Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Atlas Comics' the Scorpion #1.

Atlas Comics, The Scorpion #1, Howard Chaykin
I've always had mixed feelings about men of mystery. On the one hand, like anyone else, I’ve always quite fancied being one. That’s why I refuse to tell criminals my favourite colour, knowing that such enigma will unsettle them, leaving them easy prey for my hands of death.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t actually want a conversation with one. There you are, in the pub, and you ask one, “Who do you think’ll win the game tonight?” to which he replies, “The Shadow knows,” to which you reply, “And would the Shadow like to tell me?” to which he replies, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha!” Let’s face it, you’d be better off speaking to your beer mat.

This refusal to tell you the results of football matches is one of the many reasons men of mystery make less than easy-to-relate-to comic book characters and means that, to be entertaining, they have to work extra hard for their money.

Fortunately, for a man of mystery, Howard Chaykin’s Scorpion isn’t too clever at staying mysterious. Everyone in issue #1 seems to know who he is, what he does, where to find him and how much he’ll charge. The only mystery seems to be that he’s a bit older than he should be and, if panel two of the splash page is anything to go by, he somehow managed to make make a living as a John Cleese lookalike before John Cleese was even born.

The story’s this. It’s the 1930s. Someone’s shooting down planes with a sonic cannon. The owner of the targeted airline hires the Scorpion to stop them. After a few obstacles that prove no match for our firm-jawed hero, that’s exactly what he - aided by his lovely assistant - Ruby does.

I’m on slightly rocky ground here because I know The Scorpion’s one of Atlas Comics’ more highly regarded titles but I can’t deny that, when I was a kid, it was, along with Police Action, the only Atlas comic I never felt any desire to read issue #2 of.

I think, in the end, it comes down to competence.

You see the The Scorpion’s a very competent comic. It’s solidly written. It’s nicely drawn. It has a certain style. It’s very nicely lettered. It insults no one’s intelligence. The trouble is I’m not sure that’s enough. It all feels like a good solid pastiche without ever feeling inspired. It also doesn’t help that, as a character, the Scorpion’s pretty much a blank sheet. His assistant Ruby actually captures your interest more than he does.

In the end, you can’t escape the lesson of Atlas which is that competence is actually less compelling than incompetence.

Of course, genius is better than both but, however stylishly The Scorpion may have been executed, it’s certainly not that.


Kid said...

I think I've still got my copy of SCORPION #1 - must dig it out and re-read it. Very entertaining site you've got - you should post more often.

Steve W. said...

Hi, Kid, thanks for the praise. Sadly, real life and bone idleness often conspire to make me take the odd holiday from the site but, on the plus side, it does give me the chance to recharge my critical batteries. I should be posting every day or two for the next couple of weeks at least. After that, it depends if I get my hands on any new old comics to review, as supplies are currently running a bit low.

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