Solo #3

What I like most about Paul Pope at the moment is his writing, which isn’t the first thing that leaps out at you when you stop to consider his work. I’ve set myself up for such a reaction, though, having reviewed some of his earlier work in the down-time since the last issue of his self-published “THB” and the conclusion of his Vertigo miniseries “100%”. While this was an incomplete survey, the earliest issues of “THB” being long out-of-print and difficult to find, I could sense a gradual calming of his dialogue, a transformation into a more naturalistic approach to character conversation. In his early work, Pope had a tendency to have his characters narrate their philosophical positions and motivation to other characters (and thus the audience), a stilted effect that didn’t mesh with the unique rough-hewed elegance of his lines, all swirling movement against words of oak. But Pope’s movement towards more conversational style fits his work well: surely the rigorous world-building of “100%” wouldn’t have had such an absorbing effect had the characters not seemed so utterly grounded, such natural denizens of their world. No longer do the words in the bubbles distract from Pope’s visuals: they are a needed expression of humanity from characters whose very skin seems to twist with comics energy.

This progression in Pope’s writing takes on an interesting form in his issue of “Solo”, that creator-focused DC title that gives noted talents a forum to do whatever they please, including taking on collaborators. Pope does all of the writing and art himself, but works with assorted colorists and letterers. There are five stories here, and all but one feature an omniscient narrator.

The first and last of these stories are connected by narrative style in a deeper way; the narration is executed in a laid-back, very casual style, as if Pope is going over the artwork with you and considering the meaning of his stories. The first of these plots is a retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth. The art is typically lovely and kinetic, with handsome Theseus slashing his way through bloody battles. Pope’s narration, however, doles out his theory on how Theseus is in fact a damned vicious killer and that the Minotaur is largely a victim of circumstance, having been damned by a god at birth in retaliation for actions well beyond his control, given both a hideous appearance and a hunger for human flesh. The lavish appearance of Pope’s art (fine Jose Villarrubia color too) offsets the informal tone of the narration, as if Pope wants you to know what he really thinks of all this mythological action, having completed all of this lovely visual work. Such a style continues in the book’s final story, a Batman adventure in which young Robin is captured by the Joker and his goons. It’ll be impossible not to get caught up in Pope’s excellent renderings of these familiar characters, from the compact, lithe Robin to the Joker’s greasy hair and mustache stubble to Batman’s wonderfully round face and chunky, seemingly hand-made costume. But Pope also expends his captions chatting about his feelings on the characters, almost reading the story with you and commenting thereupon. It’s a fun way to execute a Batman short, and certainly the action looks gorgeous.

A more formal style is adopted for two other stories. There’s a very short autobiographical (?) piece, with first-person narration, in which a young boy (bearing a striking resemblance to the author as evidenced by his photo in the back) orders some stuff from those old novelty product ads you see in aged comics. I’d not really known how those X-ray specs worked, and now I do. The other story is a day-in-the-life piece centered around a certain bar on a certain corner in a certain city. The narration here is much more detached, even literary, and perhaps doing a little too much work in describing things we can plainly see, although it’s largely focused on filling in myriad background details on the bar’s many patrons and workers, which we cannot see through our panel view, which gives us many lovely city sights regardless.

The fifth story is a bit of a departure, at least compared to the rest of the book. I daresay that it’ll prove to be the most memorable story to many readers. It’s a narration-free high-action homage to Jack Kirby’s “OMAC”, stocked to bursting with ludicrous, over-the-top dialogue, cheeky period language (“Good gravy!”), searing, garish colors by Dave Stewart, and tons of insane action, booming sound effects, loose, wild expressions, flowing pillars of flame. It’s a 16-page blast of pure Pope action, maybe what many still know him for, and certainly not dimmed in intensity over time.

So as I’m sure you’ve sussed, I liked the book a lot. It’s easily my favorite issue of this title, though since I’ve liked Pope’s work a lot before this I suppose such a result was all but pre-ordained. Well, not really. Pope could have screwed up, or phoned it in, and he hasn’t. He remains a fascinating creator of formidable skill, and if his production of new stories is a shade intermittent, he never seems to be wasting his down-time, as evidenced by the fine work on display here, and it's varied work too. This is a great sampler of Pope's many talents, and a fun read on its own. If you don't know much about Paul Pope, go check this out!