Mudman Vol. 1 (Image)

mudman-headerPaul Grist’s latest superhero yarn is equal parts parody, homage, and update to classic superheroism, but is fortunately far more than just for laffs.

 

144 pgs., full color, $9.99

(W / A: Paul Grist)

 

When Owen Craig stumbles upon a pair of bank robbers while sneaking through a spooky house of local legend, a gunshot sends him to the muddy bottom of the empty river Brue. He falls as Owen Craig, but rises as Mudman – Burnbridge-On-Sea’s newest superhero. Now on top of worrying about getting the attention of the new girl in school while dodging the attention of the dullard bully Spence, he has to deal with superheroes-in-hiding, murderers, mysterious strangers, and raging monsters.

 

The title makes it sound like it’s just for chuckles, and certainly there’s an element of parody, but Paul Grist’s Mudman isn’t pure parody like The Tick. Mudman is as much equal parts parody, homage, and an update of Amazing Spider-Man as Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation was a parody, homage, and update of Action Comics.

 

mudmanOwen is as awkward with his new powers as Peter Parker and suffers the same lack of confidence. The difference is we, as readers, are just as unsure of Owen as he is of himself. You may relate to Peter when his powers don’t stop him from losing the girl, from being picked on, from making the money he needs, or even makes all those things worse, but there’s always going to be a little voice in the back of your head barking, “DUDE! You can bench-press a car, stick to walls, and jump around like a cybernetic gymnast! How do you still mess up this much?” But, were he ever to himself in the Marvel Universe, Mudman wouldn’t get any job offers outside the Great Lakes Avengers. Even his own heroic fantasies of saving the new girl in school end with humiliation. So while our sympathy and envy duel with one another when we watch Peter Parker try and fail, there is no duel when we watch Owen do the same. His powers genuinely seem at least as much a curse as a gift, if not more.

 

Part of what keeps Mudman out of the realm of pure comedy is an intriguing, mysterious plot. Shortly after Owen gets his new powers, a mystery man appears in Burnbridge-On-Sea whom we know only as Captain Gull (though it’s made clear this name is false). With a flashback in an earlier issue as well as a confrontation in the present between Gull and a super-powered vagrant, Grist hints that Gull hunted down and killed the world’s superheroes years ago and is keen to do the same with Mudman. At the same time, however, Gull’s conflicts with most of his victims don’t seem morally black-and-white. It could be his intentions aren’t as dark as we assume.

 

Still, there’s enough superhero goofiness to entertain as well as keep the story going at a steady pace. This may not be the world of The Tick, but it ain’t Watchmen, either. Owen’s buddy Jack doesn’t seem phased after an attack during detention from a flying robot with Wolverine claws. After Owen’s father is kidnapped and beaten by the same armed robbers who shot Owen, there’s hardly any mention of it. His father doesn’t need therapy and he doesn’t get skewered by Captain Boomerang in his living room. And attacks by giant, rampaging water monsters don’t seem to stir up the community all that much.

 

Grist has been criticized on his other books for his tendency to wildly shift the sequence of events and create just enough confusion in the reader’s mind to take him/her out of the story. Admittedly, I fell victim to this the first time I read Jack Staff. With Mudman, Grist proves much more mastery over this tool. He still plays fast and loose with time, but in a more coherent manner that makes the shifting points of view more enjoyable.

 

As with Jack Staff, Grist’s simpler style of drawing makes reading a superhero comic refreshing. His heroes and villains are skinny and drawn without bulging muscles or unreal cleavage. When Grist opens the third issue with two super-guys fighting on a roof, the hero’s torso could be a flat slab of wood as easily as it could be the body of a superman. He keeps the action dynamic with a unique perspective.

Paul Grist breathes fresh air into the teenage superhero story with Mudman. I checked out his more well-known series – Jack Staff and Kane – long after they hit the stands, and I’m thrilled to finally experience one of his series from the ground floor. I’ll gladly slap down cash for the first volume of Mudman, the second, the third, and hopefully a whole lot more. | Mick Martin

 

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