Despite the comic book industry building its legacy on the concept of ‘capes and cowls’, the superhero genre is one that seems to have fallen by the wayside in the small press world in recent years. Too many derivative, clichéd tales have been rolled out time and time again, presumably making creators nervous that their book might be swallowed up by the sea of existing titles already out there. And to an extent, that’s absolutely true. Given the decades of high quality superhero comics produced by some of the most talented writers to ever pick up a pen, it’s definitely a daunting prospect for a new title to try and carve out their own unique niche.
Well, from issue one, The Standard has managed to do just that. Yes, some of the concepts are undoubtedly familiar – the aging hero forced back into the saddle one last time, the colourful villains and their nefarious plots, but there’s something truly unique and genuinely compelling about this tale. It manages to straddle the world of the cheesy, Golden Age heroes of the past and the brutal, gritty anti-heroes of modern comics, and brings those two styles together in the brilliantly conceived protagonist Gilbert Graham – The Standard.
Normally, the penultimate chapter in a story serves as the deep breath before the final plunge, the brief pause to take stock of our surroundings before we launch ourselves headlong into the finale. And for the most part, that’s exactly what we have here. All the pieces that have been skilfully laid out over the previous four issues are sharply brought together, setting the scene for what should be a tense, emotional showdown. Yes, there’s a fair amount of exposition to get through here, particularly as we find ourselves learning a little more about Zena Zarthos, the daughter of The Standard’s longtime nemesis. We learn a lot more about her background, her childhood and her apparent desire to step out of her father’s villainous shadow and carve out her own niche in the world. This book is far from just talking and flashbacks though, kicking off as it does with a brutally violent exchange between Gilbert Graham and the mysterious murderer he has been tracking.
Also, just when all the pieces are finally slotted into place and we finally find ourselves looking at the big picture, Lees – in an absolute masterstroke – plays his final card, shifting the comic into a whole new direction and leaving jaws on the floor as the reader finds themselves scrambling to catch up to what just happened. A bold move, and one that most definitely pays off here.
Jonathan Rector’s artwork maintains its incredibly high standard (no pun intended) here, packing his characters with his trademark ever-so-slightly cartoonish emotion while displaying an uncanny knack for creative page layouts and – as can be evidenced in the opening battle mentioned above – a gift for brutally visceral action set-pieces. He’s joined here by Will Robson, who more than holds his own alongside Rector, bringing some fantastic visual touches of his own. Mike Gagnon also brings Rector’s work to life with his rich colours, staying true to the bright, vivid tones of the superhero genre while managing to rein it in enough to stop the whole thing becoming garish or cheesy.
If there’s one word to describe John Lees’ writing on this series, it would have to be cinematic. From his dramatic dialogue to his measured pacing and skilfully executed twists and turns, everything here feels like it jumped straight off a movie screen. You can almost hear the music swelling in the background as Gilbert Graham digs down deep, gritting his teeth like an aging pugilist and willing himself off the stool to fight just one last round. It’s great stuff, it truly is, and to find yourself sucked so deeply into a world that – for all intents and purposes – you may have seen hundreds of times before is a true testament to his writing. Sharp dialogue, solid, well-rounded characters and a gift for the dramatic. What’s not to like?
Overall, as the penultimate issue to a series, issue five of The Standard ticks every box you could ask for. The storyline threads all converge as the focus shifts to the finale; the emotion is ramped up, making you care deeply about the protagonists; oh, and there’s also one or two brilliant surprises thrown in for good measure. If you’ve come this far, you know what to expect from this series. And if you can read this issue and not find yourself salivating at the prospect of seeing it all wrapped up in the final issue, then I don’t know what else to tell you.
The Standard #5 will make its debut at Glasgow Comic Con 2014 on the 5th and 6th of July
You can also keep up to date on the latest news regarding this title via TheStandardComic.com.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
Article Archive: Ceej Says