By: China Miéville (story), David Lapham (art), Tanya & Richard Horie (colors)
The Story: Sometimes the only thing left to do on a slow news day is to take a dump.
The Review: There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of superhero as a genre, one of which is how often it tends to fixate on the perfectly proportioned and the beautiful as heroes. If the average Plain Jane makes an appearance, it’s usually through a supporting character, while full-on uggos get relegated to villains (even Deadpool and Jonah Hex were studs once). You don’t need to look much further than that to support a theory of superficiality in comics.
Though I don’t see a break in that trend anytime soon, this title goes comfortingly against the grain by at once starring an out-of-shape loser of a man and an elderly spinster. The dynamic between the two, as you can imagine, is like nothing you’ve seen in comics before, at least, not in recent memory and certainly not in any mainstream book. Strange as the pairing may seem, Miéville establishes Nelson and Roxie as viable leads and heroes, doing right by us commoners.
I’ve persistently complained that this title lacked much in the way of character development. While Miéville’s unusual plot carried most of the series’ interest, Nelson was such an everyman as protagonist that he sometimes risked blending into the scenery. Now that he has Roxie, a bolder personality, to bounce off of, you can actively enjoy his presence in the story. More than that, their relationship has suddenly become the heart of the series. While watching the news for a dialing opportunity, Nelse gets a touch peckish. He shouts, “I want something to eat!” Then, thinking about it, “…Please. If that’s ok. I mean, if you’re having something, anyway.”
In the very next panel, Roxie brings him a little something—on a silver platter, no less. “Step ahead of you, brat boy. Don’t get used to his domestic bliss, either. You know just when to push your luck with me.”
The humor in this issue goes even further than warm banter. Miéville has always gotten good entertainment miles out of his random heroes, but never have they been so out-and-out hilarious. Having Nelse in the guise of the incredibly and politically incorrect Chief Mighty Arrow tickles that shameful, offensive funny bone in your body and offers grounds for some classic comedy. There’s Roxie’s Archie-esque reaction to seeing Mighty Arrow’s winged stallion in her garden (“My tomatoes!”), and then there’s Nelse, carried away with his heroic ID, yelling out the window, “Wingy! Fly, old friend, fly! Explore!”
With this issue, Miéville’s essentially playing catch-up in the character department. That leaves some of the ongoing plot threads on the backburner. Nelse’s unemployment gets some (presumably) temporary relief thanks to Roxie’s financial ingenuity (“I take a fraction of a cent from each ten thousand bucks the telephone companies move around for their tax avoidance.”*). Although we get a number of allusions to the “shadow on the line,” no fog gets lifted on that point. And although the risks of dialing and losing one’s sense of self will clearly be an ongoing problem, it feels a bit tiresome to worry about it in every issue.
Lapham’s work here is drastically different from what he provided in Saucer Country #7, but is no less appropriate and enjoyable to take in. It has a wonderful quality of being both retro and modern at the same time, which fits right into the tone and subject of this issue. As wrong as Chief Mighty Arrow might be, he looks exactly as a less-informed generation would perceive him. The colors are no less suitably vibrant; the Hories definitely succeed in putting the red in redskin in this case.
Conclusion: A fun, amusing break for the series, but one that puts a hold on still unsolved, half-formed mysteries.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Kudos to Miéville. Not too many writers can earn a clearly hipster line like “We are the 99%.”
– Of all the horrible IDs in Roxie’s “Refusenik Dossier,” the worst, just from the name alone, has to be Captain Priapus. I shudder to think how he fought crime.