A 5-Star Review for The Standard #3!
October 23, 2012
In the wake of New York Comic Con, Alex Widen of Examiner – who gave The Standard #1 its first ever review way back – has returned with a fantastic review of The Standard #3. Check it out:
The annual New York Comic Con 2012 is naturally a place in which one can find promotions and merchandise regarding all sorts of media, but comic books are the specific ideal. While the bigger companies may be there to promote films, TV shows and video games, many small publishers and/or creator owned books also have a presence there seeking promotion, sales, and positive word-of-mouth. For the second straight year (that I am aware of), the small but steadily growing publisher ComixTribe had a booth there promoting their own creator owned comics. The company, of creators helping other creators, seeks to promote and distribute each others’ books in both printed and digital forms. One of these books which I have had the honor of reviewing in the past was THE STANDARD, a great new mini series written by U.K. based talent John Lees and drawn by Canadian based talent Jonathan Rector.
The first two issues of THE STANDARD were distributed digitally at Wowio, Graphicly, and DriveThruComics with limited print-to-order issues from Indy Planet back in May and July of 2011. Ever since then it has been quiet for the series as Lees and Rector have sought to focus on getting it distributed in the U.K. before seeking to have it as well as other ComixTribe comics spread their wings and get more exposure in the direct market. As such THE STANDARD #3 was available in Glasgow in April, but there were no copies available within North America. However, print copies were offered at the ComixTribe table at this year’s NYCC along with the news that the company would begin having their comics distributed by Diamond in December, with THE STANDARD being solicited in November and up for sale in the states in January. The first three issues will be available as single issues, along with a trade paperback collecting all three 28 page issues. Adopting a bi-monthly schedule, the series will ship bi-monthly starting in January. THE STANDARD #3 isn’t set to be available in the states until May 2013, but this column is privy to a rare first look.
As a recap, THE STANDARD is a story covering two generations of the titular super-hero. The original Standard was Gilbert Graham, a scientist who gained super-powers after his laboratory was hit by a strange meteor. Donning an orange and purple costume, he battled no end of over the top super villains of the time, such as the mad scientist Zachary Zarthos. Graham eventually stumbled upon an injured and traumatized boy, Alex Thomas, who he saved, empowered, and ultimately trained as his sidekick, Fabu-Lad. After a long career, Graham retired and Alex took over the mantle, eventually deciding to reveal his identity to the public and become a media superstar with his own reality TV series. Graham retired to become a school teacher and seemed content with that lifestyle, especially as the times and vigilantes began to grow steadily darker. When Alex is brutally murdered (and beheaded) in the first issue of the mini series, Graham must become the Standard once more.
This issue, as with the previous two, splices between action in the present day and flashbacks to the brighter era of Standard’s career. Another one of the Standard’s old enemies was a stink-themed villain called the Skunk, who may remind some of Stinkor from “HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE”. While the “golden era” of the past is treated as a far simpler and more over-the-top era as an homage to the 1950′s to 1960′s era of comics, there are always twists which hint of the darkness to come. Graham has been convinced by Alex’s often sleazy agent Bill Finney to solve one case that Alex was struggling with before his murder; the abduction of Amy Harris as well as other children about the area. Another vigilante in this series, “the Corpse”, represents the “edgy” and violent anti-heroes who started emerging in the late 1980′s into the 1990′s, complete with a SPAWN inspired cape. While the mystery of who is killing (and decapitating) people affiliated with the Alex Thomas and businesswoman Zena Zarthos continues, the meat of the issue covers Graham’s first foray as the Standard in decades as he must travel into the dark underbelly of the city to stop a disturbingly super-powered child predator.
What sets this apart from other “old superhero comes out of retirement to don the spandex again” stories are the often vibrant colors by colorist Mike Gagnon and the timelessly corny, but determined, Gilbert Graham himself. Lees has wisely not made his elder hero a grizzled and brutal figure; instead he has maintained that timeless Silver Age quality mentality about him. Graham doesn’t curse, and doesn’t use more force than he has to. He certainly wouldn’t threaten anyone with knives like the Corpse does. The action mingles flashbacks with Skunk’s gang with the current and more grim struggle against Piper and his own “horde”. While at 28 pages it is longer than most comic books, skilled use of panels per page manage to have this issue cover a lot of material without it seeming so. This issue ends on a more upbeat note than the previous two, although given that this is the midway point of the series, that probably won’t last long. Rector’s style of art manages to suit both the flashbacks and the grimy modern scenes and may remind some of Image Comics founders. Influences of Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino seem to peek out of Rector’s own smooth lines and panels. Perhaps “the Standard” that Graham sets is that simply because dark things happen in an increasingly gray world doesn’t mean that morals have to buckle under to it. Graham himself reminds me of Adam West’s Batman, if that incarnation were forced into participating in a more “grim” story line from Scott Synder’s current BATMAN run.
An amazing and intriguing series thus far, it mingles superhero tropes that most readers will be familiar with into a narrative all its own. While some of the bloodshed may drastically contrast with other sections of the story, that contrast is deliberate. Superhero comics in general seem to be at a tug of war between a more quaint past and a more brutal present, and this series captures that perfectly as a centerpiece for a murder mystery. The printed issues are $3.99 each when they are available, which for 28 glossy story pages with zero ads is a very good value. It has been a long wait between issues and May 2013 until issue four is quite a while off. The best thing readers can do to ensure they get exposed to this series is either to track down ComixTribe at a major con or order the series when it hits PREVIEWS in November. The trade collection of all three issues will be a great way to build buzz as well as catch up in time for the fourth issue.
This series was nominated for an Eagle Award, and once one reads it, it is easy to see why. While the only flaw is the length between issues, such things are a reality with creator owned series and won’t hinder the work forever. Fans of superhero comics who want a great new take at the genre without feeling like going on the “spin cycle” of Marvel and DC should check out THE STANDARD, pronto. Purple and orange tights never looked so good!
This was a great read, with Alex really nailing a lot of the ideas I’ve been trying to explore with The Standard, and often expressing them better than I can! I’m also pleased to see plenty of acknowledgement for the stellar work done by Jonathan Rector and Mike Gagnon on the third issue. Thanks to Alex for such an in-depth, insightful review! You can check out the review, along with a slideshow, over at examiner.com.