Jack Staff #14-17

By Paul Grist
28 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

When I first read Paul Grist’s Jack Staff, I’ll freely admit that it was hard for me to see past its origins as an idea for a Union Jack comic. That was a while ago, though, and I’m glad that not only did I continue to stick with reading the book, but that Grist continued with it as well. It’s a strange, offbeat super-hero comic that isn’t really quite like anything else on the market.

Zipper Nolan’s childhood fantasy friends are starting to re-appear, but they can only be seen by him. Mr. Punch has jumped off the television screens and is starting to rob banks for real. A vampiric prophecy is starting to come to life, drawing Becky Burdock, Vampire Reporter, into its grasp. And Jack Staff’s just been videotaped robbing a store, and is now being hunted by the police. Just another average, ordinary day in the world of Jack Staff.

In many ways I see Jack Staff as a prime example of the similarities between storytelling in super-hero comics and soap operas. Jack Staff juggles numerous storylines and characters at any given moment, weaving back and forth from one scene to the next. Sometimes storylines collide and merge, other times they continue to operate independently of each other. Most importantly, though, is that Grist never seems to lose track of them. Sure, there are some characters that won’t appear for issues at a time, but just like any given episode of a soap opera, Grist isn’t afraid to leave a character out every now and then so that other stories can advance. With his characters, it’s also fun to see just what he’s come up with next. They’re a strange mixture of classic characters from British stories as well as comics, plus brand-new inventions. I’ve always appreciated that while I’ve certainly never caught every single reference, I’ve never felt left out or like I was missing something important.

Grist also isn’t afraid to switch up moods and styles in Jack Staff, which is another part of its appeal. Sometimes stories are aiming towards specific jokes, or go all the way into thoroughly silly. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I love a bit of fun in my stories. At the same time, Grist is also good at heading in the other direction. In the latest issue, his scene with Betsy being offered a deal from the Shadow is really creepy and unsettling to read, reminding me of Grant Morrison’s Dorothy Spinner and the Candlemaker scenes from Doom Patrol in terms of a moment in a fictional story that really makes the reader shiver. It’s never knowing what we’re going to get next out of Jack Staff that keeps it being so enjoyable.

Grist’s iconic art is a real joy, in no small part because of his presentation of the comic. When characters appear each issue, they get an old-school introduction complete with logo and narrative mention. From “I’m Becky Burdock, Vampire Reporter” (complete with a typewriter-inspired look) to the childish “Zipper and his Gang”, each one looks well thought-out and classy, plus a little spark of fun and excitement for the reader. The characters themselves are designed similarly, very straightforward lines and colors that evoke an earlier time. Their looks are very classical, but at the same time still feel modern if that makes sense. It’s hard to not be amused by the Butler, in a traditional suit but also wearing a domino mask, or the Druid’s ever present flowing cape and starscape radiating behind him. Add in that the fight scenes flow smoothly and efficiently across the page (and it’s never truly a Grist comic until something shatters and Grist draws all the little pieces falling through the panel) and it’s a handsome comic.

It’s been nice to see Jack Staff increase its frequency of publication lately, because it’s a really fun comic that deserves to be read by more people. It’s the sort of book where if asked to recommend a current super-hero books to someone not normally interested in the genre, this would be high on the list. It’s just well constructed and told, through and through. By the time I’m done reading an issue, it just makes me want to re-read the three collections of Jack Staff published to date. Good stuff.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com
Purchase Links (Vol. 3): Amazon.com

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