In 1986 The Watchmen deconstructed the super hero genre. Since then comics have struggled with alternately taking themselves too seriously and not taking the genre seriously enough. In The Standard, John Lees creates a new type of superhero story – one that looks at the full scope of the history of comics and proposes a direction in the post-Watchmen world.
Over 40 years ago, scientist Gilbert Graham became The Standard, the world’s first superhero. When he retired, Alex Thomas – formerly his sidekick, Fabu-Lad – took on the mantle in his place, transforming The Standard from superhero to celebrity. Now, a young girl is missing, and Alex has promised to find her. Can he become a hero once more? Or does fate have other plans for The Standard?
The strength of The Standard is that it respects the past while blazing a new path for the future. The origin story is firmly rooted in the Golden Age of comics with Gilbert Graham being granted his powers in a simultaneous freak lab accident/meteorite crash. It is the kind of thing which nowadays would be laughed at in comics, but seventy years ago it was a pretty standard origin. Instead of laughing at it, writer John Lees just pushes on, bringing his hero, The Standard along with him. Joining The Standard is a teen sidekick, Fabu-Lad, and a host of colorful criminals who seem more interested in tossing out bad puns than getting away with an actual crime. Again, we would never have characters like those in modern comics, but they are a colorful part of comic history.
As the book progresses, the tone becomes darker. The villains become deadlier, and the fun begins to fall by the wayside. Eventually the original Standard retires to be replaced by a now-grown sidekick – shades of the 80′s when kid Flash took over for Flash, and Dick Grayson became Nightwing. It is also when death rears its ugly head and, as they say, nothing will ever be the same.
But instead of wallowing in all of this and lamenting the fact that the innocence of the age is lost, Lees makes a plausible case that, instead of getting darker and grittier, there is a place for characters who fight for Truth and Justice, characters who wear brightly colored costumes and who do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do. He is not saying that we need to return to the Golden Age. Instead he argues that we need to remember what it was about those Golden Age characters that made them great and bring those traits forward to the modern era.
Lees’ script is quite strong and delivers his points deftly, without bashing the reader over the head. There is a gripping mystery that runs through these three issues, driving the plot forward. It is never clear just who is and is not safe. More than once I was genuinely surprised at the turn of events.
Unfortunately the art is not quite as good as the plot. Artist Jonathan Rector adds plenty of lines to his faces and characters. Unfortunately these lines do not add as much detail as they do simply add ink to the page. Then again, this art style would be right at home in late 90′s or early 2000′s mainstream super hero comics, adding yet another layer to the cross-time aspect of it all. But, since the same techniques are used in all the eras represented, I am forced to believe it has less to do with a meta-message and more to do with artistic choice.
The Standard is a treatise on comic book characters. It attempts to plot a new course, eschewing the grim and gritty for a return to greatness. These timeless characters deserve better than they have been receiving, and now they have a new Standard to follow.
The Standard volume 1 collects the first three issues of the Comix Tribe series. You can pick up the first two issues (of six) from the Comix Tribe website. Having read the first three issues, I can assure you this is a series worth picking up and sticking with.