November 18, 2015

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Blackmailing a Superman in Venture (1-3) by Jay Faerber and Jamal Igle


Written by Jay Faerber
Line Art by Jamal Igle
Color Art by Sebastien Laminrand
Published by Action Lab

When a reporter down on his luck puts two and two together and hits on the secret behind a California-based superhero, he's interested in making a deal to bring them both fame and fortune--whether the hero wants to or not! It's another exploration of the darker side of cape comics by Jay Faerber, brought back to a new audience after years of being out of print.

I've been a big fan of Faerber's work for some time, going back to Noble Causes, which my friend Noah described to me as "What if there was a soap opera dedicated to superheroes?" The premise immediately hooked me, and devoured the series quickly. Since then, anytime I see a Faerber book, I always give it a shot, and given that this one also included Jamal Igle, whose linework is slick, I was definitely interested, even if it was a bit disappointing to learn that this was a reprint and not a totally original idea.

That age shows a bit in terms of things, such as the hero's look (he's straight out of 1990s Marvel/DC central casting, though Igle's lines are light years ahead of most of what was being drawn at the time), the importance of a newspaper, and the secret being on a video tape! It's almost quaint to hear them discuss the fact that they'd like the report to do a "human interest" story. Like reading an older comic book, there are moments when you will think, "this would have been amazing then" but realize that the culture has changed significantly.

Even so, it's a neat premise. While someone like Jimmy Olson might be altruistic if they discovered Clark was really the Man of Steel, most would react similarly to the character here. The idea that the hero would prefer not to turn into a cap-wearing cliche (but does anyway) is also a nice touch, and seeing how a person with so much power can be so easily manipulated really does hammer home just how unrealistic most superhero comics are.* Now of course, reality is the big buzzword with superhero comics, so we do tend to see stories similar to this one now.

The difference? Faerber and Igle don't have to worry about a movie franchise or selling toys, so they can break their toys however they see fit. That means that the manipulations can be darker, the reactions can be fiercer, and we as the reader don't actually know what's going to happen next. If Peter's secret gets out, someone has to get amnesia or the devil shows up. Here? If the hero's revealed for all the world to see, his life can be turned into hell, and no one in a corporate suit is going to tell them to alter the story to ensure they can sign the cartoon deal.


That's why I think stories that deconstruct heroes work best as indie projects, like Adam Knave and D.J. Kirkbride's Never Ending. There's no expectations, which means anything can happen. As the story in Venture unfolds, there's a knife's edge that can cut at any moment. What happens when the news doesn't break properly (issue 2) or if the reporter gets greedy (issue 3)? There's room to play for as long as Faerber and Igle are willing. (From what I understand, it's just a reprint for now, depending on sales.)

Artistically, the pages are as good as you'd expect from Igle, the creator of Molly Danger, though the premise is significantly different. His world is extremely realistic, and Igle understands the need to make sure that the hero stands out, even when in civilian clothes. He uses a variety of panel designs and angles to keep the talking scenes--which probably dominate a bit too much, frankly--interesting to the reader. Characters are posed in such a way as to lure the reader to the most important aspects of a scene, His faces emote strongly, and change on a dime when there's a particularly emotionally charged scene. In terms of comparison, I'd think of Mike Deodato or a less stylistic Joe Quesada, in terms of having a smooth, slick look. 

Unfortunately, the modern coloring butchers the details often, and really doesn't bring out the art. The colors feel like they are clashing with each other and look dull as a rule and over-processed. We lose some of the details of the characters because the coloring shades things too dark. I'd love to know what this looks like in black in white, because I'm sure it's amazing.

I think there's a good argument to be made that we've seen enough superhero deconstructions. Most who try to do it fail badly, copying or desperately trying to one-up the most famous examples. But Faerber is a master of this genre, and it shows. He's always got a fresh look at what might go wrong in a hero's life, and Venture is no exception. Combined with the great linework by Igle, this is a story that fans of the darker side of heroics should check out. Three issues are out now, and there's at least one more on the way.

*And I prefer them that way. Spider-Man, Batman, Cap, and the rest should never ever be in a world that's truly like ours. The whole thing falls apart.