Rust #1, April 1992, Adventure Comics
writer/colorist: Steve Miller
penciller: Phillip Hester
inker: Ande Parks
letterer: Joseph Allen
editor: Dan Danko
EIC: Chris Ulm
Blogger's note: Entry for Friday, January 18, 2008.
Sometimes you have to wonder what's going to stick.
As I was reading Rust #1, and thinking about how I would summarize its story in a few simple sentences, I couldn't help but recognize its similarities to another creator-owned series published around the same time. Consider, in Rust, a straight-laced cop is caught in a horrific accident and presumed dead; however, when he comes back to life, he finds himself terribly disfigured and his wife in the arms of his best friend. Therefore, he does what anyone would do in such a tragic situation: he begins to live off the streets, embracing his peculiar powers and becoming something of a hobo hero.
Sound familiar? Yes, replace "cop" with "soldier," and you're remarkably close to Todd McFarlane's ground-breaking Spawn. Interestingly, an ad for Spawn graces Rust's inside back cover, as if the publishers were trying to say, "If you liked this comic, you're sure to like this one, too." Of course, if that really was their meaning, we now where their good intentions landed them. Again, with two titles orbiting similar premises, sometimes you have to wonder what's going to stick.
Of course, Rust boasts some notable differences from Spawn. For example, though this title offers a new origin for Miller's title character, it isn't Rust's first appearance. Miller is careful to document his hero's previous appearances in a thorough back page bibliography. Rust was originally published by Now Comics and experienced two short lives volumes before the company declared bankruptcy in 1991 and Miller, with Malibu Comics' help (Adventure's parent company), won back the rights to his character. The inclusion of this "Collector's Guide" is an interesting choice considering Miller's adamant introduction proclaiming, "To those who have met Scott Baker before, forget what you know." Hard to do that when every previous issue is summarized after this new lead story, eh?
Still, Rust's latest incarnation offers interesting, unique quirks that create a definitive take on the "resurrected civil servant" shtick. For example, Officer Baker didn't really die but was actually comatose while a liquid rust fused his skin with junkyard metal, under the suspiciously knowing, watchful eye of the yard's resident Junkman. Also, the kiss Rust happened to catch between his wife and best friend Jerry was an accidental one, shared only in a moment of mutual grief. Miller is sure to have Jerry tell Mrs. Baker, "Oh, wait. I just kissed you because I wanted you to feel better . . . I do love you, but not like that." I'm glad I don't have friends like that! Still, when Rust inevitably encounters Jerry later in the series, the reader will have the whole story and will know that Baker's anger is unfounded, instilling a flaw in his still-tragic heroism.
Makes you wonder, is every disfigured hero destined to spy his loved ones denouncing him through his living room window? Spawn, Rust, even the ever-lovin', blue-eyed Thing -- these guys didn't buy blinds when they had the human hands to hang them? But I digress . . .
Finally, Rust boasts an early collaboration of Phillip Hester and Ande Parks, who later achieved acclaim under Kevin Smith's Green Arrow. I don't know when Hester and Parks began their careers, though I have enjoyed a fair share of their solo efforts before, but a combination of elements here betrays the blossoming maturity of their work, from Miller's coloring to the issue's overall production value. Stark black and white might have been a better choice to emphasize mood and make their angular visuals really pop, or if not then crisper color separations . . . even those slicker pages that became all the rage in the early '90s might've helped. Instead, if I hadn't seen this issue's publication date, I might've assumed Rust was originally circulated in the mid-'80s. Well, actually, it was, but perhaps this newer version had yet to shake free a few of those lingering ghosts.
Yet, as first issues go, I enjoyed Rust. I was grateful to know that Miller was starting me off on the ground floor, as he put it, and that he had a long-standing passion for the character. Hester and Parks' potential was brewing under those unavoidable visual flaws, and in some panels their heights were already achieved. Rust as a character is a sympathetic hero, mired in an archetype but still interesting as the personification of America's industrial wreckage. If Miller tried another go at him, I wonder if Officer Baker would be covered in old iPhone parts. Still, caught in the shadow of the more popular Spawn, it's best that Rust remains in the annals of back issue bins. There, he can be rediscovered, and with the benefit of time behind him, earn nostalgic acclaim . . . and his name.