Image Comics’ Adventureman #2, written by Matt Fraction, with pencils and colors by Terry Dodson, inks by Rachel Dodson and letters by Clayton Cowles, is a love letter to old superhero stories. But it’s also a love letter to everyday life. It invites us deeper into a world and a history that these characters already know well. Claire, a single mom who lives in New York and owns a bookstore, delves deeper into the city’s history. And she begins to wonder if the pulp-action stories she reads with her son at bedtime are more than stories. We are brilliantly left in the dark, yet every new detail that comes to light already feels familiar.
Fraction overloads these pages with captions, based off of Claire’s inner monologue. For any other comic, this would be a simple info dump. But Fraction balances humor and exposition tactfully, making the whole thing work. In captions, we get to see what Claire is thinking she should be saying. The humor comes from the fact that she rarely listens to her own inner monologue. She plays everything close to the chest, living in her own world, even though we know she feels she should share more. But her self-awareness is more than just funny. It gives us a trust in the character, shows us she knows the difference between a dumb and a smart move. Even if she tends to opt for the dumb one. It makes her likable, and so human.
Rachel and Terry Dodson create a world in this issue. I mean, of course they do. That’s what a comic book is. But their real world base of New York City, with an added fantastical filter, is full of life. The issue opens with a few pages set in some kind of mythical purgatory. Filled with tentacles, skulls, and bugs, the Dodsons somehow make it look beautiful. Terrifying, but beautiful. And only a page later, they’re showing kids playing basketball, and buses pulling up to schools. Though we’re now focused on the mundane, it doesn’t stop feeling fantastical. The panels and framing make every page feel fun and playful. And a simple page of Claire on her scooter looks as cool and fun as any superhero flying through the air. The Dodsons don’t “talk down” to normal life. They make it seem just as fun and majestic as fighting monsters.
In the same way that the art doesn’t talk down to normal life, Terry Dodson’s colors actually celebrate it. In fact, it’s the “super” scenes that Dodson gives a washed out color palette. Scenes of family dinners around the table are beautifully colored. Warm, inviting colors characterize these scenes. Whenever Claire finds herself tangled up in the mystery of long lost superheroes, the pages become monochromatic. While this shows us that a normal day in NYC is just as adventurous as any day with Adventureman, it also reminds us the heroes are gone. They are a thing of the past. The washed out colors look like faded photographs. We’ll have to wait and see if the colors warm back up if the heroes ever make a comeback.
Cowles is not the man you hire if you just want to get the job done. He’s not going to slap a few letters up there so the characters are all saying what you told them to. Cowles is going to have fun with it. This issue is no exception. First, Baron Bizarre’s lines all get special treatment. Every word balloon is framed in tiny moth-like shapes. It’s as if the words sound like they’re rotting. And later, as Claire and Tommy discuss the book they’ve found, the lettering switches back and forth based on whether they’re reading. The lines that are read look like they’ve been typed, not handwritten. All Cowles needed to do was put quotation marks around these lines, which he did, but adding a change of lettering just looks so great. Cowles adds this little extra step just to make it fun.
Image Comics’ Adventureman is going to be a blast. The owner of a bookstore in NYC, finding out a book she found was written by who she thought were fictional superheroes. I mean, what’s not to love? This series has already hit its stride. Fraction, Dodson, Dodson and Cowles are a great team producing brilliant work. Pick up Adventureman #2, out from Image Comics on July 8th!