Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 March 2010

G-Man, v. 1: Learning to Fly

Collects: G-Man #1, Image Holiday Special 2005, and various “Comic Bits” comics from Savage Dragon (2004-5 and whenever those Comic Bits came out)

Released: June 2009 (Image)

Format: 96 pages / color digest / $9.99 / ISBN: 9781607060871

What is this?: G-Man, a grade-school hero, written and drawn in the style of Mini-Marvels.

The culprits: Chris Giarrusso

Go buy G-Man, v. 1: Learning to Fly.

Usually I go through the song and dance of considering the writing of a book, deciding if the positives outweigh the negatives, and then add my opinion of the art. I’m going to dispense with that this time: You need to read this book. If you can’t buy it, borrow it from someone who has it.

G-Man, v. 1: Learning to Fly coverLearning to Fly resembles writer / artist Chris Giarrusso’s best-known work, Mini-Marvels. However, instead of using child-sized versions of Marvel’s iconic heroes, Giarrusso creates his own characters and settings. In many ways, this frees Giarrusso from the expectations and constraints of even a scaled-down version of the Marvel Universe. G-Man is just a normal kid who can fly. He has to deal with a bully of a brother, playground bullies, school, and the normal disappointments and problems of childhood. He has friends, such as Billy Dragon and Sparks, and an acquaintance, Skullboy, whom G-Man doesn’t realize is evil. Just as G-Man gives Giarrusso a chance to explore childhood, it also allows him to invoke more comics tropes, including one singularly DC one.

On the other hand, moving from the Marvel Universe takes away some of the comfortable background Mini-Marvels worked against. There was no need, in Mini-Marvels, to explain the Hulk or Wolverine; fans were already familiar with the facets of their quirky characters. That lack of inherent weirdness deprives Giarrusso of some of his humor even as it opens up other avenues. I think it’s part of why there’s no standout character like the Hulk in Learning to Fly: it’s very difficult to set up a character whose outlook is so scene-stealingly different from the other characters in the very short scenes Giarrusso has available.

Most of the stories are one- or two-page gags that originally appeared in Savage Dragon’s “Comic Bits” (think Marvel’s “Bullpen Bits,” only expanded). Impressively, this short format doesn’t prevent Giarrusso from weaving together continuing stories while keeping up the jokes. Other features include “Mean Brother / Idiot Brother,” in which G-Man and his brother tell stories about the same events, highlighting the other’s shortcomings, and crossovers with Jacob Chabot’s Mighty Skullboy Army. The former are throwaway jokes, and the latter feel different than Giarrusso’s normal humor — not necessarily less funny, just different.

Giarrusso’s absurdist sense of humor shines through in all of these, but especially on the longer features from G-Man #1, which shows the character’s “secret” origin, and a Christmas story from Image Holiday Special 2005. His supporting characters’ viewpoints allow no alteration by those around them, leaving G-Man to despair over their lack of logic. Giarrusso’s setups are often bizarre (the sentient Christmas tree is the best). I have a hard time figuring out whether Giarrusso or Michael Kupperman is funnier; I enjoy Giarrusso’s gentler humor more, but I can’t say who is makes me laugh harder.

Giarrusso’s art style is deceptively simple, but it makes me laugh. It’s very reminiscent of the simpler comic-strips’ art — you can still occasionally see the influence of Charles Schulz in a panel or three — but it’s rarely overexpressive. You’re never in doubt of people’s emotions or what’s happening in the story, and the backgrounds are often filled with jokes I didn’t pick up on until the second time around.

The only thing holding Learning to Fly back from a perfect rating is the price: $9.99 for a 96-page digest is a little higher than I think it should be, although I realize there are minimums when it comes to publishing. That being said, the price is only a drawback when you’re looking at the price per number of pages. When you look at the amount of enjoyment you get for the money — well, it’s a bargain.

So go ahead and buy it already.

Rating: G-Man symbol G-Man symbol G-Man symbol G-Man symbol Half G-Man symbol (4.5 of 5)

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