Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Return to Fun - Northwest Passage 2

This was more or less ready yesterday but I never got around to putting it up. And for some reason I can't post pictures so this is all text.

Well day one of the week off was fantastic but I’m thinking there is almost too much soccer on each day for me to keep up my interest. I said almost. We’ll see how it goes. I may have to just keep it on in the background while I do other things when there’s games I don’t particularly care about on the telly. Then again here I am at 8 a.m. waiting for Korea to play Togo when I should be at the gym or sleeping in.

That being said, I did get to read the second volume of Northwest Passage two nights ago and finished up the Action Philosopher’s Giant Sized Thing number one yesterday. I can’t really add much more praise to Action Philosophers than what you’ve no doubt read everywhere else on the comic book interblog. It really is good. I was doubtful since I had to buy a few of those Philosopher for Beginners books that were comics about the theories of different philosophers or philosophies like Deconstruction or whatever. Action Philosophers is a whole different beast. It mixes biography with the theories and philosophies of the Action Philosophers with a lot of fun art and jokes. And yes, the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is really a highlight and exceptionally useful if you plan to examine pretty much anything containing a hero. Chances are if you like it, it follows the boardgame. Maybe that should be advice we as the comic book blogger-mongers heap upon comic book editors – “follow the boardgame.” Although the Saint Augustine done as a Marvel space opera was hard act to follow.

Then I get to Northwest Passage #2. I really should go back and read the first volume for a better sense of the story. Regardless, this is still one of my favourite comics being produced. Where Action Philosophers is able to mix the perfect amount of high-brow with Mexican Wrestlers and comic book humour Northwest Passage manages to present a fairly straightforward adventure story. This is as much a good thing as it is a rare thing these days. I don’t see this story starting strong then collapsing under editorial mandate for the Oni company wide crossover event of the summer.

Now for my slightly clever bit where I compare Northwest Passage to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey boardgame.

All the elements are there so far. Fort Newcastle is a peaceful locale with a retiring governor ready to go back to a roaring fire, snifter of brandy and a good book – perhaps to write his memoirs. There is a call to adventure back to the days of looking for the northwest passage (I think, I’m kind of going off memory of the first book here), and Charles Lord refuses it. Then the wizened and wounded Native shows up and has a vision that more or less matches up with an attack on Fort Newcastle. Charles Lord crosses the threshold not by defeating the first enemy or whatever but by beating his own desire to fight back. When the English discover what the French have done at Fort Duchess of York and the French arrive at Fort Newcastle the belly of the beast has been entered. The story iscurrently on the road of trials where Chantler plays with the boardgame’s form, in the atonement with the father.

This story is like the better comics I’ve read – it’s about an older guy coming to terms with his life and his place in the world. He was considered a hero and lived on his own terms – a man against nature itself. Now he has the chance to repeat those braveries but he’s older, he’s accomplished and has concerns outside of himself. It’s not about King and Country and glory to them through your actions but in coming to terms with the consequences of those adventures, in particular the French villain and the half-blooded son unaccepted by both the Cree and the English. The atonement with the father has the hero in the role of the father instead of a young hero dealing with his father’s legacy or whatever. We have a legacy father dealing with his own legacy and inheritors of it.

NWP is also a straight up rollicking adventure in the far Canadian North. There are heroes fighting villains and lots of running, jumping, swimming, paddling and hunting. It’s a genre that sort of hasn’t seen the light of day in a long long time. This used to be the dominant form of entertainment for young male readers and this series builds on that legacy with a bit of a twist. Comics have an older audience so here we also have an older protagonist instead of the young boy or teenager caught up in a world where they fight to live giving the younger readers a recognizable frame for the story. This may not be intentional but it does work to keep this reader engaged and I’m guessing it helps other older readers relate to a story that would otherwise be considered a purely young readers book.

I wouldn’t suggest simply picking up volume 2 in the hopes of getting a good story as you really need to have read the first volume to understand how the plot developed to this point. This story is really the introduction of some characters with great potential. There is John the Englishman who went native, has a past with Charles Lord and has shunned the European way altogether. He proves to be badass. Then there is Quick Jack who reminds me of Odysseus in that he’s quick of tongue and blade but as likely to cause you problems as get you out of them. And we get a bit more of the history of Charles Lord plus a scene that everyone who hated how Blue Beetle went down will love. Two characters comply so they can save themselves and work from the inside – well one of them is in the process of escaping but you should shut up already about Countdown and buy both volumes of Northwest Passage. Yeah I know all five of you reading this probably already bought the first volume or both but the hope is some random comic fan will see this post and be inspired.

Then there is the artwork. It’s like the Bruce Timm animated material but it works here for me better than the style does in Powers and even the JLU comics which are almost too cartoony sometimes. I love this style and I’m happy to support anyone drawing a book that is actually more representative than realistic. I believe the characters more because they can act more when they aren’t restricted by realistic interpretation. They can run faster, jump higher and exaggerate their expressions in a way that translates much more readily to the printed page (in my opinion at least). These are characters facing larger than life dangers so they should be represented in a manner that is larger than life. It’s not the fight against each other that makes them have to be effective but their surroundings. One slip up in the wilds of Canada and you’re done for. They need to be bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than when they were protected by the fort – Charles Lord knows this and you can see him transform from slouchy governor to the barrelchested adventurer of his youth. In otherwords, the art matches the story perfectly.

If you’re looking for a book that is quite simply entertaining this is the book for you. If you want adventure and new interesting characters instead of retreading familiar old territory, then this is the series for you.

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