When, as so often, the media suggests that; IDW, Dark Horse and Image are independents in the comics’ field, it does a great disservice to the genuine independent publishers grafting away in the industry. At the other end of the spectrum small press publishers, like relative newcomers Keyhole Comics, beaver away to compete in a finite and crowded marketplace.
Alongside their regular online webcomics; the humour strip ‘Coin Collection’ and futuristic adventure series ‘All Saints’, Keyhole Comics have ventured into the field of printed comic books with the super powered ‘The Jacket’.
The super hero genre has been around for so long that it is no longer the case of creators looking to bring something brand new to the market but more how the themes and ideas can be explored. Writer, Jason Biamonte, and artist, Randy Haldeman, are to be congratulated in avoiding the trap of throwing a range of esoteric ideas at the page in the hope of becoming the new Grant Morrison or Alan Moore. Instead they have constructed a world and characters which, while obviously are not our own, also differ from standard superhero fare.
The America Jason and Randy portray is heading down an authoritarian single party route without being a distopian future of underground cells, jackboots and freedom fighters. There is a nice ‘secret service’ subplot running throughout issue one but it is our new hero, Colton Emerson, who takes the lead. Again in a subtle twist from what is usual in superhero narrative Colton is not your normal soon to be hero. Not, on the face of it, a high school science whiz, junior reporter, heir to a fortune or alien, Colton is apparently a genuinely normal young man with a suitably unexciting life. Not for Colton the job cleaning a research lab or filing at a major newspaper. Colton’s dreams of being a superhero seem more akin to the idle fantasies of many comic book readers. When he first gets his chance to ‘be the hero’ Colton is taken by the exuberance of the situation and uses the powers of ‘The Jacket’ to flee rather than fight. The story may not be a brash new take on the genre but is a refreshing and entertaining read avoiding some of the more recent trends to unnecessary violence and overt adult content.
Haldeman’s artwork is strong and clear, telling the story well. This is especially important, as the strip does not rely on fancy costumes and is, until this point, character driven throughout. Unfortunately, most likely due to the printing processes involved, the artwork for the dream sequence does not work as well. Haldeman has gone to great lengths to differentiate his art style for dream scenes and the ‘real world’ but the lighter tone and shading looks muddy on the page which gives it the impression of being rushed. This is a shame as it looks at odds with the cleaner, sharper artwork elsewhere in the book.
Of course with the Keyhole Comics operation the scale that it is there is a downside to a comic such as The Jacket, the schedule. It appears that issue two will not be available until September 2012 which is a long time between editions and may cause problems for Keyhole Comics in marketing their wares.
The Jacket is an enjoyable read from hardworking ‘small press’ publishers who are to be encouraged and congratulated on taking on the ‘big boys’.