Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Hi, Julia? HI?! I haven't heard from you for ages and you come at me with Hi?"
"You're mad at me?"
"You're surprised? We've been busy. You're doing so great."
"Is Julia even your name?"
"What are you talking about?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Okay, what am I doing here?"
"Being the fanciest of fancy comic book persons."
"This is nuts."
"Really? You're mad?"
"Of course I'm mad."
"You're mad you're not hunched over your space paintings in that tinderbox of a house you live in?"
"You arranged this."
"Of course. You wanted it, didn't you?"
"I wanted them to invite me. I wanted them to want me. Am I a baby for being disappointed that you manipulated all of this instead of me earning it?"
"You are here because of you. Life is who you know and you know me. I'm just here to take advantage of it. Sweetie, the rules remain the same. You are desperately needed. Your cover is needed. That's why I am here."
"So...? Am I here because they invited me, or because you got them to invite me?"
"It's Angoulême. Who gives a shit?"
"I think I do."
Haha, Max Field, comics creator and more recently secret undercover agent for an American intelligence agency still so, so very desperately craves the approbation of his industry! Well, perhaps he ought to feel a tad puffed up and important that 'Julia' wants to entrust him with a highly important secret mission to try and turn another secret agent working for an unknown foreign power, who just also happens to be, yes, you've guessed it, a comics creator. "A really famous comics book artist" in Max's own words. How hard could that be, right? Go to a swanky dinner with a group of comics colleagues, let the drink start flowing and just have a casual chat.
It's going to go badly...
I am now going to make a bold statement, so brace yourselves. This may well be the best thing that Bendis has ever written. It is certainly the best thing he has written since the original JESSICA JONES: ALIAS material (in my humble opinion), and he has written a lot of good material in the meanwhile as I am sure you will know.
From the preposterous, yet upon reflection perfectly plausible premise (I'm sure I saw Bryan Talbot using a dead letter box at the last LICAF outside the Kendal Clock Tower...), the insanely brilliant back-and-forth dialogue which bounces intensely like a demented dodgem car driver between joyfully crackpot to crunchingly hardboiled, through the most genius plot pivot point around which the entire story oh so exquisitely, and actually quite movingly for true old school comic fans, tips, before concluding in one of the most satisfying endings I think I have ever read... well, this simply has it ALL in writing terms.
You want more...?
It also has David Mack putting in a shift of virtuoso proportions on art duties, movingly seamlessly from style to style like Sherlock Holmes switching disguises on the hoof, all in service to the story. Such as showing pages from Max Field's own work, including the title that made his name, a watercolour on parchment feel epic entitled Ninja Sword Odyssey.
Our Stephen commented that this work feels like one long comics love letter between Bendis and Mack - long-term friends that are - and I can certainly concur that they seem to have brought hitherto unparalleled levels of comics perfection out of each other here. Do read each of their respective forewords for just how long they have been planning this collaboration.
Here is a quote from Bendis from a recent interview regarding some of what he asked Mack to do:
"I'm trying to give David all of the opportunities to do all of the things that he can do. It works great because with David, we can show the comic book that Max is making. The one you see in the first issue is a beautiful indie comic that you can tell was a hit comic. Later, we'll see another comic he's made that's a soulless piece of shit that he thought was going to be a big hit, but it wasn't. So, I had to tell David, 'Now, I want you to make a purposefully bad cash-grab comic.'
There's a point to that. There's a point when an artist gets lost and they do something they shouldn't. We're having an inordinate amount of fun exorcising demons, revealing truths..."
I'm sure we can all think of a few examples of bad cash-grab comics, albeit perhaps not purposely so... Naming no names whatsoever...
Meanwhile, let's return to the Mack. There is some exceptional work going on here, both with pen and brush. There are many pages and part-pages composed of composite panels which are assembled so cleverly as to overtly or subtly convey the story, or just astonish artistically in their own right, that I frequently had to simply stop and admire the construction. Also if you know where to look, there's even a cheeky Bendis and Mack cameo... of a fashion...
In terms of colours, I presume the sections with brush are done by Mack himself, but special mention must be also given to the digital colouring done by Zu Orzu. Between them they've done a stupendous job here. The primary palette of pale blues is punctuated with intense, firework-like bursts of rich colours. There's an astonishing sequence involving Julia and Max driving through the countryside which is simply magnificent in its seasonal colouring, capturing perfectly the joy of such a scenic journey. If you're not busy being debriefed by your slightly sarcastic handler, that is...
There is also a page heady with the shimmering shades of a hot Brazilian evening later in the book which is so expressive of the delights of a close of day gathering in warmer climes. Plus there's even two black and white single-page spreads which seem to serve no other function than to perhaps allow Bendis to cleverly muse - not least, because, that cameo - upon how comics fans of the future will perhaps view his work, as well as paying homage to one of the true giants of early twentieth century comics...
"Like, if I show this to a college kid today would they appreciate this as much as we did in college. Or do they look at it like the way I look at, I don't know, Winsor McCay?"
"Wins... What? Winsor McCay is genius!"
"It is! DUH!
"But I look at it like I look at a movie from the '30s.
"It's amazing, I appreciate it, but it isn't really in a language I relate to.
"I see that it's good, I just don't... it wasn't actually made for me.
"I wonder if this is as relatable as I think it is.
"And what I mean is I wonder if my work is going to be relatable?
"I wonder if our work will age well.
"And then I remember how excited I was just to be published, and, maybe, I shouldn't be worrying about anything but that."
Hah, what a beautifully self-deprecating finale to that mini-monologue. I wonder if we will ever get to the point where the entire population can't relate to comics at all anymore. I fervently hope that particular dystopian future never comes to pass...
Anyway, if that were not enough artistically, we also get two quintessential cameos, one portraying the comics work of Max's chum from Michael UNITED STATES OF MURDER INC Avon Oeming and the 'baddie' secret agent's rather more... intense material... from Bill DAREDEVIL ULTIMATE COLLECTION BY BENDIS VOL 3 Sienkiewicz, that just act as two perfect pieces of staccato visual plot punctuation.
It's hard to put into words the sheer amount of joy reading this comic brought to me. Firstly, because after beginning to wonder if Bendis was perhaps starting to lose his mojo a tad with his final frankly run-of-the-mill, by-the-numbers Marvel output and, I have to say, seemingly a little lacklustre initial DC supes output - on that point, for capes 'n' tights Bendis true believers I am happy to report that the SUPERMAN LEVIATHAN RISING SPECIAL ONE-SHOT which leads into the summer EVENT LEVIATHAN errr... event (penned by Bendis with Alex Maleev) on art is superb! - I am delighted that between this and also the mesmerising crime caper PEARL with Michael Gaydos, well, he's right back to the very top of my reading list. That pivotal plot point! That ending!
Brian, I'll never doubt you again! I've no idea whether there will be a second volume of COVER. In one sense, they don't need to do it because this is absolutely flawless, so neither should they perhaps attempt it, but I do so want them to!
I therefore excitedly noted in David Mack's foreword that they had asked Tom MISTER MIRACLE King, a former CIA spy bod, to write an introduction, but he wasn't able to due to the rather prosaic non-espionagey reason of a scheduling conflict. Why is that exciting? Because David Mack then states Tom will have to write the introduction for the next volume! That's practically a verbal contract!