I'm not entirely sure if Javier Grillo-Marxuach is actually out on the picket line (probably not, because he's a producer as well as a writer), but he was nice enough to send me a .pdf file of the latest volume of his and Les McClaine's excellent comic, The Middleman, which is skipping the single issue format and going straight to the trade.Â It hits stores tomorrow, and I encourage you all to get it.Â Support the Commies who are going to force us all to watch reality shows for the next six months!
I have enjoyed the first two mini-series about the Middleman and his new recruit Wendy, and I've been looking forward to the third volume for a while.Â The Middleman is a top-secret agent who takes care of problems that are too fantastic for the general public to handle, so no one knows he exists.Â Kind of like the Men in Black, except the problems aren't extra-terrestrial in nature.Â Wendy is trying to lead a normal life, but her duties as the Middleman's sidekick keeps getting in the way, and even though the comic is one of the more fun (and funny) books you're going to find in the last few years, there's a surprising amount of real emotion in it, too.Â But what about the third volume?
Well, I'm not going to get into it too much, because those .pdf files are a bitch to read and I don't want to keep flipping back and forth.Â I will say that the book is as funny as ever, and even though some people won't like the self-referential aspects of it (you know who you are!), it's not overwhelming to the point of annoyance, and let's face it - if we were in a position like Wendy's, we'd make references to various things in pop culture too.Â You might argue that that doesn't make it right, but in small doses, it's very funny.
The book is called "The Third Volume Inescapability," and in the grand tradition of these comics, the Middleman is kind of an uptight square while Wendy, his partner-in-training, gets to comment on how silly some of the plot points are, like the name of the evil organization that is behind this volume's plot.Â The actual plot is simple, and is there just to allow Grillo-Marxuach to play with the conventions of the spy genre and, to some extent, the superhero genre.Â It features big alien robots fighting, for instance.Â Now, that's not as funny or exciting as the first 20 times we've seen it recently, but the subtle digs at how ridiculous it really is makes it bearable.Â Another nice thing Grillo-Marxuach does is have not only Wendy, but the Middleman himself aware of the conventions of the genre.Â When they infiltrate their arch-nemesis's casino, it's an opportunity for a lot of spoofing of James Bond, but also allows the Middleman to remark about how things will play out, because he and his enemy have done it so many times before.Â Yet, when they do work out as he expects (except for the elephant polo!), it's still exciting, plus it's humorous.
Wendy's "real" life, which was a crucial part of the first two volumes, is also a part of the third, but here the book lags a bit.Â The situation is okay - Wendy wants to get her paintings into a gallery show, but she keeps getting called away to fight evil, so she enlists her roommate to pretend to be her and make her case - but Grillo-Marxuach doesn't do enough with it.Â In the first two volumes, the humor in the real-life situations, plus the added bonus of it being about someone's actual life, helped ground the book a bit.Â In this volume, the sitcom aspect of the book maintains the humor but doesn't give us enough insight into Wendy's life and relationship with her roommate.Â It's still charming, but not as much.
The book isn't all goofiness, however, as the ending is unusually dark.Â It fits in nicely with the self-referential tone of the book, though, and promises volumes to come.Â We'll see if it happens, but it's interesting to read how the book changes over the course of the series.Â Wendy has become more interesting, but the Middleman himself, who started out as a fairly stock straight-arrow kind of guy, has loosened up a bit.Â I don't know how many volumes Grillo-Marxuach has planned, but it will be nice to see them when and if they show up.
McClaine's art has improved a lot, too, even though it was good to begin with.Â His lines have become stronger and his inks a bit heavier, lending some heft to the drawings.Â He cuts loose a bit more with the backgrounds, and the scenes in the casino are especially well done.Â After working with these characters for a time, he has given them much more personality as well, even a robot like Ida, the nerve center of the operation.Â But he still keeps everything light, so that the fun comes through, as when our hero and heroine fight ninjas early on (another instance when Grillo-Marxuach tips our expectations).Â It would be nice to see more of his work get out to a wider audience.
I can't say this is the best volume of the three, but I will still say it's better than most of what's out there, especially in the humor-action-adventure genre.Â The main characters are very well done and have a nice rapport, and it looks great.Â Plus, it's only ten dollars for what is basically four issues, plus an "alternate" ending, plus a bunch of pin-ups, plus annotations!Â I love annotations.Â You know who doesn't love annotations?Â Fascists.
If you're checking out the comics that come out tomorrow, look for it.Â Support the working man!Â Fight the power!