Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Newsboy Legion/Boy Commandos Special #1 Review and **SPOILERS**

Where Kids Oughtn’t Be

Story and Art By: Howard Chaykin 
Colors By: Wil Quintana 
Letters By: Ken Bruzenak 
Cover By: Chaykin & Quintana 
Cover Price: $4.99 
On Sale Date: August 9, 2017


Last week, I reviewed New Gods Special #1 and confessed that the Fourth World is not my favorite Jack Kirby stuff. Well, I have another confession, right here in the introduction: the Newsboy Legion is one of my favorite Jack Kirby (and Joe Simon) creations! I love the Golden Age stuff, I love when they teamed up with Jimmy Olsen in the 1970s, and I loved when they were Cadmus-generated clones right around the time of Superman’s death…his first death…his first real death…never mind. Point is, I am jazzed for this comic book! So let’s stop jawing about it, and check out my review of Newsboy Legion/Boy Commandos Special #1, right here!

Explain It!

I believe the first time I encountered the Newsboy Legion was in Superman comics from the early 90s, when they were a bunch of impudent child clones running around the sleek halls of Cadmus Laboratories. Immediately, I could tell these were updated versions of Golden Age characters, because it was a bunch of street-talkin’ Newsies with no parents, which was like 1 out of 4 stories in the 1940s. The Boy Commandos I’m less familiar with, but the premise is even more ridiculous: a multi-ethnic Allied battalion comprised of orphaned children. I also appreciate Howard Chaykin’s gritty, noir artwork wherever I can get it. So I anticipated this release like many man-children might have salivated for the Nintendo Switch. Well, just looking at the cover upon receipt, I could tell that my enthusiasm was misplaced. It looks like crap. It’s so sparse and the characters in the foreground are like something doodled at a dull corporate meeting. Inside, the art gets better, but Chaykin used this bizarre technique of leaving some sketch lines in (which is not uncommon) and tinting them a deep red. This gives many people the effect of having Joker smiles carved into their faces. And it certainly diminishes the assumed cherubic looks of a bunch of wayward boys tasked with taking down Adolph Hitler. I expect to see smudges and missing teeth, not a face full of hideous scars.

The story is a little too convoluted and drawn out to be enjoyed on its surface. Essentially, the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos are after the same group of German spies, who hope to shift America’s anger away from Nazism and on to Communism. It requires the lads to be in several situations that kids should not be, including their meet-up late in the story at a cabaret lounge for Mystery Men. The main bad Nazi dresses up in a robot suit and murders the people immediately next to him while spouting pro-German propaganda through a speaker. Thing is, by this point everyone has fled the nightclub except for the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos. Yet this guy keeps up his rhetoric for like three pages. What for? Why doesn’t he leave the club and take to the streets with his racist message? By hanging around this theater, it gives the Newsboy Commandos the opportunity to drop a light truss on his head. Which is pretty much the only thing that happens.

Quite frankly, I was very surprised to see something like this coming from Howard Chaykin, from whom I expect more. There were a few layout choices that seemed all wrong, including one where a panel was overlaid right on top of some pertinent action, leaving me to connect-the-dots through subsequent dialogue. There were also some long shots that showed off some nice backgrounds, but made the characters involved in the scene nearly invisible. On the plus side, Chaykin captured the pugnacious, ugly faces of these patriotic fellas pretty well. The back-up is an old Newsboy Legion story by Kirby (and Joe Simon, I expect) that was a lot of fun, but I’m already predisposed to liking that stuff. Like with last week’s New Gods Special, this one is for already seasoned fans of these properties, and shouldn’t be picked up by those interested in checking these rascally scamps out for the first time. And you should be interested, unless you wanna firecracker shoved in yer back pockets!

Bits and Pieces:

As a fan of these Jack Kirby properties and much of Howard Chaykin's work, I was surprised to see it look so unfinished and poorly-plotted. The story itself is serviceable, but runs a bit too long without anything interesting happening, which is not a good use of my two extra dollars for this issue. Die-hard fans only need apply here.


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