Friday, October 7, 2011

Justice, Inc.

I've been reading comics for a minute now.  One of the cool things about going to the Baltimore Comic Con is finding comics that I'd seen house ads for back in the day.

Justice, Inc is one of those books.  I remember seeing the house ad in the back of old comics and it always struck me as something I wanted to pick up.  That stark image of a silhouette casting a shadow was a striking one.

And now I've finally read the book.

Justice, Inc has two things going for it.  First it's got art by Kyle Baker, who's  like a superstar in the artist community.  It's also written by Andrew Helfer, who was a dude who edited some of my favorite comics when I was a kid.  So already I was looking forward to this book going in.

Plus I'd recently gotten interested in "The Avenger" when DC launched it's recently folded First Wave line featuring pulp characters like The Spirit and Doc Savage.  There were some months when the Justice, Inc backups were the best part of Doc Savage issues.

But back to the Justice, Inc book, it's pretty awesome.  It starts with a retelling of the circumstances that drove Richard Benson to become The Avenger and form Justice, Inc and how he got his malleable face.  It's a quaint origin even by comic book standards.

Then we jump to 1948, where Benson has become a bit disillusioned with his mission to conquer crime.  Most of the people looking for his services are either trying to catch cheating spouses or looking for security.  And then an agent from the Internal Security Agency offers Benson a chance to serve his country.

Ironically their first case together ends horribly enough that Benson vows never to work for them again.  Yet by 1951 he's fully employed by them and allowing them to augment his already impressive abilities.

From their Benson becomes the ISA agent de jour during the Cold War.  His abilities allow him to assassinate and pose as leaders of countries seemingly in play during the Cold War.  Unfriendly nations suddenly become friendly once Benson gets involved.

Then in 1958 Benson makes a shocking discovery; there are others with his abilities on the other side of the Cold War.  It's a revelation that sets him out on discovering the truth.  And in discovering the truth he uncovers the larger pictures and finds out a) he's a pawn who's been manipulated for years and b) the identity responsible for his becoming The Avenger.

From there it's betrayal and revenge.  His former Justice Inc allies turn against him and he gets to taste revenge.  It provides a satisfying conclusion to a genuinely suspenseful story.

Helfer does a good job of fleshing out the characters.  Fergus MacMurdie's got his distinct accent and Benson always seems to be an odd mix of driven and conflicted.  What's really funny is how a book that came out over two decades years ago during the end of the Cold War, still feels relevant thanks to the recent Arab Spring.

Baker's art is brilliant.  It's both stark and sparse, yet it doesn't lack any storytelling elements.  Faces and features seem almost hazy, but it fits with the motif of the book which is about flexible notion of identity, so faces aren't all that important.  I was a fan of Baker's work before reading this book, but I've got a whole new respect for him now.

Honestly, Justice, Inc is one of the best stories I've read in awhile.  The marriage of art and story is perfect.  And it's such a satisfying story in every regard.  This book was so good that it makes me want to rush and read Helfer and Baker's collaboration on The Shadow.  I can not recommend this book enough, which is ironic because I'm pretty sure you can find it for dirt cheap.

Enjoy it.  I did.

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