11/30/2011

Mudman #1

By Paul Grist and Bill Crabtree

I'm not sure how to feel about Paul Grist's latest project Mudman. A lot of it has to do with his art. Grist's figure drawing owes more to European cartooning traditions than to American pulp storytelling. His figures are flattened and elongated, and somewhat subdued. They're not exactly the center of attention. It's not so much that they're used to mask more highly rendered backgrounds as in Tintin, but they're subsumed to the overall design of the page layout. And Grist's pages are clean, balanced, and uncluttered. They make a virtue of clarity and precision. Technically, I don't find any fault in them. It just doesn't resonate emotionally to me. But I realize I'm clearly in the minority in this regard. Perhaps it's the quality of his line work that's making it hard to relate to the characters. It might simply be too schematic for my tastes.

The story itself is a nicely-told origin that's reminiscent of Spider-Man and other classic superheroes. It implies a larger and more complex backstory that will be gradually revealed in future chapters, like a modern-day fan discovering that the exploits of the Silver Age had some basis in reality. Even the mud-themed powers have a certain 1960's goofiness to them, although Grist injects them with ominous supernatural overtones. This gives the story a dark edge that keeps it from becoming overly nostalgic. Basically, the story revolves around Owen Craig - a rebellious teenager who expresses his boredom with the sleepy British seaside town he resides in by engaging in harmless acts of vandalism with his friend Jack Newton. Craig's a rather normal individual without a whole lot of drama in his life. He's not a geek, or an outcast. He doesn't exhibit any odd talents. He's just very average. One night he stumbles into an old, abandoned house, only to discover it's not so abandoned. He leaves somehow gaining superpowers. And he doesn't remember a whole lot about what happened to him.


If I sound a little blasé about the comic, it's also because nothing jumps out as being particularly new and original. But this is a solid work done in the genre. It's adolescent cast isn't over-the-top, objectionable or cliched. It's entirely accessible to new readers. And I will admit that the cliffhanger ending did leave me in anticipation of what's about to come. While Grist's art has yet to grow on me, those who have read and enjoyed his past works aren't going to need a whole lot of convincing to give his new series a chance.