4 out of 5
What in the heck is this.
Spyke Jones, muscle for hire, has his and his team’s services paid for by a Miss Mowry, in askance of protection for her ailing father from some business rivals. The man just wants to die in peace, dig?
Jones preps his crew and Baron and artist Bill Reinhold (with colorist Linda Lessmann and letterer Willie Schubert – a classic Badger team-up who all simply look divine together) put us through an admirable amount of training and setup montage… considering the book’s not about any of this at all. You might have caught Spyke telling his mates that Mowry’s adversaries have “off-world” ties. What? And if you’re like me, maybe you always read the backmatter of comics first and are completely puzzled by the straight fantasy tellings of ‘The Conal U’Det,’ who narrates to us about the toilet world of Squall, and how the royal families train in magiques to be able to create ‘gates’ to other worlds via murder or sex. Huh? What’s this doing here?
Flipping back to the book, and spoiling the ending of issue one, both Spyke and we readers find out when Spyke does a little killing and slips through a gate to Squall himself. Our action-adventure just went weird sci-fi.
And it’s a rush.
Baron does whirlwind world-building: Spyke learns of these different worlds and the methods for traveling through them, and pops from location to location thereafter in a brutal Quantum Leap proxy where he has to try to kill his way home. Mike and Bill give us nary a moment in each location (save Squall, which is sort of our mental training ground for the craziness to follow) but construct entire histories just off-page. Instead of this feeling like Morrison or Moore overload, it feels – in that typical Baron fashion – almost incidental, like, yeah, there’s a whole bunch of interesting stuff here but Spyke’s gotta get home. You’re caught up in the rush, thanks in no small part to Reinhold’s fantastically energized linework.
The pace is maintained literally up until the last panel. This does mean you’re left a little breathless: both the backmatter stories and the content end sort of just as they’re beginning, and there’s a bit of a conflict in the comic bits in which we (Earth) seem to be aware of extraterrestrials – which is how Spyke refers to the inhabitants of Squall – but are still blown away by the existence of these other worlds. Or maybe it’s just the gates and the magic; or maybe something else. Baron doesn’t slow down long enough to make it clear. It’s convincing writerly sleight of hand, but damn does the The End come down like a guillotine.
Note: the text piece in issue one is woefully edited. They issue a correction printing later, so don’t let it put you off. (Although the plot is so weird, you can also read it as part and parcel with the setting.)