Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Trade Waiting - The Strange Talent of Luther Strode

Image Comics; once the punch line for tardiness and inconsistency have, in the last ten years, become one of, if not the most important comic book publishers in the United States. Where else can you find such varied creators and genres free from the shackles of editorial mandate, without having the stigma that is attached to many independent publishers? More importantly, what other publisher is willing to put out such a vast quantity of product by untested and new creators? Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, and Robert Kirkman are just three examples of creators that arguably wouldn’t be the industry superstars they are without Image putting it’s faith in them. True, there are as many misses as hits, but the publishers faith in new, boundary pushing products overshadow the times that they fail. Look at Chew. Within the publisher’s latest batch of young, hungry creators were Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore with their six issue mini series The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. Was it a hit or a miss? Find out after the jump.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Tradd Moore
Colours by Felipe Sobreiro
Published by Image Comics

What if the products sold in the back of Bronze Age era comics actually worked? This is the high concept of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, but the book is more than that. It is a comic about wish fulfilment and the subsequent ‘be careful what you wish for’ idea. It is also about one of the oldest ideas in superhero comics; ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ and how that would play out in a world where morbid normality reigns supreme.

Luther Strode is a high school kid with not a lot going for him. He is skinny and bespectacled, (not that there is anything wrong with that,) gets bullied regularly by the jocks, is in love with a girl he feels is unattainable, and has only one friend in the world, another social outcast named Pete. His home life isn’t much better, he and his mother are in hiding from an abusive husband/father, and his mother is now virtually a recluse. Despite all this, Luther is a genuine nice guy who is supportive of her and Pete. Sick of being bullied, he purchases a Charles Atlas style strongman book and begins to follow the training regime contained within. Surprisingly, and completely unlike the real world, it works. Luther quickly gains body mass, an unnerving amount of strength, and superhuman level reflexes and begins to use them for the good of himself, his loved ones, and others who are less fortunate, starting with the bully that has made his life so miserable. Unfortunately, someone else has plans for Luther beyond just being a good guy and a superhero.

Justin Jordan is relatively new to the comic world, having taken part in DC’s Zuda project and seemingly not much else. You wouldn’t know it though as Jordan paces the tale like a seasoned veteran. His dialogue is on the money, the teenagers talk like teenagers rather than what a writer thinks a teenager sounds like. Jordan has great fun subverting the Spider-Man stereotype. Sure, Luther is a geek, but he isn’t a loser. He loves and respects his mother and is fiercely protective of her, and the same can be said for his feelings towards Pete. Similarly Petra, the object of Luther’s affections is no stereotypical damsel in distress, nor is she an airhead that wouldn’t even look at Luther before he gained his talent. She likes him for who he is and, attempting to dispel the myth that has unfortunately invaded the mainstream, (see The Big Bang Theory,) is partly attracted to him because of it, not in spite of it. Maybe twenty years ago it could have been the case, but nowadays people are celebrated for having more esoteric tastes within popular culture, not shunned. Jordan, like the greats before him knows all too well that the star is only as good as his or her supporting cast and he takes great pains to make each character rounded and real. Consequently, when bad things happen to them, it feels like a gut punch. There are a couple of missteps. The insistence of the bully to continually confront Luther, knowing full well that he will get another beating didn’t really ring true, (or maybe it did; bullies are not known for being shining beacons of intelligence,) and the ending was incredibly abrupt, although that’s more than likely because the feedback was strong enough to warrant a second series. The fact that you can make an argument against these slight missteps just proves the quality of Jordan’s writing and shows he is one of the industries ones to watch for the future.

Having said all that, the real star of the show is Tradd Moore. Having a style that lies somewhere between Rob Guillory and Toby Cypress, but with a level of detail that neither have, Moore nails every panel within the comic. His ability to capture motion is stunning, as is his skill in rendering fight scenes, and both are put to great use between the covers. Not only that, his is adept at capturing various aspects of the major characters personalities; the sassy confidence of Petra, the childish wonder of Pete, and the old before his time Luther are all rendered beautifully and give the characters a sense of realism that adds to the suspension of disbelief. The level of detail involved is almost at Frank Quitely levels, with backgrounds given as much care and attention as everything else. You can actually see what the posters on Luther’s wall are rather than them just being random scrawls in the background or Photoshop effects; a nice touch that is missing in a lot of other comic books. Finally, Moore has a way with violence that appeals directly to the id part of your brain. Whether the direction was in Jordan’s script or was down to Moore’s own doing, the violence is way over the top, with Moore rendering internal organs with as much detail as when he draws anything else in the book. Honestly, you will not find violence so downright nasty this side of Garth Ennis’ Crossed, or Johnny Ryan’s sublime Prison Pit series. The violence is so much so that it was a struggle to find pictures to attach to this review that would be deemed acceptable for a nice, family friendly website such as ours. It may be hyperbolic to say so, yet in this case it is true; Tradd Moore is going to be one of the most in demand artists in the next few years and whilst it’s not a slight on the talent on the list, the fact that he isn’t up for an Eisner this year for his art is criminal.

Helping Moore with the art is colourist Felipe Sobreiro who uses a bright, consistent palette that works incredibly well with Moore’s line work. His liberal use of red deserves a particular mention, something that is essential for a book with this much violence within the pages. As is increasingly becoming the norm in Image collections there are a few pin ups from various artists at the back of the book, the highlight being frequent Hickman collaborator Nick Pitarra’s stunning page featuring the main cast.

Verdict – Buy It

Proving how good a collaboration can be when the entire choir are singing from the same hymn sheet, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is incredibly violent, funny, and at times just downright touching. Jordan and Moore have taken a concept that could be considered done to death and have made it completely new again. This is the book Kick-Ass wishes it was and if the creators continue on the path that they have made for themselves, have a long, successful career within comics ahead of them.

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Ken Boehm said...

The "Kick-Ass done right" comparison is one I've heard since the issues started coming out, and I'm looking forward to picking the trade up today.

Ivan said...

Great review! I picked up the singles via Comixology, and another thing that I believe deserves mention is that every issue comes with a very nice, very conversational prose piece by Jordan. Great stuff, makes the reader feel welcome and appreciated. I'm definitely in for the follow-up.

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