“Mudman” by writer/artist Paul Grist is a welcome addition to the crowded superhero comics field, and what it’s getting right easily makes up for what’s not quite working yet.
On the whole, Grist has a great little superhero story in “Mudman” — an unconventional teenage hero whose trials and tribulations hit all the well-worn beats of any good superhero tale. The execution is not particularly inventive or new, but it’s solid and almost refreshing in its simplicity. At the same time, I worry that its simplicity is its undoing. There’s nothing as yet that makes “Mudman” a book you absolutely must get the next issue of the second it hits stands. The story is nice, the art is lovely, the writing is strong, it’s a good comic; but there’s nothing that demands I read the next issue and its future feels uncertain. The stakes are not high enough three issues in for a reader to feel fully connected and compelled by the book.
All that said, this issue improves the series dramatically by Craig bringing his best friend Owen into the fold and sharing his superhero secret. The reveal is done almost nonchalantly and is all the better for it, marking the chemistry between the two friends as the absolute best thing the book has going for it. Craig and Owen together have a naturalness and a sense of humor that’s wholly enjoyable and the more of this we can get in the book, the better. Meanwhile, the larger mysteries surrounding the abandoned mansion, the mud, Mudman’s origins, ghosts, past battles and a mysterious woman are just too large at this point to be clear in what they mean or how important they’ll be to the narrative.
Grist’s art with a lovely understated color palette from Bill Crabtree is completely enjoyable. It’s highly stylized, but it’s a style that works well for the character and tone of the story Grist is telling. All the characters are well designed and Craig/Mudman is especially strong visually. Like all the best comics from a sole writer/artist creator, Grist’s words and visuals feel in blissful sync. “Mudman,” unlike so many superhero comics these days, has lots of white space and breathing room and it’s a nice change of pace that helps set it apart and define it as something distinctive.
“Mudman” is traditional mainstream superhero comics done with an independent bent, and it’s what makes the book interesting and clever, but the stakes still need to be raised considerably in order to bring “Mudman” to a must-read level.