Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #1 (of 2)
by Howard Chaykin with Michelle Madsen

(I can't be the only person who saw this book in the store and accidentally read that credit as Michael Madsen, can I? My initial thought was, wow, this book couldn't be any more manly if it tried.)

Just in case anyone thinks I had it in for Chaykin after my Hawkgirl post the other day, I thought I'd take a moment to point out that I took a special trip to the store to get his new Guy Gardner book. There's a sentence I didn't ever see myself typing: I can't even remember the last time I bought a Green Lantern book, let alone a book with Guy Gardner in it. Probably one of those Giffen / DeMatteis "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League" books or something.

Anyway, the character couldn't be a better fit for the creator. Although he is perhaps best known for his creator-owned work, Chaykin is one of a surprisingly prestigious group of creators (Dave Gibbons is another) who retains a fondness for the Green Lantern franchise. Guy Gardner may be pretty much the definition of a B- or even C-list character, the kind of hero with a definite fanbase but no real commercial presence, an established brand that nonetheless presents a slew of opportunities for a distinctive creator like Chaykin, the kind of opportunities that simply would not be on the table for a larger character.

I was surprised by how closely Chaykin tied this book to DC continuity. Sure, there's no real specific timetable, but it is technically a tie-in to last year's Rann / Thanagar War. Also, Guy's Vuldarian origin is a major plot point: this is the kind of niggling continuity wrinkle that you would easily expect a brand-name creator like Chaykin to ignore, and yet he places it front and center as a motivation for the main villains. (Does guy still have those weird "Warrior" powers, or did he lose them when he got his ring back? And whatever happened to the yellow ring he was using for a few years?)

In any event, Collateral Damage allows Chaykin the opportunity to remold Guy in his own image, or, rather, the image of one his stock characters -- the not-so-lovable cad, the abrasive rake. Usually the idea of the "ladies man" is played for laughs in superhero comics (as we see in much of Guy's history), because most superhero books simply don't have the vocabulary to deal with this character type in a realistic-seeming manner. Chaykin presents Guy in a far less comedic context. Here, Guy is that dude we all know, the total asshole who acts like a lecherous creep and practically abuses every woman he meets and yet somehow gets laid a lot more than you or I -- basically, this is who we all sort of knew Guy was along along (if we cared to think about it), but never really saw because of the restrictions of the Comics Code. This slight reinvention of Guy fits Chaykin's customary brusque tone like a glove.

Although he's obviously got a fondness for the genre, I don't really know how well-suited Chaykin's style is for space opera. Chaykin's style is always notable for the attention payed to bold layouts, with prominent figures placed against semi-realistic backdrops. Chaykin's characters usually look bigger than those of just about any artist -- he has a way of placing the human figure front and center in just such a way as to make even the least interesting set-ups seem dynamic. Perhaps as such it is less suited for showing the context of vast expanses of interstellar space?

In any event, this book seems far more suited to Chaykin's style than most of his recent work-for-hire exercises. It probably has something to do with the fact that this is the first book out of his recent prolific patch that he's written as well as drawn, the first to my recollection* since Vertigo's Mighty Love OGN. The methodical precision with which Chaykin lays out every element of the story, building an accumulation of events in such a way that the plot builds itself almost imperceptibly, is simply a joy to behold, the kind of patient craftsmanship that you don't often see in the realms of mainstream comics. (He has, however, developed an odd tendency to draw his women with lantern jaws, hardly an attractive feature in a femme fatale.)

The only question I have is, who the heck would ever seek out Guy Gardner to negotiate a cease-fire? I have to believe there is a reason why they would pick the least peaceable super-hero in the universe (besides Lobo) to sit down for treaty talks. Chaykin's not stupid enough to put an element like this in there without examining the logical implications -- five'll get you ten there's a sharp twist somewhere in the second issue relating to just that. Guy is too much of a consummate egotist to see the incongruity, but to anyone else paying attention it can't help but seem like a weird plot point.

*Although I am reminded in the comments that he did indeed releases a Challengers of the Unknown mini last year, which I don't think I ever read.

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