On paper, this sounded like an idea that was either really going to work — or miss the mark by a country mile.
Howard Chaykin‘s name has, of course, been synonymous with revamping “old-time” characters for decades now — he was the first to do it for The Shadow, and later took a crack at such venerable properties as Blackhawk, Buck Rogers, DC‘s various Silver Age sci-fi stalwarts, and many others. Doing it one more time surely shouldn’t be too much of a challenge — but this is the first time he’s taken on a Jack Kirby creation front and center, and given the relative innocence and whimsy that are the heart and soul of both The Newsboy Legion and The Boy Commandos, well — let’s just say Chaykin doesn’t seem like a “natural fit” for either. And certainly his newly-minted status as very nearly a persona non grata among many fans isn’t going to help matters much in terms of sales here, but if we leave all the controversy aside and just examine this book on its own merits, I have to say — it’s not too shabby at all.
If you’re “off Chaykin,” fair enough — but if you’re not, there’s plenty to really like in the pages of The Newsboy Legion And The Boy Commandos Special #1 (I’m getting the full title from the copyright indicia even though both “the”s, as well as the “and,” are omitted from the cover) : Chaykin’s typically-crowded and garish visuals are nicely evocative of the worldwide air of confusion and disorientation that no doubt prevailed anywhere and everywhere during WWII; he displays an immediate and easy understanding of his large and sprawling cast and makes them all seem like fairly unique individuals; letterer/effects artist par excellence Ken Bruzenak brings his “A” game and then some; colorist Wil Quintana (who seems to have replaced Jesus Aburto as Chaykin’s hues-man of choice) adds terrific depth, nuance, and vibrancy to every panel and page; the “team-up” of these classic “kid gangs” is achieved by means both logically sound and narratively seamless; the stand-alone story cleverly telegraphs its simple-yet-effective ending early on in a manner that will bring a smile to your face when you think about it later — honestly, this all reads like a very heartfelt and respectful tribute to The King Of Comics that isn’t so much stuck in the past but informed and inspired by it. The only thing missing that I would have liked to see? That would be The Guardian — but hey, he at least turns up in the classic Joe Simon -scripted, Kirby-drawn Golden Age Newsboy Legion reprint story that’s included as a backup feature (and is, in fairness, the highlight of the book — but how could it not be?), and that serves to round off a nicely-done package that’s $4.99 (which I paid out of pocket) well spent.
There’s a fine line between respectful homage and slavish, uninspired rehash, of course, and these “King 100” specials are sure to have plenty of both (and, indeed, already have, as Shane Davis‘ lackluster New Gods Special #1 was definitely the latter), but it’s probably not fair, given their editorial remit, to expect any of them to be especially groundbreaking or innovative. Chaykin doesn’t strive for either with this book, but he successfully operates within the parameters he’s been given to craft a perfectly enjoyable story that even manages to incorporate some genuine historical material (specifically the attempts of domestic “fifth column” Nazi sympathizers in the US to stage a coup against their own government) that adds an air of intrigue and authenticity to the proceedings that goes well above and beyond what we as readers probably have any right to realistically expect from what could reasonably be assumed, going in, to be nothing more than a simple “throwaway” yarn.
All that being said, if you weren’t a fan of Chaykin’s signature — and frankly singular — style of storytelling prior to this comic, there’s pretty much zero chance that you’ll enjoy it here, either. Things are cluttered, frenetic, deliberately “messy,” and events occur in staggering, rapid-fire succession. He’s been doing this since American Flagg!, and he’s not going to change now. You’re either on-board with “Chaykin Comics,” or you’re not. I admit that I am, but do understand why many readers aren’t, as any number of consensus “Comic Book 101” basics are either bent into unrecognizable form, or ignored altogether in Chaykin’s works. So keep that in mind before you fork over your hard-earned cash for this book.
Final verdict, then : odds are you’ll know whether or not The Newsboy Legion And The Boy Commandos Special #1 is “your kind of comic” before you even give it a glance at your LCS. If it’s not, then it won’t be. If it is, then it will be — and may even exceed your expectations.
Story : Howard Chaykin Art : Howard Chaykin
Story : 7.5 Art : 8.5 Overall : 8 Recommendation : Buy