April 12, 2013
If any of you read this week’s edition of the Buy Pile – the weekly column on Comic Book Resources where Hannibal Tabu reads the week’s new releases and ranks the best and worst – you may have noticed a familiar comic given top billing, joining the likes of Saga #12 in the week’s recommended purchases. Here’s what Hannibal had to say about The Standard #2:
John Lees has created a superb story showing what happens not just behind, but after the mask. The retired hero formerly known as the Standard grapples with the loss of a man he raised as a son, unresolved business doomed to never be settled, all while children are going missing and the needs of heroism don’t change. Between six shades of emotional turmoil, the struggle with things left unsaid, oh and lots of flying and punching and wonderful wordplay, this issue’s remarkably well crafted. Able artwork from Jonathan Rector, vibrant colors from Gulliver Vianei and Mike Gagnon, all around wonderful work and a pleasant indie surprise.
I’m very pleased with this, not just because it’s a great review, but because Comic Book Resources is the biggest comic book site on the internet. Getting a mention there gave me a thrill, to be sure! Thanks to Hannibal for the kind words and the plug!
February 14, 2013
Here’s another review of The Standard #1 (with a little bit of commentary on the following two issues, to), from Brian Gardes of Stumptown Trade Review:
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 0′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.
I can’t quite agree with Brian’s assessment of the art, as I constantly feel like Mr. Rector’s visuals are the best thing about the book. However, that said, I’m incredibly grateful for the positive, well-written review, which you can find in full here. Thanks to Brian and Stumptown Trade Review!
February 5, 2013
As the release of The Standard #1 fast approaches, a few great reviews have been trickling in. I had intended to share them on this blog as they were first published, but time got away from me, so we’ve built up a little backlog! So, in today’s update, we’re going to share all three in a single sitting.
First up are the fine folks of ComicBuzz, a fantastic resource for comics reviews. Reviewer Colin O’Mahoney had this to say about the first issue:
Previously only available as a small press title through conventions and limited stores, The Standard #1 is released this February through Diamond distributors. Which means, in short, that it’s now available in your local comic store.
Due to lower print runs and higher overheads, indie publishes have a tendency to lean towards slightly higher cover prices. In this instance, the $3.99 asking price is justified with 28 pages of story, and over the course of its 6 bi-monthly issues an investment in the series will be smaller than for most regular series over the course of a year.
The Standard is the story of former sidekick Alex Thomas, who has taken on the role of his once-mentor The Standard. Standard was the original Superhero, a legend of the Golden Age who dedicated his life to helping others, to raising the bar for heroism, and setting a new standard for man (see what he did there, with the name?). But fast forward to the now, and Alex has taken on the mantle of the Standard in reality TV shows and advertisments, his powers enhanced with drugs, his crime-fighting exploited for profit and talk show appearances.
Throughout the story, The Standard switches between the modern day and forty years ago. Both eras look great, but in particular the book nails the golden age feel of superheroes in narration, art, colouring, and action. In a book of this nature Watchmen comparisons are unavoidable, and this is swimming in similarities, and not just the themes and settings. It also crops up in plot points later in the issue, which I will avoid discussing for obvious spoiler reasons.
As I started reading the issue, I grew pretty sceptical pretty quickly. The set-up felt so tired and familiar. But I was more than glad I persevered. Despite the premise, the story felt somehow fresh, the golden age sequences completely charmed me, and the modern age, the meat of the story, convinced me. I bought into the characters, and the drama felt real. All this and a sense of humour that always hit home. Scottish arch-supervillian The Frying Scotsman was a particular highlight, and my favourite new villian for 2013, unfortunately brief though his appearance was.
Jonathan Rector’s art is polished and enjoyable, and colourists Ray Dillon & Mo James really help sell the difference in eras. A clean, bold palette for the golden age, and slightly darker colours for the modern age, with more shade, more detail for a more complicated world.
By the time I had finished the issue my reservations had all but melted away, as though hit by a blast from the Frying Scotsman. The premise might not be new, but how many books on your pull list have what can be regarded as a new or unique premise? Not many. The Golden Age is captured so well as to re-kindle an innocent sense of excitement and wonder at men who can fly, and the rest of the book was smart enough, interesting enough, and just plain fun enough to make me rank this superhero book over a lot of similar output from the Big Two in recent years.
Thanks for the kind words, Colin, and I’m glad you stuck through that beginning and ended up enjoying the comic overall. I’ve had quite a few folks say they weren’t sure of the opening pages, but were won over as they read on further. Perhaps not the best first impression to be making with a debut comic! You can check out Colin’s review on ComicBuzz here.
The next review comes from Richard Vasseur of Jazma Online, who read the first 3 issues of The Standard and gave the story so far a fantastic 5/5 score! Here is the full review:
Gilbert Graham has a meteor crash into his lab dousing him in chemicals and meteoric particles and so his life is changed forever.
The Standard becomes a true hero always doing the right thing. He gains a sidekick Fabu-Lad and an arch-nemeses Zachary Zarthos. But things change the Standard retires and his sidekick takes over Alex Thomas. He feels insecure about his role as the world’s greatest super-hero.
This Standard made a promise and he plans to keep it. Thats what decides if he is a hero or not. Doing whats right because its right and no other reason.
The Standard wants to keep his promise to find Amy Harris a nine year old missing girl. He wants to be a true hero, not just a media fake.
Things certainly go in an unexpected way here. Alex’s sleazy agent turns out not to be all sleazy too.
In this world in the present day things have changed from the way they were for the original Standard. The heroes and villains such as the Corpse or the Piper are a lot more vicious, they are killers.
This story shows both Standards as heroes in their own ways. The old steps up to keep the promise of the new one when he can not. A promise by the Standard no matter which one is a promise and a promise is a promise.
The ending is so emotionally charged. This is what a super-hero comic should be. The Standard sets the standard for all other super-hero comics.
Glowing praise indeed! Thanks so much, Richard! Check out that review here. I also did an interview with Jazma Online, which will be getting featured on the blog later this week.
Finally, we have a positive review for The Standard #1-3 from Steven Paugh of Comic Bastards. As you can guess from their name, they don’t take themselves entirely seriously and adopt something of a humourous approach to their reviews. I was sitting on the train laughing at certain parts of this review, which must have made me look quite weird to random onlookers. Check it out:
I admit it, I’m a sucker for concepts like that which drives Comix Tribe’s The Standard. But what can I say? I’m the product of a post-Marvelman, post Watchmen world, and as such have developed a healthy respect for frailty. At the same time, I’ve grown to appreciate a concept of Time in my comics. Normally impervious to it “in-story,” comic books, as a medium, are simultaneously shaped by Time. Superman, for example, never ages, yet we define him by Ages; Golden, Silver or otherwise. Even in a world without Time, things change. And this is where I think The Standard finds its strength. Given all the titles I just listed by comparison, this book may not be breaking any new ground, but by threading its story throughout the Ages and showing, in its own unique way, the stark contrast that exists between them, The Standard gives me what I crave from modern comics … and I don’t just mean old men in spandex.
The titular character in this book is your classic swarthy Golden Age adventurer – a heady mix between The Flash, Superman and any superhero who can shoot shit from his hands. Not actual shit, mind you, that would be awkward. I’m using the vernacular term “shit” here to describe “generic laser beams,” because I’m “down” with the “kids.” See if this sounds familiar: 44 years ago, mild mannered scientist Gilbert Graham, whose name suggests he’d either become a superhero or a breakfast cereal, is suddenly thrust into greatness one night when he is doused with chemicals after a meteor crashes into his lab. Thereafter developing (as science dictates) your basic cocktail of powers, like flight, super-strength and those shit-shootin’ mitts, he becomes The Standard, protector laureate of Sky City!
As we skip ahead to today, we find that Gil has retired from superheroics in favor of a quiet life as a high school chemistry teacher. In his place, he has left The Standard’s mantle to former sidekick and adopted ward, Alex Thomas. However, the former Fabu-Lad (which I’m pretty sure is the name of an escort service) is somewhat ill at ease within both his role as an “unworthy” successor to The Standard and in this new era, where heroes have become marketable commodities … and vice-versa.
Just as the line between good and evil has been blurred, so too has the art of crime-fighting, with a harder-edged cast of characters, like lethal vigilante, The Corpse, as well as its own, Age-specific set of perils. It’s an inescapable truth that quickly catches up with The (new) Standard and explodes in an honestly shocking turn of events pretty early on, which forces The (O.G.) Standard to nut-up, talc down and pour himself back into his orange and purple spandex to once again save the day.
What is great about this book is the way it addresses that element of Time I mentioned above. We’ve seen glimpses of this in those books I compared it to, but The Standard does an enviable job of illustrating it, perhaps more clearly. This is particularly well done on one page, where our hero faces down, in two different ages respectively, a cadre of skunk-based henchmen armed with unbreakable bats, and a mindless horde of murderous children armed with … fingernails and teeth, I guess.
And herein is the crux of this story. In days gone by, The Standard would busy himself with ridiculous super villains, the kind that dress up and arm themselves like odiferously-offensive woodland creatures to commit crimes, not because they were evil, but because they were bored. Now, however, he is forced into sewer-based bouts with pedophilic hobo telepaths … which would be a great band name, by the way. “I’ve never struck a child in my life,” says The Standard as he bears down upon this villain, known as The Piper, “but now you’ve just made me knock out a roomful of them.” Like I said before … things change.
The way The Standard shunts between these eras and defines them against each other can admittedly be a bit jarring, stylistically, but the way it exemplifies the varying nature of threats between the Golden Age and today is well done, as is the treatment of same by the medium itself. The action in the former, for example is peppered with hokey exposition and pun-heavy, cheesy quips, while that of the latter is mostly silent, allowing the situation to speak for itself, other than perhaps the desperate lamentations of its reluctant hero. There is one poignant scene where we are given witness to the exact moment of this sea change; the missing link that bridges the divide between The Skunk and The Piper. The loss of innocence therein is both unexpected and suitably rending.
At the same time, this book has a lot of fun with itself. Any comic that makes a reference to “Bukakechums.net” (which, upon further inspection and a subsequent history wipe on my wife’s computer, is not an actual website) is okay in my book! Plus, its use of sound effects is … well, it’s ridiculous. Like me, you probably wouldn’t think that “words” like “RIIIITNASCHNOZZ” “OHSNAP” and “POWND” could be used to describe sound, but I guess that makes us both assholes, because that’s exactly how they are used here, to both unexpected and hilarious effect.
As for the art, while I enjoy its sinewy feel, it varies a lot in quality, even from panel to panel. I’m not sure how the same artist who can so beautifully illustrate the fantastically goofy-assed character, The Frying Scotsman in one panel, and then plop down what looks like a fan art drawing of The (new) Standard in the next. Artistic inconstancy is definitely The Standard’s most glaring issue, but its moments of brilliance and conceptual design far outweigh it.
There is still a lot of story left to tell here, not to mention mysteries that are still afoot. This one’s pretty indie, which means it lacks some polish, but for my money, The Standard is an impressive book. It may walk where others have previously tread, but it does so with a decidedly rare stylistic gait that glides as much as it galumphs.
Thank you for the very well-written review, Steven, it was a treat to read! Check out the review over at Comic Bastards here.
That was nice, 3/3 on nice reviews. Hopefully we’ll have more reviews to share in the coming weeks!
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.
April 11, 2012
Gary Watson, who wrote a great review for the first two issues of The Standard, is back with a review for The Standard #3:
If there’s one thing that’s frustrated me about The Standard…..it’s that I can’t pre-order it……and John Lees helps build that case with issue #3 of his own creation.
Following the twists and turns of an epic issue #1 & 2 (reviewed here) we see the complex story and great edge-of-your-seat plotting take hold of us and slap some old-fashioned sense into us…..”Good on you Standard!” There’s a subtle under-current here as we have the harsh reality of the world we live-in pointed out, showing it’s brutality from a crime-fighting point-of-view. Where bank-jobs and quirky villains like “The Skunk” have given way to a new-age of sick crimes performed by sick people.
What’s most interesting here is that we have both old and new crime-scenes play out alongside each other…..with interesting flips between today and a flashback to the earlier days of the Standard. A GREAT approach to storytelling which maintains the parallels and comparisons being made from page one. Another key element to this issue, as in #1 & 2, is the vein of humour that also helps keep the feeling of realism to a superhero tale from the age old puns to the real-life reaction to an old-generation getting back in the crime-fighting game.
The Standard is still focused on tracking down the missing girl and we’re sucked in by the underground world The Standard discovers along the way….not to mention the crime against the children of the city that he tries to make amends for. True to his word, the Standard fights until the end to save the missing girl and we close this issue with the triumphant return of The Standard being declared.
I can’t go any further without mentioning the artwork from Jonathan Rector – who’s managed to produce an almost Spawn-like cover as well as a seamless switch between modern times and the good old days of crime-fighting with a great level of detail. Maintaining the aged detail of The Standard’s face, the spandex-like costumes of old school villains and the dark sinister edge that’s needed for the underground layer of our modern-day villain. Kudos goes to Mike Ganon for colouring the issue and for Kel Nuttall on letters – an accomplished group involved in a top title on my pull-list.
The indy market for comics just now is just so fresh and rewarding and it’s fitting that John’s named his title “The Standard”…..I can only assume it’s a co-incidence but he’s managing to throw down the gambit and compete against some of the bigger titles flooding the comic book shelves these days with a lot of success. Keep up the good work guys – you’re making this comic book nut more than happy….roll on the rest of this 6-issue gem.
To see the review accompanied by lots of pictures on the site, go here. Thanks again for another in-depth review, Gary. I continue to appreciate Comics Anonymous’ support!
April 5, 2012
Hey all! If you’re in Glasgow, make sure to visit the Glasgow Comic and Toy Mart on Saturday 7th April (more info on that tomorrow), as The Standard #3 will make its worldwide debut there. But some people have had a chance to read the third issue a little early, and so some early feedback is starting to trickle in. This review comes from Garry McLaughlin, the rising star artist behind such comics as Old Folks’ Home, Good Cop, Bad Cop, Taking Flight and the upcoming horror graphic novel Black Leaf, written by yours truly. He wrote this excellent, incredibly flattering review of The Standard #3 on his blog:
Managed to do a great trade with John Lees at the Glasgow League of Writers group (http://glowriters.blogspot.co.uk) tonight – ‘Taking Flight’ arrived hot off the press from UKomics this morning, roughly about the same time as John’s stock of the third issue of The Standard dropped, so we swapped.
Just got home and read it, and thought I better get a post up here while it’s fresh.
I loved the Standard when I first caught it. I didn’t know John then; he kind of snuck up on the non-GLoW part of the comics scene in Glasgow with some incredible reviews, and on reading about it I knew I had to get it straight away. I wasn’t disappointed – the first issue occupied this strange beautiful place between the Silver and Dark ages of comics, walking that tightrope with some ease. After setting up the main story and introducing us to some fantastic characters, it ended on a bang, snatching the ground out from under us, and instantly setting its stall as a comic that would be dealing with the unexpected.
The art by Jon Rector (http://jonathanrector.tumblr.com/) was fantastic – dense inks that left enough room for the story to shine through, not dedicated to splashing black across every inch of panel. The art really acted in service to the story, as it should, and the colours and lettering were great too.
The second issue was announced by a beautifully atmospheric cover, and we moved into a different, darker phase of the story. This was becoming a nuanced piece about the difficulties of retiring as a superhero and handing over to younger people who might have a murkier sense of justice and responsibility than you. It also took sideways swipes at celebrity culture and corporate sponsorship, but we were aware by now that underneath all this fairly dazzling superhero stuff, some more repugnant was evolving.
The regular flashbacks revealed the life of the Standard and Fabu-lad, the kid he takes under his wing. That story is a re-telling of the Batman and Robin relationship, but instead of being bound together by the loss of their parents, this dynamic duo are more complex – original Standard Gilbert Graham isn’t the damaged playboy of Bruce Wayne, he’s a fairly solid, dependable chap – maybe even slightly boring. And Alex Thomas/Fabu-lad’s parents aren’t dead – they’re abusive, as revealed in a heart-breakingly poignant scene. That Graham adopts him and helps him transform into Fabu-lad is a twist on the later relationship that was played out in the Batman universe – that Bruce Wayne was a loner, who worked with Robin reluctantly. This issue harks back to a Golden Age when both were in it together, as much for the fun as for the justice.
Yet the introduction of more details about the missing girl in this story and the hinting at the villain, as well as detail on the “Rorschach” style superhero, The Corpse, lean this second issue towards a bleaker place, even if there is still humour.
By this time I was hooked, line and sinker; Jon’s art got better, even he was let down slightly by a different colourist who I felt didn’t quite capture the magic of the first issue, and John’s story was superbly written.
Now, it’s been a long time coming, but I’ve just sat and devoured issue 3. That tightrope between Silver and Dark Age is traversed again as Graham takes up the mantle of the Standard again, coming out of retirement to save the missing girl. The journey to find the villain is a fraught one – in a deft move, Lees darts around some potentially uncomfortable issues that could surround a killer who is child abductor, and in doing so creates a villain that is creepier than we could have ever imagined, and an enemy that makes Graham’s role as superhero look in peril. It also explains the intensely creepy cover, with the evil-looking little girl and her pet skunk…
The skunk relates to the villain in Graham’s flashbacks, The Skunk, a Silver Age villain if ever there was one – someone in it for the rush and the thrill of robbery and extortion, using his deadly pungent gases to commit his heinous crimes. This is intercut with the present day mission to reveal and defeat the kidnapper of the city’s kids. But nothing’s as cut and dry as it seems – even the end to The Skunk’s criminal escapades is dark and tragic, although we find out he turned it around in later years.
Lees uses an interesting device that I think is sometimes overused in comics – the pages of talking heads. However it works really well in this instance, as we see various witnesses and protagonists interviewed for a documentary on The Standard. None of this stuff feels forced or gimmicky; not only is the story strong enough to take the weight of these devices, but their sparing use, and the way in which they are skilfully inter cut acts a lever for the plot, moving it forward in ways that give us lots of character information and backstory without ever feeling expository.
Some of the atmosphere John builds feels straight out of Watchmen, and I’m not overplaying it when I say that this comic feels like it fits directly into a position after that book. It’s like John has recognised the inherent flaw in so much of what followed Alan Moore’s magnum opus – that superheroes just became gritty without any thought for the whys and wherefores - and has positioned his book to pick up some of the questions Moore was asking about his superheroes back then. This isn’t a book that fits into the Marvel/DC mould. It doesn’t feel like common modern deconstruction either.
It feels like a fresh reimagining of the world of comics directly after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, exploring what it meant for the world to catch up with the heroes, what it meant to live in a world where villains became increasingly more psychotic and dangerous, not only to the public at large, but also to the heroes themselves. And also what happens to morality and responsibility when the glare of celebrity washes over them?
The Standard issue 3 doesn’t end on a cliffhanger the way earlier issues did – in fact, you could say that the opening arc is now closed – but we’re left with subtler, sweeter questions that make me desperate to read more. These questions are now dependant on the very interesting characters that Lees has created – I want to know the story of these characters, not just the next part of the plot.
Also on the art, Rector’s digital work looks fantastic, particularly as the book progresses. And the new colourist, Mike Gagnon, issue 2′s flatter, just makes the work sing; his flat blocks are much more suited to the Standard’s time and epoch-hopping nature, and do great service to the rich blacks of the art. Kel Nuttall’s lettering is fantastic too.
A final note on this “comic age” thing I talked about earlier – in taking his lead from the type of work Alan Moore was doing with Watchmen, John has constructed a story and a book that skates casually through Silver and Dark age stuff, but the result is very much Renaissance. This doesn’t feel retro, or like a pastiche. It feels solid and consistent, and is even greater than the sum of its parts.
I can’t wait until all six issues are out and this is available to buy in trade format on some lush paper and with a nice hardback cover, but until that stage, you need to pick up this book.
And I got through this whole post without referring to “indie” once. The comic is that good.It would sit comfortably beside anything that mainstream publishers are putting out there right now, and frankly shits over most of Marvel and the DC New 52.
Head over to the website: http://thestandardcomic.com/
Be sure to check out Garry’s blog, Oscillatum, where you can find this in-depth review and more great comics commentary. Thanks for the brilliant review, Garry! “Shits over most of Marvel and the DC New 52″ would be a great cover quote for the trade…
December 22, 2011
As part of his Men in Tights review column, Evan Henry already gave The Standard #1 a good review. Well, now he’s back with a look at The Standard #2. Here’s what he had to say (warning, spoilers for the first issue!):
THE STANDARD #2 of 6 (Comix Tribe)
Written by JOHN LEES
Art by JONATHAN RECTOR
Color by GULLIVER VIANEI & MIKE GAGNON
Letters by KEL NUTTALL
Edited by STEVEN FORBES
The Standard is dead. Savagely murdered and decapitated in his own home, Alex Thomas has left the mantle that he inherited from his predecessor empty and bloodied. Gilbert Graham, the aforementioned predecessor, is long retired from crimefighting and now has a day job as a chemistry teacher.
Much of this issue is devoted to the origin of the second Standard, Alex Thomas, interspersed with scenes of Gilbert Graham dealing with the death of his former sidekick. The issue is packed full of mystery and intrigue, but it indisputably hits its high point when Gilbert Graham punches Alex’s former agent, Bill Finney, in the face, accompanied by sound effect “RIIIIIIIIITNASCHNOZZ”. That made me smile.
Unbeknownst to Graham, Finney’s motives are not business-related, and he wants only to deliver Graham information related to Alex’s last unsolved case — that of Amy Harris, a missing nine-year-old girl whom Alex had become dedicated to finding.
The art is great, bordering on spectacular throughout, with a few instances of anatomical awkwardness here and there. Jonathan Rector is a really, really good artist, and the art even shows marked improvement just since the first issue.
John Lees’ writing remains as good as it was last issue. The old-fashioned thought bubbles that appear extensively in the flashback scenes are slightly annoying, though I can see their usefulness as a stylistic device. The structure of the issue — present-day narrative switched regularly with flashback scenes — is very effective in moving the story along with a good measure of pacing and mystery.
The Standard is a very good comic. It is undeniably clichéd in some departments, but the fact that it acknowledges its own clichéd-ness, combined with the sheer quality of execution, earns it a pass. I recommend it to anyone in the market for an independent superhero comic that is both reverent of its influences while simultaneously fresh and reasonably original. You can check out the Standard at its official website and on Graphic.ly.
Thanks again, Evan! You can check out that review here, and be sure to check out Evan’s Men in Tights column for more insightful reviews. He says he’s got Vic Boone coming up next: I’ve read that, and it’s a goodun!
December 6, 2011
The reviews of The Standard #1 and #2 are still coming in, and the response is still positive. Gary Watson, of Scottish-based comics site Comics Anonymous, recently picked up the first two issues, and here’s what he had to say:
Now as you’ll no doubt have seen in my recent reviews…..the small press shelf is not to be passed-by……and “The Standard”….is yet another reason for that.
The special powers of writing belong to John Lees with his art sidekick Jonathan Rector and they combine to bring us the story of Gilbert Graham aka The Standard. A mild-mannered scientist given superpowers when a meteorite hits his lab…..don’t you hate it when that happens? Now that premise is pretty typical of a superhero origin…..but thankfully that’s where this stops being your typical comic book.
The Standard #1:
Gilbert’s days as The Standard seem to be long behind him as his side-kick, Fabu-Lad (aka Alex Thomas), has taken on the role following Gilbert’s retirement from the hero game. Set in Sky City, we see that Alex has veered away from the hero business and into the world of celebrity…..fame, fortune and reality TV has grabbed his attention these days….but at heart he’s still a hero. When a young girl goes missing he promises to find her…..and from here we’re on the betting game as to whether Alex will become a hero “The Standard” should be or give in to the celebrity life-syle. The issue plays out with a mysterious figure and a violent ending that I’m trying not to give away as best I can.
The Standard #2:
Issue #2 builds on the fallout from #1 and we get to know a lot more about Gilbert’s life these days as a school teacher……answering questions about his hero days and wowing the class. Intermingled with this we have some back-story on Fabu-Lad and we get to sit-in on some pretty poignant moments as Gilbert finds out about his abusive life so-far……false papers and an alias later, Gilbert has taken “Alex” under his wing and his training begins. We have mentions of secret serums, corporate goings-on and Alex’s agent chasing after Gilbert for what seems like ulterior motives but it all boils down to the missing girl and the quest to find her. Another hint at the mysterious figure at the end of the issue has me hooked BIG time.
It’s rare that I read and re-read an issue, let alone 2, in the way I have with The Standard……there’s something about it that seems familiar….the writing is so strong and involving that I just can’t seem to put them down……but that’s a good thing……I can only imagine that I’ll be re-reading the whole thing as each issue comes out. The pacing and plot are perfect, with a switch between now and a flashback here n there at just the right point to keep you up to date with the info you need. Even the supporting characters in this are likeable….the Scottish agent guy is BRILLIANT…..and the Villain, “The Frying Scotsman” is a stroke of genius. It’s actually a welcome change to see a Scottish character in a comic….one that I can pick up on his accent….even though it’s in print.
This is all backed up by Rector’s art which is exceptionally detailed where it needs to be and then slips into minimalist panels and bold colours that you’d expect from a hero comic. Looking at that cover for issue #2, it reminds of Joe Quesada and the colouring throughout both issues just seems to seep into the pages and settle into a natural look.
For me, the 2-issues here are among some of the best I’ve read in quite some time – thanks to both the writing and the art. It’s got a nostalgic edge to it but not in a schmaltzy way and somehow managed to keep hold of its on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller status….as well as being about a superhero. That’s no mean feat from an independent title – a first class book and I’m holding my breath for issue 3….4….5……AND 6…..because I’m getting them all. It’s no wonder it gained 2 nominations at this years Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards (SICBA)….if anything, it should’ve won them….in my opinion anyway.
Hoping to have more reviews of this as the issues hit the comic book shelves.
Thanks to Gary for the very kind review. Comics Anonymous is a great collective of comics journalist, commentators and reviewers. I got to meet a couple of them at a Glasgow League of Writers event a few weeks back, and they’re nice folk too. Check out the review at the site here, and while you’re there, check out the rest of the site, with insightful reviews and cool creator interviews, among other goodies. Thanks again!
August 30, 2011
It’s a huge week for comics. Tomorrow, DC Comics brings its current publishing line to an end with Flashpoint #5, and on the same day launches its new era with Justice League #1. This is the first of 52 new #1s that will launch over the month of September, DC’s bid to make their comics more accessible to new and lapsed readers. On the #comicmarket tab on Twitter, fans, retailers and professionals are suggesting indy and creator-owned titles that could work as companions to each of DC’s New 52 titles. I’d like to enter the fray and throw my hat into the ring, presenting – for those who have not yet heard of it – my superhero comic The Standard. I’d suggest it as a companion book to Action Comics #1, given how Grant Morrison’s depiction of superheroes, particularly on All Star Superman, was a big inspiration for my own approach to the genre. And, more tenuously, me and Mr. Morrison are both from Glasgow!
Over 40 years ago, mild-mannered scientist Gilbert Graham became The Standard, the world’s first real life superhero. When he retired, Alex Thomas – formerly The Standard’s sidekick, Fabu-Lad – took on the mantle in his place, transforming The Standard from superhero to celebrity. But somewhere amidst all the sponsorship deals and reality TV shows, Alex lost sight of what Gilbert created The Standard to represent. Now, a young girl is missing, and The Standard has promised to find her. Can Alex Thomas become a hero once more? Or does fate have other plans for The Standard?
The Standard is the story of two different men from two different eras who share the same heroic legacy. But when a catastrophic event brings the two generations into collision, The Standard is forced to ask if superheroes still have a place in today’s cynical world. The Standard is a 6-issue comic book miniseries, each chapter 28 pages long. It is written by me, John Lees, is pencilled and inked by Jonathan Rector, colored by Gulliver Vianei and Mike Gagnon, lettered by Kel Nuttall, and edited by Steven Forbes. The comic is published by ComixTribe.
The Standard #1 is available from Indyplanet, priced at $3.99. You can also buy it digitally for $1.99 from Graphicly, Wowio, DriveThruComics and MyDigitalComics. This series debut was nominated for two Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards: Best Comic/Graphic Novel and Best Writer. Here’s what the critics have been saying about it:
A solid debut for Lees and Rector onto the comic book scene as well as for a new superhero story that may offer something a bit different than what Marvel or DC are doing right now… If you are someone who wants to support “indie” comics but isn’t into the supernatural or angst ridden gothic things, this is the title for you.
- Alex Widen, Brooklyn Comic Books Examiner
The art is fantastic bringing crisp, clean, and beautiful work on every panel. Just like the art, the writing is excellent and panel by panel I found myself feeling as if I was familiar with the characters and developing a bond with them.
- Stephen Jondrew, Project Fanboy
The Standard leaps the hurdle that many independent comics cannot. Some indie comics suffer from low-quality art and writing, and clichés both visually and in the narrative. The Standard carries itself quite well, providing an intriguing story and characters that are both engaging and easy on the eyes. I have to say that as far as creator-owned, independently-published superhero comics go, you’d be hard pressed to find something better.
- Dan Cole, Broken Frontier
In the age of reality television and absolute sensationalism, The Standard is deeply relevant.
- James Miller, Comics Bulletin
Comix Tribe is really publishing a slew or interesting titles these days and The Standard easily lives up to what I am quickly coming to expect from their titles.
- Tom Feazell, Omnicomic
This book reeks of professionalism, looking and acting like a Marvel or DC Comic. The Standard creative team have no fear in showing the world that they are just as smart and clever as the big boys.
- Luke Halsall, Geek Syndicate
The Standard is a comic book story that is growing. This issue continues to hook you in, further then issue one did. It’s structure is far superior to the already great issue one, making you want more.
- Luke Halsall, Geek Syndicate
Comix Tribe publishing – with the talented team of John Lees, Jonathan Rector, Gulliver Vianei, Mike Gagnon and Kel Nuttall – has us take a look at what it might be like if a human being with actual human emotions was faced with a terrible sense of guilt and loss.
- Tom Feazell, Omnicomic
At any rate, for fans of super hero comics who are consistently put off by crossover events, continuity revamps and endless appearances by a handful of characters, THE STANDARD offers a finite story with new creations and unexpected events. Often times, it is only those “indie” comics that can offer genuine surprises – as the creator is beholden to no one and thus anything can happen – and THE STANDARD is no exception. Regardless of the format, it’s definitely worth a look.
- Alex Widen, Brooklyn Comic Books Examiner
The Standard #2 is once again a great read and in my opinion will appeal to all different ages and types of readers.
- Stephen Jondrew, Project Fanboy
Overall, both issues of The Standard have been a fresh new take on some old comic book themes with a fantastic story that combines drama and action with a nice touch of humor and that’s complemented well by the eye-catching art. If you’re a fan of superheroes at all I can’t recommend enough that you pick this up. The Standard is worth a piece of your comic budget and Lees is a writer that I hope to see a lot more of in the future.
- Bill Janzen, Comics Bulletin
If you’re interested in finding out more about The Standard, check out thestandardcomic.com for regular updates. Also, if you’re attending New York Comic Con, I’ll be there at the ComixTribe booth, so if you’re attending, stop by, say hello, and pick up the comic and perhaps some other goodies!
August 4, 2011
Issue #2 is now available, but people are still discovering The Standard #1. Here’s a review from Evan Henry, writer of the InGenre column Men in Tights:
Here’s an oddity — an independent superhero comic that doesn’t suck.
The Standard is the world’s first superhero. Originally born when scientist Gilbert Graham was involved in an accident involving a meteor crashing into his lab (don’t you just hate when that happens), the original Standard has retired. In his stead, Alex Thomas, his former sidekick, has stepped in to take up the mantle and continue to save lives and inspire humanity.
But Thomas is something of a sub-par successor to Graham. The Standard is now more a corporate franchise than a superhero. Colognes, advertising campaigns, and television shows all now bear the name and image of the Standard. In a word, Alex is what you might call a sellout. In his own eyes, he is also a failure. Having promised the mother of a missing child that he would find her daughter, he was yet to do so, and he won’t let himself forget it.
Much of this issue is split between focusing on the early adventures of the original Standard and his sidekick (then known as Fabu-Lad), and the present-day life of Alex Thomas. The former part of the story very much has a Silver Age feel to it, both in the scripting and in the art, while the latter part seems to be steeped in more modern, gritty, and down-to-earth sensibilities. (I’d also argue that there is some subtle commentary here on the major differences between the superheroes of the Silver Age and those of the modern day, but that might just be my brain seeing this that aren’t there — I’ll stop digressing now before this gets out of hand.) It is a testament to the overall quality of the work that the two worlds seem to mesh effortlessly.
The art is generally excellent, with only a few slip-ups in the penciling department. The colors are outstanding, and the scripting is good.
Now on to the complaints:
Don’t get me wrong — this is a very good comic, and I definitely recommend it. However, it is not without its problems. Namely, the ending. I don’t know that I can give it away without spoiling the book, but suffice it to say that it is unexpected and, to say the least, oddly executed. I feel that it could have been set up earlier on in order to heighten the impact, and certainly could have been given a little more breathing room than it was.
All that being said, this comic is great, and I highly recommend it.
Thanks, Evan! You can find this review here. The Standard #1 is still available from Indyplanet, Graphicly, Wowio, DriveThruComics and MyDigitalComics. And you can get The Standard #2 from IndyPlanet, Graphicly, Wowio, DriveThruComics and MyDigitalComics.