So, this week sees not one but two new Chaykin-drawn and –written comics. The first is a slight but fun five-pager in IDW’s Hero Comics, a benefit book for the worthy Hero Initiative. This is I think the second time in recent years that Chaykin has returned to the settings and characters of American Flagg!, the series that cemented his reputation as one of the most innovative and groundbreaking creators in comics—the first being a new story that was included in the recent AF reprints by Dynamic Forces and Image but which I haven’t read.
Anyway, it’s a treat to see Chaykin back in his futuristic cusp-of-dystopia Chicago. The beefier, meatier style that he’s adopted for figure drawing lately is well suited for a story that follows a slightly older Reuben Flagg and Mandy Krieger as they reflect on Flagg’s alleged has-been status: It seems that Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger—the tv show that Flagg once starred on until he was replaced by a hologram of himself—has become an enormous hit since the flesh-and-bone Flagg’s departure. Chaykin has a bit of fun here, using Flagg to indulge in to but also to gently lampoon his own tendency in interviews to complain about how he often does not receive the credit due him for his pioneering formal innovations in the 1980s, innovations that continue to be enormously influential in comics storytelling.* Flagg notes of an episode of the resurgent Mark Thrust, “Is it just me, but isn’t this sequence a retread of something I did in season one?” Mandy is there, however, to pierce the bubble of Flagg’s self-pity at being a “victim of cultural amnesia” by reminding him of actors and artists who are a whole lot worse off than he is. It’s a slight story but a funny (and fully knowing) illustration of Chaykin’s tendency to self-aggrandize and self-deprecate almost in the same breath.
The real action, though, is in the first issue of Chaykin’s new Dominic Fortune mini-series for Marvel’s MAX line.
Fortune began as The Scorpion, a pulp-inspired soldier of fortune that Chaykin created for the short-lived upstart publisher Atlas/Seabord (about which much more here). After a falling out with A/S editorial, Chaykin wheeled the character over to Marvel and rechristened him Dominic Fortune. Dom made a few appearances in Marvel’s magazine-format comics and occasionally pops up in the mainstream MU, but this is the first time Chaykin has handled the character since the early 1980s. It’s a hugely entertaining distillation of Chaykin’s pulp-adventure enthusiasms: There’s obscure martial history (the Chaco War!), vintage aviation, casual nudity, sex comedy, cyanide tooth capsules, drunken plutocrats, and—of course—the eternal struggle between scheming anti-Semitism and two-fisted anti-fascism. Chaykin seems to be having a ball, and it shows. (I’m not wild about the coloring on Chaykin’s most recent Marvel work, but I’ve got to think about that some more.)
I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and hoping it leads to more off-the-beaten-path work for Chaykin at Marvel. Now that Ed Brubaker has revived the paranoid, commie-smashing 1950s-era Captain America, I’d love it if Chaykin did a whole mini-series on the character a la his Captain America: America First! one-shot from last year, which featured a surprisingly sympathetic and nuanced treatment of a character who is usually written as a one-note psychopath.
*Michael Chabon expresses the fundamental importance of Chaykin’s groundbreaking work in Maps and Legends, where he makes an apt comparison between Chaykin’s comics and the films of Orson Welles: “Welles and Chaykin may not have invented or pioneered all the stylistic and technical innovations on display in their masterworks, but they were the first to put them all together in a way that changed how their successors thought about what they could, and had to, and wanted to do” (102).