Frontiersman has beef. Beef with environmental politics, beef with fad activism, potential beef with academia, and, if one is to take Patrick Kindlon’s quasi-incendiary, lofty screed at the back of the book into consideration, beef with the state of mainstream superhero fiction.
The “start your own superhero universe” thing, however, is a high ambition, and one which shouldn’t be taken lightly — the idea of building a universe with all the organic, natural connections that have been made over the decades by the Big Two (both of which Kindlon seems unimpressed with) on the strength of your own whims speaks of confidence that, within one issue, can neither be confirmed nor denied.
Luckily, Frontiersman seems more interested in starting small and intimate, and the titular Frontiersman is a character with charm and a sense of humor. What’s more, it puts a noble (if perhaps generic) goal in front of him — simple environmental advocacy, instead of the general ‘old hero returns’ trope of, say, beating up poor people or starting a superhero super war.
The elements of an implied, lived-in super-world aren’t as in your face as some attempts at the task have made of it. The book’s insistence of a close up of a single character to start with — establishing his cabin in the woods, his over-the-phone banter, his current way of life rather than shoehorning in as many references to past events and characters we haven’t met yet — is a smart, pleasant place to begin.
While the book does give us some hinting at that larger universe by way of flashbacks and introducing other once-heroic characters for the Frontiersman to interact with, it’s done so that the reader is teased with the excitement of the larger world. Rather than ham-fistedly introducing this universe’s Superman analog or Justice League Variation, the book gives only the barest whiff of that world to hook the reader. The team understands that the peeks around the corners of the universe at portions of the world we won’t be delving into are often the most rewarding aspects of new universe/alternate universe superhero books — it’s the implication, not the provision, that is most rewarding.
The issue’s primary plot isn’t exactly action-packed — most of the super-heroics are restrained by those flashbacks, but that’s part of the book’s subtle charm. By grounding us in the Frontiersman’s mental space as he grapples with whether or not to get involved in the sort of activism where he might be of help, we’re promised a more thoughtful approach to the genre, where emotional weight and sense of purpose guide the story over cliched punch-ups.
The hyper-kinetic artwork of Marcos Ferrari further supplements the book’s lack of big action numbers, jamming so much energy into every shot of the Frontiersman in action that the book feels charged with it, despite spending every page locked in dialogue. The coloring mixes modern tones and techniques with an occasional Ben-Day dot overlay as a way of instilling a sense of comic-book-ness to the whole thing, one aspect grounding us in the reality of the story’s concerns and the other anchoring us in tradition.
Grounded, energetic, and ambitious, Frontiersman is an easy recommendation to make. The character seems unique in his concept and is, with only an issue under his belt, an endearing old curmudgeon I’d like to get to know; the implied politics of the book seem pointed in the right direction. And while there’s a sort of unsavory swagger to the aforementioned letter from Kindlon at the back, it’s a swagger that hasn’t proven itself unfounded. I’d like to see how this universe works, I want to know if Frontiersman’s new crusade comes to fruition.
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