Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #254: Jack Staff, Vols. 3 & 4 by Paul Grist

It can be annoying to catch up on something you're enjoying. Doubly so if "caught up" means "read up to the stuff published in 2009, which just sort of stops."

But I just caught up with Paul Grist's quirky British superhero comic Jack Staff, with the back half of the collections -- the third book was Echoes of Tomorrow and the fourth one was Rocky Realities. They're both roughly a decade old at this point, and I don't think there's been any new Jack Staff material since then.

(See my posts on the first two volumes -- Everything Used To Be Black and White and Soldiers -- for more background and details. In general, since those posts are from earlier this year, I won't talk about anything I mentioned then, like the tropism to have a splash panel and logo every time the focus shifts to another major character. [1])

Creator Paul Grist is still having massive amounts of fun with the various things he can do with a superhero universe in these stories from 2004-09, bouncing from plotline to plotline and character to character with glee and verve, throwing ideas up on one page to catch them ten pages later. It's a whole mini-superhero universe, contained in one comic and centered on one minor British city, with multiple heroes (each with their own complicated histories) and villains and others, plus vampires and vampire hunters and plain cops and spooky cops just to keep it all interesting.

The last plotline even introduces a time cop, in the person of spacesuit-wearing chimp Rocky Reality. [2] And I have to imagine that Jack Staff's world would continue to grow and proliferate for as long as Grist wanted to keep it up.

Actually, I can't prove he didn't stop Jack Staff out of ennui or boredom. I can say that it doesn't feel that way: the series doesn't really have any sort of ending. The particular villain in the last issue (#20) is captured, but, as usual, the last few pages see Grist throw some more balls up in the air...and he hasn't had a chance to catch them since then.

With that caveat in place, I'll still recommend Jack Staff. It's goofy and more-or-less serious and full of smart dialogue and quirky situations and energetic art. I usually hate superhero stuff, and I think this is a hoot, and wish there were five or six more volumes full of the stories Grist would have made over the past decade in a better universe.

[1] Saying that I won't mention something and then mentioning it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Everything in science fiction should be mentioned twice -- with the possible exception of science fiction." -- Samuel Delaney

The only problem is, I haven't been able to source that quote. I have a vague memory of reading it in a book about SF: I used to think it was in Tom Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, but I poked through that extensively and didn't find it.

So it is entirely possible one of my favorite quotes is either horribly mangled or entirely false. I'm OK with that.

[2] He, too, gets a logo and a jingle: "If normality is out of whack, Rocky Reality whacks it back!"

You can almost hear Grist chortling as he draws these pages: that's how much he's having.

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