Authorial superheroes — Jack Staff
As with almost all other comics, the best superhero comics are those outside the mainstream.
The superhero remains one of the best genres created by the comic book medium because its stories demand a constant extensions and exhaustion of the comic book language (as opposed to drama) and without being able to adopt the idioms of other mediums (as it happens with science fiction or crime fiction) there is no recourse but invention. While it has grown to be without vigor and courage, precisely because mainstream superhero comics have adopted filmic surrogate techniques, unwelcomed on the page, there still are those appreciating the possibilities.
With its last appearance in 2008, Paul Grist’s Jack Staff might be a bit old by now, but it still deserves recognition as one of the best superhero comics since the beginning of the century. It comes with outlandish concepts ranging from the expected, such as people missing decades by being frozen in ice to the deliciously outlandish in the form of fifth dimensional blobs feeding on time. It embraces the usual tropes and conventions plaguing genre fiction, but managing to make a delight out of every misunderstanding and twist ending.
But at the same time it is tremendously inventive playing with the meta-fictional and social elements other British writers built their name on, beating them at their own game, even poking fun at them, only with a much lighter touch, acknowledging the need for a strong foundation in storytelling (graphical and literary) and excelling at it. Grist’s blocky characters even if only minimally constructed and rendered at first just in harsh shadows then in flat colors have weight and expression, exuding personality and history. In his hands the comics language, page design, sequence, lettering become malleable, when precise moments where convention is slightly nudged seem to become the best choice Grist could have made.
Smart and rather than wanting to prove it expecting in turn intelligence from the reader, Paul Grist’s Jack Staff remains one of the best examples of what genre comics should be and what comics in general could be.
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