Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: 'Mudman' by Paul Grist

Note: This review covers Mudman issues 1 and 2.

Comic books have fallen into two unfortunate stereotypes over the decades.  One dictates that they are only for superheroes.  Keep in mind that superheroes aren't intrinsically bad; I love them, and box office records show that the general public does, too.  But it would be like it all novels were mystery thrillers, or all films were buddy comedies: it doesn't do justice to the medium and the possibilities it allows.  When you think that comic books used to be full of Westerns, horror, romances, and the like, it makes it all the more depressing that they're so intrinsically tied to a single genre.  However, it's equally important to remember that superheroes aren't only DC and Marvel.  Others don't have the clout of Batman or Superman, but every once in a while you get a book that stands out and makes you think it might have the legs to really go places.  Paul Grist's Mudman is one of those books.

Mudman and alter ego Owen Craig are very much the Spider-man/Peter Parker for a new age.  Average teen gains powers from a mysterious accident and gets into trouble while learning to control his abilities (and eventually puts on some tights).  It's not necessarily groundbreaking, but Grist puts so much charm into the book that you can't help but be drawn in.  This isn't just about Mudman; most of the character work comes from Owen as well, and we are instantly introduced to his world and supporting cast.  It's a great way to build a foundation and get the reader invested in the character early on.

Grist also does the artwork for Mudman (minus the coloring).  If you're familiar with his other work, such as Jack Staff, you'll recognize the style.  It works exceptionally well with a book called Mudman that certainly won't be afraid to get down and dirty.  It's just rough enough and unrefined enough to match the tone of the book perfectly while still being detailed and kinetic.  Bill Crabtree's colors work well too, being moody or bright as the scene dictates.  I could go into a lot more - Grist's forewords, the extra sketches/designs included, letters pages, and more - but I'll just leave it saying that overall, it's a great package.

Now to that second stereotype: somewhere along the line it was decided that comic books needed to be dark and grim and violent.  To be taken seriously was of primary importance.  We've certainly had exceptions along the way and, again, there isn't anything particularly wrong with having these things in a comic book.  But when it's the rule, so much so that you can't give a random issue to a child without proofing it like you could with, say, early Spider-man comics, it becomes tiresome, and when it supersedes telling a story it simply becomes a shame.  Mudman doesn't put up with any pretenses and doesn't add "adult" elements.  It doesn't need them.  It's fun.  It tells a good story with good characters and doesn't get caught up in how it will be perceived.  It's funny and action-packed and captivating and accessible and is exactly what it needs to be - which also happens to be what the comic book industry needs.

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