September 11, 2014

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SPX Spotlight 2014: Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, and Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1 and #2

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1 and #2
Written by Joe Casey
Illustrated by Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, Ulises Farinas and Michel Fiffe
Colors by Brad Simpson
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Entertainment

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers is the mind-blowing, crazy science fiction, creative reinterpretation of a late-era Jack Kirby comic that you didn't know you needed. Joe Casey and a first-rate artistic team have, in the first two issues of the book, crafted a weird, visually stunning, highly compelling story.  Without hewing too close to Kirby's style, this book is a great homage to Kirby's big, adventurous spirit.


The story begins in space as the Dreadnought: Tiger is under attack by the fearsome Mekkanos (who are themselves controlled by a figure called Blackmass). The Dreadnought is led by Captain Victory, of the Galactic Rangers. Ranger captains are so important that their bodies are cloned so that if one of them should fall in battle, their consciousness can be immediately transferred to a new body. This is dramatically illustrated by a flashback showing when Major Klavus (Victory's second in command) kills Captain Victory in order to initiate the very first mind transfer (talk about a rough day - "what'd you do today, honey?" "I died").

During the attack by the Mekkanos, Captain Victory is killed. The transfer is initiated to a new clone body. However, the healthy clone bodies that were available were also destroyed. The only bodies that managed to survive we're jettisoned in pods into space. One of those was still growing, and one of those was severely damaged. By the end of the first issue, we see where both bodies have gone. The pod containing the damaged clone makes it's way to a run-down planet full of scavengers and Junkers (think, Tattooine), and the pod containing the younger body makes it's way to what appears to be 1970's New York City. Young Captain Victory escapes from the hospital where he was initially brought, and is taken in by a man who is looking out for the neighborhood (and looks a lot like Shaft).

The second issue follows the remaining crew of the Dreadnought: Tiger as they attempt to piece together what happened to the clone bodies, and where the jettisoned clones actually went. Young Captain Victory (who has taken to calling himself "Victor") has made some new friends, and runs afoul of a local gang known as the Drones. Meanwhile, scarred, damaged Captain Victory went into a bar, beat the hell out of a bunch of aliens there, and appears to be scavenging parts to build something. All the while, he's bring followed by two chatty aliens (who look a little like Jawas from Star Wars) who're trying to figure out what this guy is doing. 

Joe Casey knows his way around Kirby-inspired comics, as demonstrated by his book Godland. That book, gorgeously illustrated by Tom Scioli, felt more like a direct homage to crazy cosmic Kirby stories. This book is also big, bold and exciting, but feels more like an homage in spirit to Kirby's work, while still being a creative reinterpretation.  This comic is big and bombastic, with over-the-top (in a good way, like the band Muse) narration and dialogue. It throws the reader right into the story, and dares you to catch up.

This comic pays worthy tribute to Kirby's skill as a visual storyteller with the work of four diverse, dynamic artists.  Nathan Fox handles the majority of the art in each issue, and he has an incredibly exciting, expressive art style, such as is shown in this dramatic two-page spread, where Fox sets the dramatic sight of a starship under attack with the words of destruction (FIRE, KILL, etc.) and shows other scenes of violence and battle taking place within the sequence. The colors from Brad Simpson are explosively bright, and really help to convey the crazy, alien, sci-fi nature of the story.

Each of the artists contributes something different here. Both Jim Rugg (in issue 1) and Michel Fiffe (in issue 2) illustrate sequences that take place in the past; the art change here doesn't feel like a distraction (or look like a fill-in); instead it feels like a clear indicator to the reader that something has changed. In issue 1, Rugg dramatically illustrates the first time that Captain Victory dies, at the hands of Major Klavus himself. In issue 2, Fiffe shows a waking dream/memory of young Victor, as he remembers being a Ranger trainee and how he pretended to go along with a planned coup in order to learn of the treachery, and then led the charge to take down the attempted traitors.Each of Rugg and Fiffe bring a different feel to the past. Ulises Farinas brings his own style to a psychedelic two-page sequence, which is simultaneously dreamlike, upbeat and sinister.

Casey has taken an interesting approach in helping the reader get to know Captain Victory. After only the first few pages of the first issue, the mature, adult Captain Victory doesn't exist at all, except in flashback. What we have instead are two completely different clones whose activities we follow - one, while damaged, is attempting to piece his life together and achieve answers (while speaking an inexplicable language). The other clone, young Victor, has shown an instinct towards justice and standing up to bullies, but he's just a kid, and not necessarily in possession of great foresight. Through these flawed clones we begin to get an insight into who Victory is, which is capably aided by the flashbacks.  But the ostensible protagonist is not truly himself, and not at his best. So Casey has turned the focus on the crew of the Dreadnought: Tiger, and on the friends, mentors and strange followers that the two clones have picked up. As these characters attempt to solve the mysteries surrounding what happened to Captain Victory (or who he is), the reader will unravel these mysteries as well.

For a dramatic, surprising, explosively fun sci-fi comic, Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers is well worth a look.