"The Case of the Puzzled Pugilist"
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Mike Perkins
Simon Archard’s agent, the former pugilist turned gentleman Peter Grimes, is being hunted down by some former boxing syndicate thugs and so decides to lie low in the country for the summer, posing as a servant to the Earl of Haverhampton. During this time Haverhampton, is murdered. Grimes blames the Earl’s son, who is having an affair with the victim’s girlfriend, and beats him to a pulp. Suddenly the son-in-law confesses, saying that Haverhampton cheated at cards. Thus the whole mystery is solved.
As you may be able to tell from the disjointed plot summary, this is another Chuck Dixon comic, and it displays a complete lack of anything resembling literary competence. For instance, we are shown over two pages that the Earl is a big fish fan. He goes fishing with Grimes, where they catch a big fish. The Earl then invites Grimes into his library to show him all his trophy fish. Two pages establishing this fact and then….nothing. It has no bearing on the rest of the story, it has nothing to do with the eventual murder and it doesn’t reveal anything of significance of Haverhampton’s character. We are not exactly in Agatha Christie country here.
The story is populated by one-dimensional characters acting in clichés. The son having an affair with his father’s young girlfriend, the playwright ridiculed by his prospective sponsor; this is as far as characterisation goes. Most of the time it feels that the characters are just there because the plot needed them. This is most evident towards the end – why did Grimes suddenly beat up on the son like a mad psychopath? Why did this so shock the son-in-law (a cold-blooded murderer no less) that he felt the need to immediately confess his sins? Why did the son-in-law murder him simply because he cheated at cards?
All this and some of the worst dialogue heard this side of JLA/Avengers, particularly from Grimes’ friend Lilly McMurdy whose dialect changes from Irish to Yorkshire in four panels!!
Anyway, the saving grace for CrossGen has usually been the artwork. In the past they have always been the best-presented books on the market. This is my first encounter with Mike Perkins’ work and it doesn't hold up. The characters all have the same expression throughout the book, and some of the storytelling lacks clarity. There are some nice individual panels though, particularly where Macomber Hall is revealed for the first time, but for a comic that sprung from Ruse with Butch Guice’s exquisite work (and Laura Martin’s wonderful palette) this just isn’t good enough.
Two years ago CrossGen were putting out books that were the model of what mainstream comics should be. Never really revolutionary, they were nonetheless great-looking with solid stories. However, if you take my advice you will avoid this book and remember how they used to be…and hope this is a one-off.
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