Review: Two Post-genre superheroes from AdHouse
Superheroes have been the default setting for American comics for so long – more than forty years; long enough for two generations to
grow up – that they’ve been hybridized and cross-pollinated more than wheat,
with not just the usual revisionist, retro, neo-retro, counterrevisionist,
revolutionary, postmodern, primitivist, and reactionary strains from the usual
sources, but odder, wild strains growing far from the fields of Marvel and DC.
I have two books like that in front of me now; two
books from AdHouse that never could have existed without that long
long-underwear mainstream, but which also never come close to that mainstream
Ace-Face: The Mod with the Metal Arms
By Mike Dawson
AdHouse Books, April 2009, $6.95
[[[Ace-Face]] is close to that “mainstream,”
with stories about the exploits of Colin Turvey, the British-American costumed
adventurer called Ace-Face. Colin has the requisite silly “secret origin,”
being born without arms but with a mad-scientist uncle who fitted him with
hulking, superstrong mechanical arms. But then most of the stories about Colin
here – they’re mixed in with other stories, which I’ll get to in a moment – don’t
focus on his exploits as a superhero, but use that superhero status – as if we’re
already intimately familiar with Ace-Face – to delve deeper into his
psychological life, dramatizing scenes from his childhood and retirement.
Dawson also intersperses slice-of-life stories (based
on his own life, I suspect) of Colin’s son Stuart, and his travails as a Park
Slope apartment-dweller. And then there are also a couple of stories about the superpowered
kids Jack (a telekinetic) and Max (a teleporter), who – in the typical fashion
of brothers – use their powers almost entirely to annoy and fight with each
So the book Ace-Face is mostly made up of stories set in a world with
superheroes, but which don’t focus on superheroics. That’s nothing new, of
course – the “ordinary person in superhero society” has been an undertone of
spandex comics since at least Marvels (and possibly much longer, depending on whether we want to think about
Snapper Carr). Dawson doesn’t seem to have planned this book as a coherent work
– there’s no listing of previous publications, but I’m sure I’ve heard of the “Jack
and Max” stories appearing elsewhere first – and so there’s no real continuity
from one story to the next. Colin bounces around in time, and his story never
really comes into focus. Jack and Max are simpler characters, so they work
better in one-off stories; like the Looney Tunes, they exist to cause havok and
then have the curtain dropped down on their heads.
By Lamar Abrams
AdHouse Books, May 2009, $12.95
Remake is an odder thing, one
part [[[Scott Pilgrim]]], one part attenuated anime, and several parts indy oddity-for-the-sake-of-oddity.
That kid on the cover is Max Guy, the hero – he can fly, and he has a gun that transforms
things semi-uncontrollably, but he’s not really a superhero in the normal
sense. He is a kid, with a pre-teen boy’s lack of impulse control
and mercurial interests. At the same time, he’s living in an apartment with a robot
(or maybe a cyborg) named Cardigan.
His stories are meandering and usually short, in that traditional
slacker indy-comics style, where anything can happen and usually does. Max Guy fights
crime, hangs out, makes friends, up-slaps mean people, fights with various
people (some of whom are villainous, and some of whom aren’t, really), and just
generally runs around like a boy with superpowers. He isn’t quite
the brat that Dawson’s Jack and Max are – but, on the other hand, Max Guy looks
to be a little bit older.
So the stories in [[[Remake]]] are odd little things, not fully rounded, like spiky bits of stone. The relentless oddities – such as the girl with unicorn horns for arms, and the undead deliveryman – drive the reader to try to make sense of them, but they’re not supposed to make sense. Remake
tales place in an arbitrary, weird world, one where things just happen. And
these are some of the things that just happened to Max Guy.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional
for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science
Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been
reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal,
mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like to submit books
for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew
Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.