Jack Staff, Volume 1: Everything Used to be Black and White - Paul Grist

Whenever I stop in the library to return books or pick up my holds, I generally swing by the graphic novels and comics section just to see if there's anything that looks promising. I often come home with a stack of three or four books which turn out to be pretty disappointing. Occasionally, though, I come across something wonderful that I've never heard of before; Jack Staff is one of these. It's almost good enough that it makes up for the misspellings and poor punctuation ... almost.

Jack Staff is "Britain's Greatest Hero" ... or he was decades ago before he vanished and everyone forgot about him. He wears a big Union Flag costume and carries a staff which he somehow charges with power (his power is never entirely explained or, as a matter of fact, a big deal). There's also a huge cast of supporting characters: Becky Burdock, girl reporter; the enigmatic Q, a trio of paranormally-powered investigators of the unexplainable; Tom Tom the Robot Man; Charlie Raven, the greatest escapologist of the Victorian Age!

Grist cuts back and forth between stories (often back and forth in time within the same plotline), which is somewhat disorienting. It's the sort of thing which, when done in a movie, shows that the creators respect the viewers' intelligence. What's great is the way that Grist is able to take a handful of seemingly unrelated threads and weave them together for a smash-bang finish. The story has the same sort of ironic detachment as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Hellboy," where the characters are always up against the bizarre and unexplainable but it's business as usual.

One strange thing (which may simply be because this is a collection of previously published comic books) is that every few pages is a splash page, with some introductory remarks, a big image of some character, and a flashy logo-type name. The phrase "Jack Staff: Britain's Greatest Hero!" appears all over the place. But it may also be just a tongue-in-cheek campy sort of thing, like the old Batman TV shows.

The artwork itself is great, too. It's all in black and white, with sort of a noir feel to it. Most of the characters are angular and blocky; it's stylized and not aiming for photorealism, and it works. Grist's page layouts are varied and imaginative, with excellent use of light and shadows. The only shortcoming is that several of the male characters look a bit similar, and I had to re-read some scenes several times to figure out who was saying what.

Being a collection of part of a series, this volume also leaves some unfinished questions hanging by the end of it. I've already placed a hold on Volume 2.

Fed to jonathan's brain | February 10, 2005 | Comments (0)


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