who claims he has been restraining a monster in his basement for over forty years. Now, as a premise, I appreciate the effort, since my favorite Cloak and Dagger tales are the ones that pit them against the macabre (most notably their archnemesis Mr. Jip, but I digress), but connection to Tyrone's family is unnecessary, since a significant aspect of these heroes' origins is their runaway status. Though Tandy's family played a role in the pair's early adventures, she always simply orbited them, disconnected by her powers and a greater sense of purpose. "A friend of Tyrone's grandfather" seems like a superfluous catalyst to me; the old man would've been better accepted as a connection the crimefighters made on the street, one who beckons their help once again, now against this monster. Unfortunately, the existence of this monster is in dire question, and even when it reveals itself as a flash of light and a splash of ooze, writer Peter Gross insists that his story is a social allegory and that the monster is an illusion to prejudice, self-doubt, or some strange symbiosis of the two. His point is so ambiguous it's nonexistent, and his use of Cloak and Dagger from the hallowed halls of the House of Ideas is futile. Iron Fist and Power Man could've easily starred instead, especially since both Cloak and Power Man are black, keeping Gross' themes would've remained in tact. I mean, Dagger never throws a shaft of light, and Cloak never envelopes anything into his dimension of darkness . . . unless this very story counts as a void.

Needless to say, I'm very disappointed in my old heroes, and after briefly talking to Bret Blevins, I can tell the passion for these characters isn't the same today as it was in his Strange Tales days. As a fan of these obscure heroes, I'd rather not see them in print than see them used so recklessly. Truly, any exercise in comic book storytelling is self-indulgent, an exercise in proverbial projectionism, as we the readers imagine what it might be like to fly, run faster than a speeding bullet, or even swallow up evil-doers in our cape of darkness. Yet, indulgence requires substance, and I didn't see any in this issue. Fortunately, sketches like Blevins' are shades to the past, and hopefully inspirations for the future. See, there's nothing wrong with self-indulgence if it doesn't seem like it -- if others can come along for the ride, too.

Glad you could join me . . .

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