Union Jack v.2 #1
“Enemies of the Crown”
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Pencils/Cover artist: Mike Perkins
Inks: Andrew Hennessy
Colors: Laura Villari
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Andy Schmidt
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
I stopped following Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run a couple of issues ago. Though I enjoyed the Winter Soldier subplot, the whole Invaders story arc struck me as just a rehash of past stories (as did the Cosmic Cube’s incorporation into the plot earlier in the series). As a result, my interest in this new Union Jack limited series was somewhat minimal, but when I heard about writer Christos Gage’s use of Israeli and Arab heroes in the story, my interest was piqued. I’m pleased I picked this book up. Politics are front and centre in this story, not the title character’s history. Gage has developed a plot that allows for the color and fun of super-hero action with the tension and intellect of a political thriller. I was also pleased to find that one needn’t have read recent issues of Cap (or any past Invaders comics) to follow this story.
A radical offshoot of Advanced Idea Mechanics, an organization of scientists/terrorists, is making a play to fill the void in the terrorism echelon left by the destruction of HYDRA, and it’s decided to wreak havoc in London to make its point. The British intelligence community, desperate to stave off the attacks with panicking the public, assembles a small group of international heroes, led by Union Jack, a working man’s hero. The heroes hunt down the various supper-villains connected to the looming attacks, as other conflicts arise.
Mike Perkins inked Butch Guice’s work on Ruse from CrossGen Comics years ago, and he brought a much greater sense of definition to the artist’s work. Since then, we’ve seen Perkins develop as a penciller in his own right, and it’s clear what a great impact Guice’s art has had on his. The influence is undeniable, and oddly enough, Perkins’s stuff here boasts that rougher look, but he still maintains a strong sense of realism. I really liked the designs of Sabra and the Arabian Knight; they don’t look like super-heroes here but the soldiers the story requires them to be. Perkins also does the near-impossible and makes some Batroc the Leaper action look truly cool (of course, it helps that the villain is in civvies rather than his purple and orange costume).
Gage does a great job of including a load of somewhat obscure Marvel characters throughout the issue, but he doesn’t require the readership to be intimately familiar with the ins and outs of continuity to appreciate the story. There’s plenty of exposition to allow new readers to pick up on key character and plot points, but since it’s disguised as briefing for the heroes, it’s not intrusive at all. One aspect of the story that didn’t work for me was the pointless and fleeting fight between the title character and a trio of vampires. It does touch upon Union Jack’s status as a frequent vampire hunter, but it contributes nothing to this plot. It’s mainly an acknowledgement of the character’s past adventures, but for a moment, I feared we’d be seeing a story I’ve already read several times before.
The highlight of the book is the inclusion of Sabra and the Arabian Knight. The antagonism between the Israeli and Saudi heroes is completely logical. Gage doesn’t focus exclusively on that subplot, but it’s the one that brings a strong sense of credibility to the impossible characters. I was also pleased that Gage didn’t go so far as to pair an Israeli agent with a Palestinian one — that would have come across as far too manipulative and difficult to accept.
On the surface, this is about super-heroes rushing to stop the rampage of various villains for hire. But the real conflict brewing under the surface is about an idealist everyman facing off against a corrupt administration. It’s easy to see that Gage is talking about American problems with these British characters and backdrop. A satisfying moment is that the hero’s ultimate rebellion against his corrupt “masters” is to speak openly, and even more satisfying is the impression that his honorable and idealistic decision may have been the wrong thing to do. 7/10