One-Eyed Jack Paperback – 15 Jun 2017
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About the Author
John Wagner is the co-creator of Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking Co. and Button Man, amongst many others, for 2000AD.
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And with that compilation now in my hands I’m pleased to report that the strip is just as good as I remember them.
The story of Jack McBane’s creation is well-known: the sales of Valiant comic were falling and writer John Wagner was brought in to see if the decline could be reversed. With a tight budget, Wagner introduced a brace of tougher, grittier stories and with readers, it was One-Eyed Jack that topped the polls.
As he had done previously in the war comic “Battle” and would do again with the forthcoming “Action” weekly, Wagner looked to popular culture for his inspiration. It’s no secret that the film Dirty Harry was the basis of the character, right down to his appearance - remove Jack’s eyepatch and dye his blond hair and you have a pretty mean-looking Clint Eastwood staring back at you. I’m pretty sure that two of the stores in the book were inspired by the film, perhaps unintentionally, but just when you think you know how things are going to end, Wagner throws in a clever twist.
Like Harry Callaghan, Jack McBane doesn’t care much for the rule book: suspects are routinely beaten up even though the detective doesn’t have an ounce of actual evidence against them, many are hurled out of first-storey windows and if their cars are shot at, the gas tank will invariably explode. Even innocent citizens aren’t safe - when Jack starts shootin’ it’s clear he isn’t too bothered about who might get caught in the crossfire. Reading the strips again with an adult sensibility they take on a darkly comic one - almost akin to the film “Team America: World Police”. It was amazing what a writer could get away with in boys comics back in the seventies.
But as Wagner concedes in an all-too-short introduction, it’s the artwork of the late John Cooper that is the real star of the show here. His detailed linework really transports the reader to the grimy mean streets of a city across the Atlantic. This is particularly evident in the large opening frames establishing the scene that most of the strips start with - you can feel the hustle and bustle of New York right there on the page. His composition excels too with the script and art blending together to move the narrative along in a manner that I feel has been largely lost in modern comics.
Despite the strip’s popularity it wasn’t enough to stop the sales slide and Valiant was eventually merged into Battle. To allow the strip to continues in its new home, Wagner had to plot a change of direction into the final few Valiant stories. The result is to make the book feel almost like a complete story in itself.
So it’s kudos to Rebellion Publishing for a top-quality effort in their first “Treasury of British Comics”. I’ve always wondered why Wagner’s run on Valiant is never mentored alongside the other titles in what’s called the “British Comics Revolution”: Battle, Action and 2000AD. Hopefully the series will prove popular enough to eventually include the other Valiant strips he (presumably) created: “Paco” (the story of a fighting dog that befriends a boy), “Death Wish” (about which I can remember absolutely nothing) and “The Rat of the Rifles” (a cowardly Private in the British Army). That really would be the icing on the cake.
After losing the use of his left eye in the line of duty, Jack McBane becomes an unstoppable force for justice as he breaks every rule in the book to ensure that the crime-infested streets of New York are cleaned up. Most episodes in this complete collection are between four and six pages long, and despite the brevity of the stories, they feel packed to the brim with action and adventure. Wagner never talks down to his audience and rarely pulls his punches in the subject matter that he and artist John Cooper explore. This is gritty and raw storytelling at its best, and it is no surprise that the series courted controversy during its run.
Having missed this series when it was published – to be fair, I didn’t exist at the time – I don’t get the same nostalgic feelings that a fan revisiting the series might have, but it is striking how atmospheric Wagner and Cooper’s work on this strip is. For first-time readers, it is like stepping back in time and experiencing seventies New York one black and white panel at a time. I was overwhelmed by how authentic everything felt, which is not surprising given it was written at the same time it was set, but there is still something special about how well the series captures that particular moment and time in space. Rebellion has unearthed the comic-book equivalent of a time capsule for us, and I think the series definitely benefits from that retro feeling.
Jack McBane is often referred to a “prototype Judge Dredd” and while he shares a similar ‘tough cop’ persona, McBane’s willingness to break the law to get his man is a complete departure from Dredd who instead follows the law to the letter. There are other similarities between the pair though, Wagner relies heavily on the New York setting – almost establishing it as supporting character, much in the same way he uses Mega-City One to support Dredd. The art from John Cooper emphasises this strong feeling of locale expertly, with every single panel dripping with realism and atmosphere. The black-and-white colour scheme heightens the tension in the air as McBane tackles organised crime, armed robbers and drug-dealers. The effectiveness of this monochrome style is evident when the series switches to colour for the final story, losing much of its charm and mood.
John Cooper’s artwork is nothing short of fantastic throughout the entire collection, establishing the tone and location of the series with a confidence that matches its lead character. His clear, straight-forward line work is a joy to follow and really emphasises the grittiness of the New York streets. Each moment of criminality and violence (of which there are many!) is captured with such intensity and emotion that readers are dragged into the story against their will and find themselves rooting for McBane and his unorthodox solutions. I cannot exaggerate just how much fun this collection is, especially for a fan of the seventies crime-drama genre. If you love classic cop shows like Starsky & Hutch, The Streets of San Francisco or even UK equivalents like The Sweeney, then this graphic novel is an absolute must-read!
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