Finally - New Comics Strike Again!

Frank Ironwine #1 (of 1)

The first release in Warren Ellis’ Apparat series of one-shots for Avatar finds Ellis returning to the crime genre, an area explored in several other titles among his Avatar output. As Ellis writes in a short afterward, Apparat is intended as a ‘response’ to projects like Alan Moore’s ABC line of comics at Wildstorm, in that it approaches the same ‘modern pulp’ style from a different angle. “Frank Ironwine” appears to be intended as a simulation of a reaction to a non-existent tradition of modern crime comics, but it’s actually a genuine reaction to a very authentic tradition of modern crime television, which Ellis plainly finds to be unsatisfactory in its preoccupation with technology and forensic analysis. This comic thus intends to bring the crime-solving sleuth back to a humanistic level.

The title character is plainly cut from the classic Ellis cloth: hard-living, difficult, but brilliant (of course), Frank is an eccentric detective on those mean streets of the city, who always gets his (wo)man even when he can’t seem to retain a partner (and you can just bank on ‘Frank’s latest partner’ providing the introductory-exposition/reader-avatar duties). Ah, but who can keep up with such curious methods? Frank crouches on all fours to observe a crime scene, identifies particular scents immediately, makes instant evaluations of patterns and probability, and benefits from a fantastic well of luck. There’s some big coincidences here that conspire to undo the murderous deeds of criminals, and Frank is more than prepared to take full advantage.

But as traditionally molded as Frank seems to be among the Ellis line of protagonists, he’s a bit more immediately kindly, acutely aware of the human element that exists in crime. He cradles admitted killers in his arms and nurtures confessions out of them, which in Ellis’ cop world provides the greatest taboo-buster. It’s a method of extracting information, yes, but Ironwood knows about the patterns of crime and history, and he knows that any measure of kindness can exist as a unique enough element in the grim criminal world (and by extension the dehumanized crime-solving genre as Ellis sees it) that it might provoke all sorts of interesting reactions. It’s this open and immediate embracing of sweetness that sets Frank apart from many Ellis creations, who need to work through several layers of candy attitude to get at their tasty Tootsie Roll core of decency.

So as routine as the crime-solving plot is (and believe me, you’ll feel like you’ve seen almost every aspect of this storyline somewhere before), “Frank Ironwine” is at least interesting to Ellis fans looking for new developments in the traditional Ellis lead. The art is by “Finder” creator Carla Speed McNeil, who provides attractive and simple character designs with just the right touch of cartoon energy (I love the way Frank hunches while entering the room - and keep your eyes on his tie) for this slightly gentle gritty crime story. The visuals thus add a certain level of playfulness to the whole affair, which benefit Ellis’semi-upbeat characterizations. It’s a strange, small story, and one often told, but it worked pretty well for what it set out to do.

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #12

Longtime ABC fans will doubtlessly recall that this second “Tom Strong” title, here on it’s final issue, was originally intended as a repository for ‘darker’ stories (just check out that solemn first issue Moore/Sprouse short). But gradually, Moore’s eight-page contribution for each issue mutated into an opportunity to craft mildly experimental scripts to suit the strengths of a litany of guest artists, seemingly everyone that Moore felt like working with. So we got a silent Peter Kuper short, a peppy cheesecake Bruce Timm story, etc. Moore bids us all farewell this time around with Peter Bagge of “Hate” fame, which also featured a short Moore script late in its much-beloved run. Accordingly, the tone is bawdy and bleak, exploring the secret life of the Strongs in retirement after the cancellation of their book. There’s drugs, voyeurism, prostitution, suicide, accidental death, primate alcoholism, and so much more! It’s mainly reminiscent of Moore’s work on the “Tomorrow Stories” character of “Splash Brannigan”, with bits of industry commentary thrown in with the anarchy. The whole ‘bitter real-world Tom’ angle also curiously reflects Ed Brubaker’s current arc on the main “Tom Strong” book, but with a whole lot more joking, obviously. It’s infectiously dirty fun.

The other farewell piece arrives at the end of the book, and the Steve Moore/Alan Weiss saga of “Young Tom Strong” draws to a close with Tom setting out for the outside world. There’s little hints at future stories (some of which are scattered throughout Alan Moore’s own work on this title and the main book) but it’s basically just a ‘goodbye’ story. Even less can be said for (Steve) Moore’s last script for “Jonni Future”, a pretty standard-issue outing for the character, and this time without co-creator Art Adams’ talent behind the visuals. Chris Weston ably carries the banner, but Adams’ work can only be seen on this final cover for the series. Given how uneven this book has been in the past, though, small frustrations should perhaps be expected, even here at the end.