Less Than Heroes

By David Yurkovich
152 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

When I was first planning on writing this review, it was going to be a bit of a strange review. I hadn’t read the first half of Less Than Heroes, which collects four comic books by David Yurkovich. I’d only read the second two-issue story in the volume… but based on that and the other works by Yurkovich that I’ve read, I was still more than ready to whole-heartedly recommend that you buy this book. Quite frankly, I’d told myself, even if the first half of the book was blank you’d still be ahead. But then Top Shelf sent me a preview of the entire book, and I got to read the first half of the book… and you know, it’s just as good.

Threshold is a four-person superhero team, the protectors of Philadelphia. Only of course, things are never that simple. Meridian’s powers are a little unpredictable. Cosmopolitan’s magic spells are not quite as effective as one would hope. Mr. Malevolence, despite his strength powers, is actually much more of a surfer dude. And Recoil… well, Recoil’s doing a pretty good job of hiding the fact that he doesn’t have any powers at all. Of course, that’s before people like Root Canal, the Lightning Man, or the Stamp Collector come to town.

What’s always drawn me into Yurkovich’s comics, be it the dark and unsettling world of The Broccoli Agenda or the lighter and crazier The S.H.o.P. is how no matter what the idea, Yurkovich always treats it with great seriousness. So having a person named the Stamp Collector whose album pushes people into different stamps? It’s not done as a joke or a strange punchline. The ideas are absolutely crazy, but the execution is handled with respect. It’s this dichotomy that sums up the contents of Less Than Heroes, collecting Yurkovich’s Threshold: 18th and Market Street #1-2 (the mini-series I hadn’t read until just this week) and Threshold: The Stamp Collector #1-2 (the issues I’d gotten my hands on). Every issue of Threshold I’ve read (in addition to those two mini-series, there was a brief three-issue ongoing series as well, plus The S.H.o.P. one-shot) has always made me laugh with glee as well as turn the page with great anticipation, dying to see what’s going to happen next. He really knows how to keep a reader’s attention high thanks to crazy concepts and great characters, and his dialogue will have you in fits of laughter. Trust me, you’re going to love the stories here.

And of course, I haven’t even touched on the art yet. Yurkovich is one of the few artists out there who seems to really understand the power of eight and nine-panel grids. It’s always surprising to me how much Yurkovich can do with what seems, at a glance, like a very simple panel layout. He’s one to always format the pages in such a way that your eye follows the action from one panel to the next, instinctively focusing in on the action so that there’s never any question of what’s going on even as he’s able to keep the pace moving by never needing to linger too long in an action. There’s no need for gigantic full-page spreads every time there’s a dramatic moment; Yurkovich can put it into a single panel and keep moving while still maintaining that emotional punch to the stomach. I really like when Yurkovich lets himself play with the page layouts as well. In part of The Stamp Collector, for instance, he balances the action inside the stamp album with that in Philadelphia by having the top and bottom rows of panels literally be rows of stamps, with the characters moving through their scalloped edged world. Meanwhile, the two middle rows are the real world as people try and deal with the situation that’s unfolding before them. It sounds like it’s a simple solution, but Yurkovich really makes it work. The art flows so that the transitions are perfectly natural, and as someone who’s had to try and storyboard things in the past, I’ve got great respect for how well Yurkovich does it. Quite frankly, a lot of artists could learn from Yurkovich’s eye for movement and perspective.

Now, I’m going to tell you right now to pre-order Less Than Heroes. Mostly because you’re going to absolutely love it. Partially because I really want to see more Yurkovich trade paperbacks down the line. (A second volume collecting Threshold #1-3 and The S.H.o.P., for instance, and a third volume containing all three Death by Chocolate comics plus the related The Broccoli Agenda would both be prized possessions on my bookshelf. But I digress.) But it’s also because last July I told Chris Staros that a Less Than Heroes trade paperback would sell tons and tons of copies, even more than Blankets. Then Blankets went and sold something like nineteen million copies and it’s going to be just a tiny bit harder to beat that sales record. So now I’m afraid that if somehow Less Than Heroes doesn’t outsell Blankets that Staros is going to drive up here from Atlanta and beat me to death with a printer’s invoice. So I’m going to tell you one more time: Less Than Heroes is the best book you’ve never read. So read it, all right? You’ll be writing me letters of thanks, and Staros won’t have to paper-cut me to death. Everyone wins. Less Than Heroes is in the current Previews for books shipping in June 2004, and is on page 336 with the rest of Top Shelf Productions’s books. Or, alternately, let your retailer know to use order code APR04 2942. Buy this book.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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