Happy Trails: Last month, writer-artist Matt Kindt unveiled his latest uber meta, highly cerebral comic creation. (I assume his brain is what would happen if a comic shop and Disneyland melted together in the 4th dimension). BANG! is basically a celebration and dissection of modern fictional archetypes, from bad-ass action flicks to sexy spy thrillers and beyond.
More specifically, it’s about presenting these characters with their status as fictional beings, and then watching the carnage (and MFA-level literary theory) unfold. From page one, I expressed doubts that such a long-standing trope (the Stranger Than Fiction Device) could possibly elicit more insight into fiction and comics in general — even as I deemed issue #1 exciting enough. But rather than address those concerns, issue #2 doubles down on the high-octane action.
I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia: In issue #1, we met Thomas Cord, Kindt’s stylish take on James Bond, who then got to meet his actual creator, author (and Kindt stand-in) Philip Verve. Rather than explore that field of metatextual landmines, issue #2 shifts the focus to John Shaw, or Verve’s spin on the John McClane archetype (with a dash of Jason Bourne). We follow as Shaw (who also uses inhalers to gain “superpowers”) thwarts an attempt by Goldmaze, this universe’s diabolical terrorist organization, to blow up a city. Cord shows up afterward, reveals he read this entire story in a two-year-old book, and thus Shaw is recruited into whatever super meta plan will unfold across the rest of the book.
I could complain about not giving Cord time to process his fictional status, but I’m sure that conversation will happen down the road (and if it doesn’t, the book will have basically failed). Still, there’s actually some real genius into leaping forward with issue #2.
A Monkey In The Wrench: On the one hand, more action, especially given the doubly heady nature of this series, is a great way to maintain momentum and prevent people from feeling bogged down with the larger analytical framework. However, Shaw’s story is also a great way to achieve this analysis in a way that similarly isn’t bogged down with inorganic conversations, which is basically what happened by the end of issue #1. If you’re going to make people question fictional archetypes, speed and momentum are key, and issue #2 has a lot of great, efficient moments (the early convo with the train passengers, the stuff with the super inhalants) that explores these ideas without sacrificing the action.
And, really, the larger success of this book will ultimately depend on how effectively Kindt can wave his car keys in our face. The more he gives us awesome, super shiny action, the more he inevitably does to dazzle readers into questioning some long-held assumptions and feelings about popular fiction and its kick-ass heroes. Shaw, in particular, is a prime great selection, and there were several instances where I found myself wanting a proper series featuring this rough and tumble fella. It’s in those moments where Kindt is truly in our head, and my resulting snap back to the story (and reality) facilitated a lot of internal evaluation about the very nature of fiction and its larger impact. If there’s any flaw with Shaw’s intro, it may not be as effective as we unveil subsequent good guys.
Christmas In Japan: As effective as Kindt’s writing and use of literary devices proved to be, you’ve got to give heaps of credit to artist Wilfredo Torres and colorist Nayoung Kim. Torres’ art, especially, is really perfect, and it feels more manic and less refined to fully reflect the everyman, highly chaotic qualities of Shaw — compared to the more thoughtful and deliberate aesthetic for Cord in issue #1. Either way, Kim’s colors seal the deal, and they provide a dash of excitement bordering on the glamorous that’s essential for most action-heavy offerings.
There are also some really great fight scenes in this issue, especially between Shaw and one of the mid-management goons from Goldmaze, that helped further instill some of that “Oh gosh, this is supes cool” vibe (and thus played with our sensibilities). The artwork also fosters a lot of the humor and deliberate sense of cheesiness throughout, and that wink of awareness only makes the world they’re building occupy the proper mid-ground between the fictional and the very real. That way, when we see holes in the narrative, or we grasp this story for what it actually is, things feel all the more provocative and confounding (in the best possible way).
“You’re Very Perceptive”: I feel far more hopeful for this series following issue #2. Do I still think there are some problems down the line? Sure. Especially because, as this story builds up and more ideas and characters are thrown into the mix, things could become complicated to the point of overwhelming readers. It may also be that issue #2 excelled only because it feels like a momentary lapse in the larger narrative (even as it helps said narrative achieve some of its primary objectives).
However, given Kindt’s track record, I’ll happily read along, and try to maintain added patience as the many layers of this series stratify toward its end goal. Is that final target likely to mess with our heads and question the creative properties that raised us? Sure, but Kindt could totally make that dropkick to the cerebellum feel amazing.
End Credits: John Shaw needs a catchphrase a la John McClane. Might I suggest “Yippee-ki-yay, melon farmer!”