There are many ways to make a comic. You can staple some doodles together, concoct a meticulously rendered 900-page opus in your basement over a period of 20 years, or you can make like video game director Jason Rubin (he of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter) and apply your knowledge of video game making to comic making to create a retro-futuristic gangster action comic.
As a result, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen in Rubin’s four-issue Iron & The Maiden, released in a collected edition as The Iron Saint thanks to some bullshit lawsuit from the band Iron Maiden. Rubin tapped the elusive Joe Madureira to design the book’s main protagonists, the less elusive Jeff Matsuda to design the rest of the character, and Blur studios to design the backgrounds and other conceptual stuff. Despite their exaggerated styles, the character designs are fairly reasonable and period-appropriate with some nice anime-influenced flourishes.
None of the above people actually drew the comic book–and even drawing the thing was compartmentalized. Francis Manapul drew the characters and Joel Gomez drew the backgrounds. I suppose, in essence, they’re the programmers who have to make the story and conceptual art a reality within the piece.
Iron & The Maiden was originally published in 2007, and shows a slightly different Francis Manapul than the one who we see providing downright beautiful art for The Flash. I can see some of the same artist in this older work, but his style here is a bit like Joe Madureira meets Frank Cho–so the men are exaggeratedly bulky (which works for the style) and the women are exactly what you’d expect from the artist who cut his teeth drawing Witchblade in the early 2000s.
However, like Cho, Manapul proves a master of facial expressions. He’s also adept at sequential storytelling–varying panel sizes for quick moments. There’s a choice sequence within a larger panel in which a set of square panels on top of one another follow a ball and chain as it drops down the page. There are some gratuitous pin-up style pages, but I imagine it was dictated by script as opposed to artistic necessity.
The script is the weakest part of The Iron Saint. The story is fairly simple–Mike Iron gets betrayed and seeks revenge with the Angel, a woman who is also seeking revenge–but it’s saddled with a lot of exposition for the sake of world building. I’m not sure it’s all that necessary, considering the setting is a fairly recognizable alternate 1930s.
Worse off, the characters barely stand out, which is a cardinal sin when we’re supposed to identify with Mike Iron and Angel’s quest for revenge in the face of betrayal. There are some attempts at humor, but they either fall flat in the delivery or are embarrassingly ill conceived–such as Mike’s fellow gangster friend who talks in a kind of nonsense, scat-like jive that requires translation captions that clutter the panels.
Like a video game, you kind of want to skip the cutscene and get straight to the action.