Friday, August 22, 2014


Story/Art/Color/Lettering/Design: Chris Madden
Editor: Tom Waltz

As I noted in my review of DANGER GIRL: REVOLVER, I'm a big fan of Chris Madden's delightful artwork for that series. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I subsequently decided to take a look at Madden's creator-owned mini-series, JACK AVARICE IS THE COURIER, available in trade paperback from IDW. There's something to be said for a comic book professional who is capable of doing it all, as evidenced by the credits above. I've seen those who do most of it before, but coloring and/or lettering are usually left out of the full package. So regardless of the quality of the story, Madden should receive great kudos simply for being a quintuple-threat creator.

But the story is enjoyable too, if a bit derivative. We follow a young man named Jack Avarice as he becomes a "Courier" -- a member of a top-secret group of U.N. sanctioned super-spies. Every nation has one such operative, a person who can operate around the globe with complete immunity. It's an interesting premise, though I'm not sure such a thing makes much sense when you think about it. But in the world Madden has created, it's easy enough to swallow.

Jack joins the couriers following the death of the United States' previous operative, his heretofore-unknown older brother, Berenger Pierce Avarice -- codenamed "The Fox". The story begins with an action sequence starring the Fox in Cuba, but quickly moves to Hawaii, where he passes his gun onto Jack, thus naming his brother the new Courier for the U.S. Jack is rescued from the Fox's assassin by a junior Courier operative named Sam Kind (presumably short for Samantha), and taken to Courier headquarters in Louisiana, where he meets the organization's leader, Marcus Quinn -- codenamed Aurelius.

From there, Jack and Sam head out into the world to figure out why the Fox was killed and then complete his final mission. The action travels to India, Siberia, and concludes on a Caribbean island named Sarouwani. Along the way, Jack learns that his father, Alexander, was a Courier as well, but was killed by his own partner, the villainous Lucian Malice -- head of a terrorist organization called Black Gate (whose agents dress very much like agents of Cobra from G.I. JOE), who plans to acquire several ancient Voodoo artifacts and open a portal to the realm of the dead. The story ends with some of the artifacts in Malice's possession, and promises that Jack Avarice will return in book two, CARRY ME HOME.

If the above sounds a lot like one of the many DANGER GIRL stories I just covered, that's clearly not a coincidence. JACK AVARICE and DANGER GIRL share DNA through the influence of classic adventure films such as the Indiana Jones and Bond series. Indeed, at the story's start, as Aurelius and Sam explain the history of the Couriers to Jack, they show him a screen full of celebrity cameos, implying that most of these characters are or were Couriers in the past. And among the group are the faces of Abbey Chase and Sydney Savage (this issue having been released before Madden's work on REVOLVER would seem to mean it's not a mere tribute to his other assignment).

And speaking of Aurelius and celebrity cameos -- Madden is just as gifted in that arena as J. Scott Campbell. Aurelius is the spitting image of fifty- or sixty-something Harrison Ford, creating another parallel between JACK AVARICE and DANGER GIRL -- in more ways than one, since Sean Connery (Deuce) played the father to Harrison Ford (Aurelius) in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. I have to say, normally I'm not at all in favor of fan-ficcy stuff like this, but I would love to see an AVARICE/DANGER crossover series in which Deuce constantly calls Aurelius "Junior", much to the latter's consternation.

Madden does go a bit overboard with some of his tributes, however. The little ones are appreciated -- sly nods to the Bond and Indiana Jones films abound, and references to STAR TREK and even INSPECTOR GADGET pop up as well. But the more overt such bits are a little too on the nose, such as the fact that Jack drives around in a DeLorean, and the parade of celebrities beyond the Ford likeness. The Couriers' quartermaster character is drawn and written as Rowan Atkinson in "Mr. Bean" mode, and later on, Jack and Sam meet a freelance pilot named Hawkins, drawn to look exactly like John Hillerman as Higgins from MAGNUM P.I. (and this comes after a very nicely subtle MAGNUM reference earlier in the story). One such likeness is a cute nod, but two is one too many, and three begins to pull a reader out of the story.

That said, there are plenty of original charcter designs by Madden which more than make up for the ill-conceived celebrity cameos. Jack, Sam, the Fox, and the Fox's enemy, the Shark, are all nicely designed, but the standouts are Malice's right-hand women, Snypra and Ix. Ix is a Voodoo priestess who owes some of her visual to Baron Samedi from LIVE AND LET DIE, but Madden has evolved the design enough to make it his own. And Snypra is a buxom readheaded assassin who spends about half her panel-time sans clothing, so she's obviously right up my alley.

While KILL THE MESSENGER didn't blow me away, it was fun and the artwork was just as wonderfully cartoony and expressive as Madden's DANGER GIRL outing. And I wasn't kidding about a crossover between JACK and DANGER GIRL, either -- there's no reason the two series can't take place in the same universe, and in fact they feel like they should co-exist and cross over with each other on a semi-regular basis. At the very least I would love to see a reference to the Couriers in a future DG series, or perhaps see the Girls up against Black Gate in some capacity. Obviously this would need to happen with the approval of Madden since he owns the characters, but hopefully the fact that he worked on a DG series (and got J. Scott Campbell to write the introduction to this very book) would mean such an occurrence wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility.

But, whether solo or involved in a crossover, I'll be there for Jack Avarice's future adventures. As noted above, the story ends with the promise of a second series, and I will gladly pick it up if and when it comes to pass.

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