Publisher: Fantagraphics/Turnaround Publishing
Writer/Artist: Wallace Wood
Release Date: 23rd July 2014
John Cannon is the ideal government agent. Previously brainwashed by the ‘Red Forces’ to be their perfect assassin, Cannon was rescued, brainwashed again by the CIA (as you do), and turned him into an emotionless, focused and fiercely loyal operative.
Cannon’s unique exploits originally aired back in the early 70’s in Overseas Weekly, a newspaper which was distributed solely to US Military bases around the world. As a result, there’s a genuine aura of morale-boosting propaganda here, as the square-jawed Cannon lays waste to endless “Reds”, hooks up with gorgeous, scantily clad women and doles out some surprisingly brutal violence (Overseas Weekly was free from the usual commercial editorial restrictions, and creator Wallace Wood clearly took the opportunity to pull out all the stops as a result).
The storylines and narrative style here are very much of their time (i.e. lacking almost entirely in subtlety, yet still managing to contain a significant amount of charm), although it’s somewhat difficult at times to figure out whether Cannon’s exploits are meant to be taken straight or with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It can be read as a fairly earnest, if a little ‘on the nose’ espionage thriller, but at the same time it can also be viewed as a sort of spiritual predecessor to the likes of Archer, with the caricature of the “super-spy” being lampooned mercilessly by the creators.
The treatment of women in the book is also very much of its time, and not in a good way, with practically every female character being either a (topless) damsel in distress or a (topless) femme fatale. Hardly progressive then, but as an intriguing time capsule of how things used to be “back in the day”, it certainly makes for interesting reading, if only to hammer home just how far comics have come in the last forty-odd years.
The artwork is undoubtedly fantastic throughout, however, making it difficult to merely dismiss this collection as being ‘dated’ or ‘insulting’. Yes, most of its contents wouldn’t really fly these days, but Wood cements his place as a truly iconic comic creator here with his detailed, kinetic and – yes – violently debauched artistic style.
A word of warning, however; clocking in at a whopping 296 pages, Cannon is an experience that is definitely best savoured in small doses. As amusing and engaging as the salacious super spy’s exploits may be, they soon start to lose their appeal and become somewhat repetitive when attempting to consume them in a single sitting. It’s worth remembering that these were originally short, episodic stories sent out to US Military personnel on a weekly basis, and while I detest the term “toilet book”, that’s probably the best way to view this collection.
Overall though, Fantagraphics have done a fantastic job in liaising with the Wallace Wood Estate to make this impressive collection happen, and as an interesting look back into a unique slice of comic book history – and with a little tongue-in-cheek espionage awesomeness into the bargain – this hardcover collection is well worth a look.
You can purchase Cannon HC from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy for this title) via their official website.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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