I admit it, I’m a sucker for concepts like that which drives Comix Tribe’s The Standard. But what can I say? I’m the product of a post-Marvelman, post Watchmen world, and as such have developed a healthy respect for frailty. At the same time, I’ve grown to appreciate a concept of Time in my comics. Normally impervious to it “in-story,” comic books, as a medium, are simultaneously shaped by Time. Superman, for example, never ages, yet we define him by Ages; Golden, Silver or otherwise. Even in a world without Time, things change. And this is where I think The Standard finds its strength. Given all the titles I just listed by comparison, this book may not be breaking any new ground, but by threading its story throughout the Ages and showing, in its own unique way, the stark contrast that exists between them, The Standard gives me what I crave from modern comics ... and I don’t just mean old men in spandex. The titular character in this book is your classic swarthy Golden Age adventurer - a heady mix between The Flash, Superman and any superhero who can shoot shit from his hands. Not actual shit, mind you, that would be awkward. I’m using the vernacular term “shit” here to describe “generic laser beams,” because I’m “down” with the “kids.” See if this sounds familiar: 44 years ago, mild mannered scientist Gilbert Graham, whose name suggests he’d either become a superhero or a breakfast cereal, is suddenly thrust into greatness one night when he is doused with chemicals after a meteor crashes into his lab. Thereafter developing (as science dictates) your basic cocktail of powers, like flight, super-strength and those shit-shootin’ mitts, he becomes The Standard, protector laureate of Sky City!
As we skip ahead to today, we find that Gil has retired from superheroics in favor of a quiet life as a high school chemistry teacher. In his place, he has left The Standard’s mantle to former sidekick and adopted ward, Alex Thomas. However, the former Fabu-Lad (which I’m pretty sure is the name of an escort service) is somewhat ill at ease within both his role as an “unworthy” successor to The Standard and in this new era, where heroes have become marketable commodities ... and vice-versa.
Just as the line between good and evil has been blurred, so too has the art of crime-fighting, with a harder-edged cast of characters, like lethal vigilante, The Corpse, as well as its own, Age-specific set of perils. It’s an inescapable truth that quickly catches up with The (new) Standard and explodes in an honestly shocking turn of events pretty early on, which forces The (O.G.) Standard to nut-up, talc down and pour himself back into his orange and purple spandex to once again save the day.
What is great about this book is the way it addresses that element of Time I mentioned above. We’ve seen glimpses of this in those books I compared it to, but The Standard does an enviable job of illustrating it, perhaps more clearly. This is particularly well done on one page, where our hero faces down, in two different ages respectively, a cadre of skunk-based henchmen armed with unbreakable bats, and a mindless horde of murderous children armed with ... fingernails and teeth, I guess.
And herein is the crux of this story. In days gone by, The Standard would busy himself with ridiculous super villains, the kind that dress up and arm themselves like odiferously-offensive woodland creatures to commit crimes, not because they were evil, but because they were bored. Now, however, he is forced into sewer-based bouts with pedophilic hobo telepaths ... which would be a great band name, by the way. “I’ve never struck a child in my life,” says The Standard as he bears down upon this villain, known as The Piper, “but now you’ve just made me knock out a roomful of them.” Like I said before ... things change.
The way The Standard shunts between these eras and defines them against each other can admittedly be a bit jarring, stylistically, but the way it exemplifies the varying nature of threats between the Golden Age and today is well done, as is the treatment of same by the medium itself. The action in the former, for example is peppered with hokey exposition and pun-heavy, cheesy quips, while that of the latter is mostly silent, allowing the situation to speak for itself, other than perhaps the desperate lamentations of its reluctant hero. There is one poignant scene where we are given witness to the exact moment of this sea change; the missing link that bridges the divide between The Skunk and The Piper. The loss of innocence therein is both unexpected and suitably rending.
At the same time, this book has a lot of fun with itself. Any comic that makes a reference to “Bukakechums.net” (which, upon further inspection and a subsequent history wipe on my wife’s computer, is not an actual website) is okay in my book! Plus, its use of sound effects is ... well, it’s ridiculous. Like me, you probably wouldn’t think that “words” like “RIIIITNASCHNOZZ” “OHSNAP” and “POWND” could be used to describe sound, but I guess that makes us both assholes, because that’s exactly how they are used here, to both unexpected and hilarious effect.
As for the art, while I enjoy its sinewy feel, it varies a lot in quality, even from panel to panel. I’m not sure how the same artist who can so beautifully illustrate the fantastically goofy-assed character, The Frying Scotsman in one panel, and then plop down what looks like a fan art drawing of The (new) Standard in the next. Artistic inconstancy is definitely The Standard’s most glaring issue, but its moments of brilliance and conceptual design far outweigh it.
There is still a lot of story left to tell here, not to mention mysteries that are still afoot. This one’s pretty indie, which means it lacks some polish, but for my money, The Standard is an impressive book. It may walk where others have previously tread, but it does so with a decidedly rare stylistic gait that glides as much as it galumphs.
Writer: John lees Artist: Jonathan Rector Publisher: Comix Tribe Price: $3.99 First Issue Release Date: 2/6/13