Years ago in a steampunk world, there was an Ubermensch akin to Superman/Captain America aptly named Adventureman. With a group of sidekicks (ethnically coded in a very colonialist way), he fought fascist villains like The Baron. But during a climactic fight to stop the end of the world when all seemed lost…the story just ended. On a cliffhanger.
Turns out this story is, in a very meta fashion, a story being told by our protagonist, Claire, to her son, Tommy. But, and this is where things get confusing, it’s possible these heroes are actually real and Claire is stumbling along the continuation of the heroes’ tales.
The word that Image really wants you to pick up on is PULP. Every review from here to Timbuktu says this is PULPY, despite nobody saying what specific pulp material this seems derivative of. I on the other hand will freely admit I don’t know much at all about PULP other than classic noir films and Frank Miller’s derived work (and Heavy Metal if that counts). I bring this up because Adventureman seems less derived from sleazy paperbacks of the past than ripping off Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. Maybe Image is promoting the word PULP so much because of Ed Brubaker’s graphic novel.
I feel confident in proclaiming the allusions to PULP a sham because in the back, Matt Fraction readily admits he don’t know jack about PULP and is using Adventureman as a vague pointer to a vague idea of what PULP is: “I’m a pulp fiction dilettante and can’t claim anything more than a casual familiarity with the pulp world.” Well, I can tell, because Adventureman is no more than a surface level selection of Morrison’s over-the-top meta-narratives and Alan Moore’s retro-superhero pastiches.
The agonizingly long first thirty or so pages of this overlong first issue could be an un-ironic adventure of the original Watchmen with its retro 40s, beige-tinted, WWII-era corny superheroics. And the idea that Claire might discover or resurrect these heroes (again, it’s very vague and confusing) sounds like a meta-narrative ripped straight out of Doom Patrol.
Isn’t it strange that we’re all vaguely oohing and aahing over this purportedly PULPY comic despite the writer admitting he’s, by definition, “a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge?” Whatever happened to authenticity or research?
Matt Fraction’s whole modern career is based on taking retro media and giving it to us in breezy, tensionless doses. Sometimes, it works and can be quite charming and funny. In this case, it becomes quickly irritating when all the old-school heroes are given intentionally corny dialogue that’s just not funny or clever. Even if you find the quips amusing, the constant barrage undercuts tension, again harkening back to Fraction’s inability to treat anything seriously to the detriment of stakes.
When we transition to Claire’s story, things don’t get that much better. Other than her admitting her family tires her out at times, she’s yet another cliche, plucky heroine who doesn’t have any real flaws or dimensions in sight. Usually in adventure stories, our heroes are given some kind of special ability or knack that makes them useful when the action starts. But Claire doesn’t have any aptitude for much of anything. She operates a dusty bookstore that just happens to put her in the way of the plot.
It’s great to have a single mother with a light disability as the hero…but she’s totally uninteresting in every other regard. You could insert absolutely any character with any personality in Claire’s position and the results/impact on story would be the same. Oh, well, she kicks a bug monster. So…there’s that?
Speaking of which, even when villainous and mysterious figures start to appear in her life, Claire treats it as no more exciting than seeing a weird dude on the subway (Pre-Corona Trivia: kids, “subways” were diseased tubes that people used to pack themselves into instead of walking a block).
However, a big selling point are the interiors by Terry Dodson (pencils, colors) and Rachel Dodson (inks). As far as similar artists, I suppose one could compare them to Joelle Jones since their art has the aesthetic of glamorous retro pin-ups with thick and fluid ink lines along with art deco influence. Sometimes the art teams for books don’t match the tone or genre style, but whatever my problems with the writing, the Dodsons were the perfect choice in bringing this revisionist retro vision to life.
Unfortunately, the action that takes up most of this issue isn’t very impactful. No matter what violence character are enacting on each other, it looks weightless. Everyone appears to be posing instead of viciously interacting with each other. While Clayton Cowles lettering is quite clever throughout (especially in conveying Claire’s deafness), he could have been put more to use in elevating the action with a few more BANGs and POWs.
Adventureman really wants you to think it’s pulp, despite the writer admitting he doesn’t know much about the style. As a toothless retro pastiche, Adventureman is inoffensive and bland. But those looking for more challenging or in-depth material will have to read elsewhere.