Image Comics’ new series Adventureman, written by Matt Fraction with art by Terry and Rachel Dodson, colors by Terry Dodson, and letters by Clayton Cowles, pulses with life from page one. It’s a story within a story. We first follow Adventureman and his steampunk-meets-Golden-Age-comics team. They fight bad guys to save the world. But it’s not long before we learn this is actually just a story being read by our real main character, Claire. Adventureman and his fellow heroes are just a work of fiction… or are they? These characters and the world this creative team has created is enchanting. There better be a lot more where that came from.
Fraction does what he does best in this series: he gives every character a quirky, charming voice. In the opening moments, Fraction’s writing shines. The characters are each given a brief description and we see them in action soon after. Their quips are just the right amount of self-aware. It all feels like an homage/satire of golden age comics, and it all lands well. But Fraction also suffers from a typical pitfall of creating a new world. After the opening moments, we are given lots of explanation. Narration tells us a more backstory than we need. What Fraction should know, though, is that this world and these characters speak for themselves. They are already clearly full of life and need no explanation to make us gravitate towards them. Fraction’s writing is strong as long as he doesn’t second-guess himself.
The Dodson and Dodson duo help craft this new world with style. Their art style in and of itself is gorgeous. Whether they’re drawing a person or an animal, there’s a real sense of what that character is thinking. The Dodsons have a brilliant grasp of human expressions. And so, it’s interesting to see things as they are in Adventureman’s world. Everything is flashy and cool. Pages are filled with power poses and cool angles. But when we step out of that world into the “real” world, things are suddenly less polished. We get a layer of awkwardness and wry smiles that was missing in the pulpy world of superheroes. They give a charming quirkiness to the real world in this comic, and fill Adventureman’s world with a sense of drama and danger.
Similarly, Terry Dodson’s colors in Adventureman’s world have an element of “mood lighting” to them. As we open onto a looming Armageddon, we know doom is coming before we’re ever given word. The commissioner’s office is colored in blues and greys. It’s like a cloud is over each page. But when the action picks up and characters are exchanging punches and retorts, the color begins to come back in. By the time the scene comes to an explosive conclusion, the colors are bright and the scene seems lit up by fire and destruction. In the real world, however, scenes are given equal treatment. Whether Claire is sitting in the bookstore or putting a foot through a bug-man, the color palette remains the same. It becomes a great visual representation of how Claire thinks about what she reads and how she lives.
One of the coolest things that happens in this issue, happens with the lettering. We see this in the sound effects, drawn by Dodson and Dodson, and the lettering done by Cowles. The main character of the story, Claire, is deaf. Generally, this doesn’t seem to affect her much, as she has hearing aids that seem to work like a charm. But the thing is, Claire likes the quiet. Cowles takes up space with the lines of characters. It gives Claire’s scenes a sense of claustrophobia. There is noise everywhere. And at one point, as sound effects surround her, she turns her hearing aids off. Once she turns them off, the outline of the sound effects stay while the letters are gone. This tells us the noises are still happening, Claire just can’t hear them. And visually, though the sound effects and word bubbles once wrapped around her, they no longer get near her. She becomes blissfully unaware of the loud city in an island of silence.
Adventureman #1 is a brilliant start for a series. This creative team sets up two great stories that you invest in almost immediately. The characters are vibrant and full of life, and the world they live in is interesting. Adventureman #1 will be out from Image Comics on June 10th!