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

16 November 2012

The Helm, v. 1

Collects: The Helm #1-4 (2008)

Released: April 2009 (Dark Horse)

Format: 104 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781595822611

What is this?: A young loser, going nowhere in life, finds an artifact that gives him magical powers … but the artifact isn’t very fond of him.

The culprits: Writer Jim Hardison and artist Bart Sears

I did not know The Helm existed until I spotted it on a library shelf. But I thought the concept — a loser is chosen to possess a magical, intelligent helm, which hates him — might be amusing, so I gave it a shot.

First off: do not be afraid of this book because it has art by Bart Sears. His work on The Helm is nothing like the freakish drawings he contributed to Captain America and the Falcon, v. 1: Two Americas. Whether Sears has improved or his inker (Randy Elliott) has exerted more influence, I do not know. But the art is much improved, and it communicates the major story beats. It gets across that the hero, Matt Blurdy, is a tubby klutz with a soul patch. The action scenes are simply choreographed — so simple there is actually no choreography — leaving little room for confusion.

 coverSo far, so good.

Writer Jim Hardison has the difficult task of showing Matt is a loser without making him so contemptible or pathetic the reader dislikes him. In #1, Hardison looks like he’s going too far; within the first two pages, Matt is reduced to a blubbering wreck by his girlfriend breaking up with him (and enumerating good reasons to do so as she does) and being fired from his job as a video-store clerk. He then encounters the Helm, stealing it from a garage sale and speeding away on his moped. After that, the Helm takes up the litany of Matt’s shortcomings.

Watching Matt, it’s hard to deny he’s a bit pathetic. It’s not his weight, lack of career, or fantasy / sci-fi hobbies that make him so pitiable. Rather, he is a loser, in a literal sense; until halfway through the book, we never see him succeed or take joy in anything but what he does with the Helm, and most of his adventures with the Helm turn out badly. It’s obviously not Matt who makes himself likeable; he’s slovenly, he lives in his mother’s basement, and his dialogue is alternately whining and grandiose. Footnotes in the sand: 67 Oddly, the Helm’s haranguing makes Matt sympathetic. However out of shape and unprepared he is, the reader sees the Helm as being unreasonable about the situation. Matt may be fat and incompetent with a sword, but he’s obviously trying and strangely successful.

The Helm, although a bully, is the highlight of this book. His insults are frequently funny, even if it’s only because they contain outdated words (“ninnyhammer,” “addlepate,” “slubberdegullion”). The helm crowned a long line of heroic champions and has been out of circulation for a while, so it is out of date with modern mores and culture. Hardison exploits this, having the Helm warn a scream queen about the villain during a horror movie, ask why the castaways didn’t kill Gilligan (“I would kill Gilligan”), and calling Matt’s ex, Jill, all sorts of outdated names for a woman who engages in extra-marital sex (causing Matt to defend her by saying, “Jill’s not actually that big a strumpet”). The humor is the best part of the book, and the limited series’ four-issue run means it doesn’t get stretched too thin.

The same goes for the plot, fortunately. It’s a by-the-numbers evil-is-rising, must-prepare story, and four issues is all it could support. Some details distinguish The Helm from similar plots, but the story contains nothing too surprising. Halfway through, readers will probably be able to guess how the story will end.

Jill is a bit of a problem for readers. As female leads often are, she is a status symbol rather than a character, a goal rather than someone who makes her own choices. Jill had good reasons for dropping Matt, but after he starts jogging and trying to eat better, she is all over him again. Of course when he becomes secretly cool, she totally wants to sex him. That’s just how stories like these work. The story suggests that it’s not only Matt’s self-improvement but also his new assertiveness that reawakens her attraction, but that assertiveness is mainly expressed through insulting miscommunication: he’s backtalking the Helm, and she thinks he’s telling her to shut up, stop, or go away. Jill’s attraction to Matt’s verbal abuse and aloofness is troubling. She could do so much better than Matt, even after he becomes a mystic warrior. I don’t want to overanalyze something ingrained into popular culture and used in a book that doesn’t take itself seriously, but Jill’s decisions upset some readers.

Still, The Helm was surprisingly amusing. I don’t think it could support a sequel, but by itself, it was enjoyable.

Rating: Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol Half Dark Horse symbol (3.5 of 5)

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Blogger Jim Hardison said...

Hey, Raoul! Thanks for the review and the kind words about the Helm. Your points about Jill (and everything else) are fair. Glad you found it amusing.

10:54 PM  

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