Ancient Joe

Written by Scott Morse
Illustrated by Scott Morse
Dark Horse

Scott Morse likes to play with mythology, as we've seen from other works, most notably Soulwind. In this, set in Cuba, Morse grabs a little bit here and a little bit there, even tossing in good old Ernest Hemingway for good measure. The result is a quirky little collection about a man called Ancient Joe, who came out of the sea and even tricked the devil.

The book blurbs make this sound like it will be really action-packed, but the truth is more subtle than that, as you'd exect from Morse.

Ancient Joe, who knows little of his past, is apparently immortal, or at least ages in the style of James Logan. He's not a superhero, though a child says he should be, given his looks, and he denies being a creature of myth.

What he is reminds me of a Madman-like figure who gets into odd situations (such as boxing a blind man to try and see the devil), drawn in Morse's signature style. (A Morse-Allred collaboration would be quite the thing to see, I wonder if they know each other...) We see a bit of his known origin, as well as the story of devil-trickery. Then it's time for serious work. Joe is concerned the devil may have taken his revenge on his wife. Only a damned girl who killed her brother can help, and what Joe discovers is perhaps most touching in its simplicity.

Leave it to Morse to make what in other hands would be a giant let down the perfect answer--one that, once read, leaves the reader feeling satisfied, not cheated.

This was set up to be a series, but I'm not sure if there are any other collections--the library doesn't carry them, at least. However, this holds up rather well on its own and is probably my second favorite Morse work, behind Soulwind. Fans of that series should pick this up right away. Morse also gives a list of helpful books in his afterward, which I think is pretty cool.

There is a lot of clever wordplay and dialog here, with people reacting to Joe in ways both normal and preposterously unconcerned. The rhyming sequences at the start hearken back to the days of epic legends, and this story is one of a journey on its first steps. I'd definitely like to see more, if it exists.