Review time! with The Adventures of the 19XX
Paul Roman Martinez, the creator of this web comic, recently sent me a package containing the first printed volume of the story. When I say a “package,” I mean it: The book came in a wooden box with rope handles, nestled in excelsior with the logo of the comic burned in the lid. Inside was the comic, a patch, several bookmarks, a volume giving the histories of the characters, and a T-shirt with the logo on it. It was, in other words, pretty awesome. It was the kind of thing that makes a book stand out and get some nice attention (Martinez was selling them in San Diego this year). So already it has a leg up. If you’re interested in just the comic, it costs $17.95. You can, of course, read the web comic here.
Martinez’s comic stems from his love of the 1930s and the new technology of that era. He tries to use machines that were used then (he fudges a little, to be sure, but he still tries!) and capture the feel of the time period. Throughout the book, he adds little notes about the various machines the characters use, which is an neat touch. The book is a bit fantastical, but it’s nice that Martinez at least attempts to ground it in the “reality” of the 1930s.
I can’t really recommend the comic unequivocally unless you really like, say, the pulp serials of the 1930s and their adventurous feel. Despite not being too familiar with the actual serials, I do like that kind of entertainment, so I can overlook the comic’s myriad flaws and just be entertained. But I do have to point them out; it’s what I do, after all. The story begins with the Kid, a plucky 14-year-old whose father is dead and whose mother decides he needs to go to work. Luckily for him, his father knew Captain Croft of the dirigible Carpathian, who works for an organization called the 19XX, which goes around fighting evil. Handy, that. So the Kid gets to work on the Carpathian, and of course he immediately gets involved in various adventures battling the villains of the Black Faun, who are somehow affiliated with the Nazis (even though the Nazis are never mentioned in the story, and I assume Martinez wants to avoid that too-real can of worms, plus he wants the Black Faun to be a more multinational organization, much like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. wasn’t really the – wink, wink – Soviets) and want to revive some kind of vague, Aryan army of the undead. It’s an extremely familiar story – there’s the spear of Longinus, Nikola Tesla, clones, ninjas, a guy with a demon hand, an evil spirit housed inside a metal body who dresses like a World War I Prussian general (because he was before he died), the ghost of Harry Houdini, the spirit of Marie Laveau, a guy named Aleister whose last name is certainly NOT named Crowley (although Martinez found his last name, it seems, while researching Crowley), and a giant demon summoned from a pit. This is why, if you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably be entertained by this comic. Martinez keeps things moving, and he has a large cast of colorful characters who propel the action along, and it’s fun enough, but if you’re not a fan of these kinds of stories, it doesn’t have much to make you a fan. There’s nothing in the book that will dazzle you, but if you’re willing to accept that it’s full of 1930s-serialized storytelling clichés, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Martinez’s art is a bit stiff when it comes to figures, which is a bit bothersome because the book has a lot of action, but he does a nice job getting the look of the 1930s – filtered through popular culture, of course – and making each character pretty unique. I never had any problem figuring out who was who, which in a book with such a large cast is important. His art is better when the characters are just talking, because they fit well into the misc-en-scene that Martinez has created. He does a nice job incorporating some photo-referencing into the art and adds some good architectural touches of his own which helps re-create the era. As the final battle features a lot of action, it doesn’t work as well as some scenes, but the giant demon has a nice presence. The biggest problem with the backgrounds is the lack of detail, which I know would take longer so I can understand it, but it would bring the world to life a bit more. When Martinez does that sort of thing (the battle in the New Orleans library is a good example), the book feels more alive and fascinating. Artwork is such a crucial part of comicbooking, and while Martinez gets quite a bit of the feel of what we imagine the 1930s were like, he doesn’t quite nail it all the time, and that’s too bad.
Still, this is an entertaining and adventurous comic, and Martinez’s commitment to the pulpy adventures of the era is appreciated. This is his first comic, so it’s not surprising it’s rough in some areas, but it also shows a lot of potential. Martinez has a grand time putting his foot on the pedal and never letting up, and this is the kind of book where you just go along for the ride. Obviously, you can read it for free at his web site, where you can also purchase the hard copy (which is, I should note, very nicely put together). Dare you miss the world’s most intelligent rabbit?????