(w) Matt Fraction (a) Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson
There have been several attempts to revive the aesthetic of pulp storytelling over the years. Most attempts have been via the reintroduction of a once-popular character from yesteryear, such as The Shadow at Dynamite. Arguably the most successful has been Dave Stephens’ The Rocketeer, an original creation that paid tribute to a bygone era, much like the Indiana Jones movies and old movie serials. Like Stephens before them, Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson’s Adventureman is an original work that is as much a love letter to old pulp storytelling as it is a modern-day adventure.
Adventureman #1 is pretty much a double-sized issue, dedicating nearly half of the page-space to the titular world of the fictional(?) Adventureman, his friends, and his enemies. While there is a lot to take in, this inclusion by Fraction and the Dodsons ends up as a crucial element of the world of the main narrative. Readers are introduced to the titular Adventureman, his supporting cast, and his rogues gallery. It reads very much like a Silver-Age Batman comic, which is a touch off from the pulp aesthetic of the Dodsons’ art. It’s a sensory overload, which in turn makes for an effective bait-and-switch as the book jumps to the world of our protagonist, Claire, and her family. With that said, it does cause a bit of a pacing issue, especially since other comics have been able to do the exact same thing with far greater efficiency. This may work better in a collected format, but as a single issue it leaves something to be desired.
Though the introductory salvo is a celebration of excess, the rest of the issue is a strong introduction to the world at hand. The main protagonist, Claire, is a single mother who runs her deceased mother’s bookstore. Her son, Tommy, loves old Adventureman stories, and also introduces readers to an entertaining catchphrase that will likely make more appearances throughout the series. It is through Tommy and Claire’s other family members that Fraction allows the reader to understand her character. She is a rather quiet individual, who unlike her sisters, father, or son enjoys life free from adventure. Essentially, she checks all the boxes for an unlikely hero.
The approach to Claire’s character is indicative of the issue’s overall struggle to find balance between a subtle and overt storytelling approach. Yes, Claire is an unlikely hero, but the story dedicates so much time emphasizing how much she avoids excitement that it is unsurprising that she is the one to stumble into a pulp adventure. Yet at the same time, Claire’s unique personality quirks make her so endearing and relatable. A dinner-table setting sees Claire’s family share one adventurous thing they’ve done. Claire’s own predisposition to avoid adventure causes the sequence to reflect a social media experience, where users often feel inadequacy by comparing their daily lives – which are often boring – to the highlights that others share.
Visually, the art by Terry and Rachel Dodson is wonderful. They bring a timeless aesthetic to every project they work on, which works perfectly for this title. In particular, their use of a muted color palette composed primarily of earth tones adds to the old-timey, pulp-inspired look. Where their work really shines is their expressive characters and their ability to convey naturalistic, fluid movement across the page. The manner in which they render figures gives the reader a true sense as to how someone like Claire, or Tommy, or Adventureman himself would walk, sit, or even lean up against a wall during conversation. The artwork goes a long way in making Adventureman #1 an immersive throwback to pulp magazine style.
While it does struggle at times to find its footing, Adventureman #1 is a solid debut issue that gets stronger with each turn to the page. The story is initially buoyed by fantastic art, and the extra pages give the writing time to match the quality, which it does. By the time the last page is reached, the thought of waiting for a second issue becomes unbearable.