Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #80: Jack Staff, Vol. 2: Soldiers by Paul Grist and Phil Elliott

It was just a little over a month ago that I covered Jack Staff Vol. 1 here, a decade after it was published. I'm accelerating a bit now, getting to 2010's second volume with what passes for blinding speed around here.

Jack Staff, Vol. 2: Soldiers sees Paul Grist's superhero universe transformed into full color with the addition of Phil Elliott as colorist to the team, and possibly some increased distribution from a then-new publishing management with Image. (The first series of Jack Staff came out from Grist's own Dancing Elephant Press.) Otherwise, this is still an all-Paul Grist production: he writes and draws and (I'm pretty sure) letters as well.

Since this was the big relaunch, it needed to stand on its own. Traditionally, that's the time to trot out a retelling of the origin, but Grist hadn't revealed that yet -- I'm not sure if he has even now, actually, and I hope he hasn't. So, instead, we get a less-deep flashback: the story of the case that sent Jack Staff into retirement "twenty years ago" -- roughly the late '80s, given when the Jack Staff series started.

Jack, to refresh your memory, is a really long-lived -- we don't know how long, but he's looked young and exactly the same since WW II, at least -- who is a mid-level brick. In this book, we learn a little more about what he can do, but he's basically a strong guy with a big stick and occasional glowy hands. He was, as the cover claims, Britain's greatest hero, though he seems to spend all of his time hanging about a minor provincial city called Castletown. (Maybe that's why Britain did fine for twenty years without him.)

Anyway, Soldiers is told in a complicated flashback structure, jumping between twenty years ago and "now," sometimes on the same page, in a style I'm coming to think Grist particularly likes. (And I'm completely in sync with him: if you're telling a story about big guys punching each other for pages on end, it definitely helps to do something to mix that up and make it more interesting.) So Soldiers bounces back and forth in time like a yo-yo, also bouncing around the large cast almost as much as the stories in the first book did. (Becky Burdock, {Spoiler} Reporter gets less obvious on-page time here, but there are some new superheroes, from the '60s and '80s.)

The big fight scene twenty years ago was between Jack and Hurricane, the British Army's secret and greatest weapon, who of course is a Hulk-ish guy with an anger problem and an exceptionally limited vocabulary. In between bits of that fight, there's a more complicated plot going on in the present day, plus some military machinations back twenty years ago. It may sound confusing, but on the page it's always entirely clear who is doing what when and to whom.

There is a lot of talking in between the fighting, and plenty of fighting in the modern day as well. This is a superhero comic, after all.

Grist tells a zippy story here, and his art is dynamic and fun -- he still uses a lot of black here (as he did in the early Jack Staff stories, as well as Kane), but the addition of color does make the whole thing that much more superhero-y.

Nobody needs any more superhero comics, but this is a good one, unencumbered by any stupid continuity and entirely owned by the guy that thought it up. If you need superheroes in your life, this is the kind to have.

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