Which brings us to CANNON. Sort of. First, an anecdote to set the stage -- I distinctly recall, when I was about eleven or twelve years old, flipping through a SALLY FORTH collection some degenerate had left lying around in easy reach at a local comic book shop. It was black and white, it appeared to be a comedy, and it featured a buxom blonde girl soldier who wound up naked or topless every other page. I thought it was awesome. But I forgot about it pretty quickly after that chance encounter. It was years later that I discovered SALLY FORTH was created by Wally Wood -- who I had learned about through the Power Girl connection in the interim. From there, I disovered CANNON.
|Art by Steve Ditko & Wally Wood|
The volume arrived earlier this year, and before I speak to the stories inside, I will offer a quick thought on the book itself: it's a hardcover with nice thick pages and absolutely beautiful reproduction. There are plenty of bonus features in the back, including a reprint of Cannon's first appearance in a color comic book of Wood's creation, with artwork by Steve Ditko and Wood. But for all its positives, there is one negative regarding the book -- the way it's formatted makes it extremely wide and very cumbersome to read. I can lay down while reading a six pound Omnibus, no problem. But this book, a piddling three pounder, strains my wrists when I try to read it in a horizontal position.
All the above happens in only about the first quarter of the series! Though there's a reason for that, as we'll cover below."Undercover and under the covers, Cannon endures nude torture by beautiful women, explosive gunplay, naked catfights, bone-crunching plastic surgery, nudity, Hitler, nihilistic lovemaking, Weasel the spy, naked women, death from above, and more naked women!"
The stories, on the other hand, are a mixed bag and seem to ebb and flow with the art. As noted above, everything in the publisher's description is from the first quarter of the book -- easily the most consistently strong material to be found in these pages. After the excellent opening arcs referenced above -- Cannon in Asia, visiting his Uncle Fred and then traveling to South America -- the entire tone of the strip changes, almost to something like a romance comic. Cannon, his brainwashing wearing off to the point that he has regained much of his humanity, pays another visit to Uncle Fred in Iowa and gets involved with a farmer's daughter, whose ex-boyfriend is married to a two-timing harlot that puts the moves on both Cannon and his ally Weasel. It's a sudden and strange change of pace for a strip which was previously straightforward action.
The book's back cover copy states that "before Jason Bourne, before Archer, before Heisenberg, there was Cannon!" And while that may be factually true, Cannon bears little resemblance to most of the mentioned characters. Heisenberg is a criminal mastermind. Archer is a secret agent, but in a farcical way. Bourne is the closest to Cannon in terms of profession, skills, and even background -- Jason Bourne was mentally programmed, as is Cannon. But if there is any fictional character to whom Cannon bears a resemblance, it is 24's Jack Bauer.
And it's right about the time these characters start dying that the series takes a turn for the less enjoyable. Madame Toy departs the strip around the same time, which is no coincidence either. Her recurring presence as a seductive wild card was a highlight of the early portions of the story. The remaining adventures of Cannon are not bad, but they never live up to the precedent set by the initial stories. The first adventures are totally absurd, but played straight. Cannon is a remorseless machine. Women lose their clothing constantly for no decent reason ("We need to tie these logs together to make a raft -- take off your shirt!"). As we approach the story's end, Cannon has emotions and the only nudity tends to be within the context of a bedroom. A lot of the wonderful insanity has drained from the strip -- however I will note that the series is redeemed somewhat with a return to form for the final story arc, in which Cannon returns to the Middle East for a follow-up to the book's first mission -- but this comes too little and too late, as the strip is abruptly cancelled following the arc's conclusion.
All images above taken from Fantagraphics' PDF preview of the CANNON collection, and therefore are representative of only the first twenty-some pages.
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