Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nexus #100 - A Review

I received the complimentary copy of Nexus #100 from Rude Dude Productions yesterday and of all the advance and complimentary copies I receive for review (not nearly enough - hint, hint!), Nexus #100 was somehow different. We all know how much I procrastinate, but this issue literally begged me to read it for no reason I can think of. The cover art is nice and all, but it isn't an action cover - there it is to the left - but there was just something about it. So I sat down and read it - from cover to cover - twice! And am about to read it again.

I have rewritten this review literally four times since I read the book last night and it kept coming out too long, too digressive (is that even a word?), too... Nexus is 25 years old, has been through four publishers, and is one of the few independent titles/ch
aracters I recall from my very earliest days of comic book collecting; there's a lot of history to it, all the way around! So it makes it hard to figure out exactly where to start and what to hit upon.

Created and presented by Mike Baron (Badger) and Steve "The Dude" Rude, Nexus is a superhero only in the most literal sense. Far more sci-fi than superhero, Nexus exists in a world all its own - literally! - a world called Ylum, where he lives with his wife and newborn son, along with an increasingly fractionated population of over-the-top personalities and alien races. The best way to describe Nexus as a superhero persona is "cosmic hitman," but that doesn't do it justice; to border on the trite, Nexus is such a complex character and concept that you really have to experience the story for yourself to understand it because no brief description can do justice.

I tried many times over the years to get into Nexus, largely because he
always seemed to be around. When he was under the First banner, I tried a few issues, but I was all of maybe 11-12, and the price and rich history proved too much for me to handle. Years later, under the Dark Horse flag, I read a short run of the title but, again, there was just too much backstory for me to get a handle on it. However, as with issue 100, Nexus is one of those comic books that you can read without knowing what is going on and still be interested in finding out what's going to happen next - something I cannot say for any other issue or title I have read in the last... 15 years, maybe?

The title bowed-out from under Dark Horse a decade ago and hasn't been seen since, until very, very recently, when The Dude decided to bite the bullet and go into the self-publishing game. And this brings us to Nexus #100 - Space Opera, Act II.

Upon opening the cover (just after the frontispiece, actually), you are instantly transported to Ylum and into the world of Nexus. Unmistakably reminiscent of Flash Gordon, the title, Space Opera, is not only justified, it's the first and only thing that comes to mind. But it's so much more than that: the art is real artwork - real pencils, covered by real ink, painted with real paint, set inside panels whose gutters were created by borders drawn on blank pages. Steve Rude is a comic book artist and master of the sequential art form and the opening pages of Nexus 100 illustrate (ha!) that perfectly.

A brief montage of the main characters in the upper-left fades into an action scene of our hero, handily dispatching a trio of would-be assassins atop the credits. The little "Rude Dude Productions Presents:" blurb, along with the space-operatic Ray Gun hovering over the title immediately state that you are reading a space opera comic book and there will be no holds barred. Nostalgic, yes; over-the-top, sure; smarmy or hucksterish? Not at all. I have the feeling the smile that came to my face the moment I saw these pages is the same smile that danced across many a geeky adolescent's in the 1950s, when he opened the latest issue of Amazing Stories.

I'm not even a big sci-fi comics fan, but I was instantly hooked!

The action "swoosh" of Nexus' powerful Karate-chop are called, appropriately, action lines, and in the hands of a master like The Dude, they serve a far greater purpose than just indicating motion: they dictate "flow," which is essential to forward-moving narration, drawing the reader's eye to the top panel of page 2, where we are greeted with an Eisnerific SFX-illo. Then it's on to a panel-spanning action sequence, as alien talking-heads get us caught-up on the backstory.

Yes, I have just officially geeked-out. It's impossible not to with this book! Since I really got back into comics collecting a few years ago, I have been dipping into title after title, trying desperately to rekindle that Fanboy-factor of my youth. And until now, the search has been in vain.

While younger readers might not "get" the excitement this book, and others like it, generate for me and other Old Farts, you really have to experience it first-hand - even then, it may just be an age-gap thing. Unlike the cookie-cutter mainstream comics of the last decade plus, this is how comics should be done; there is nothing computerized nor manufactured about any of this.

In the hands of a lesser-artist, this all could look forced - as though the artist were "tapping you on the back and saying, 'Isn't this fun?'" to borrow a phrase from one of the writers in the letters column (yes, there is a letters column!). But The Dude is a master and his joy is infectious. I literally felt like a kid again, reading one of those "how-to draw comics" books that were once so hard to come by and now proliferate. A good one, I mean.

Mike Baron's script and dialogue is, as always, top-notch. Another master of the form, Baron manages to skillfully tell the reader just enough of what is going on to draw him in, without spilling the entire story or doing one of those insipid flashback montages or summaries - or worse still, having Nexus wander through the hallways or pace around in his living room, summarizing the story up-to-now in a thought-balloon or monologue. I did find the "Moments later..." blurb on page 5 heavy-handed, but I hate those anyway and always have; the illustrations tell the story and those should only be used when the artist has failed to do so.

Of course, there is so much story - 25 years' worth of continuity - that, once again, a lot of the finer points were lost on me, but I didn't mind a bit. The story and characters are so engaging that the larger concepts kind of subconsciously seep in; Nexus 100 reads just fine without knowing everything that went on before it. Still, this is not achieved by using stereotypes or formulaic plots; many of the characters are archetypes, and much of the plot is your basic "barbaric invasion" story, but it all works on the same level as the art. These are two comics guys letting it all hang-out and loving every minute of it!

Also included is a lengthy dissertation on the history of the book and its creators, which is a must-read for all comic book fans, even if it is a little... over-written (to say the base minimum - from a decidedly modest, yet authoritative, editorial perspective - but I surmise I may be digressing indulgently and so will continue unabated, forthwith). And then there is a painted 11-page back-up story featuring Nexus' wife.

Rude's watercolors are reminiscent of Bill Sienkeiwicz' and his caricatures are spot-on - even a 10-year old could tell which political personalities he is lampooning. I could go on and on about the intricacies involved in this deceptively simple, satirical back-up piece, but a published letter in the back does this quite nicely.

If I sound like I'm gushing, then I apologize - because I am. Nexus 100 was just absolutely nothing like I expected and I was whisked-away, swept into this vast canvas of races, politics, personalities, and ideologies - and I'm still reeling a bit. Yes, I suppose Nexus is a bit nostalgic for us old-hands, but again, it isn't forced and that makes all the difference; this isn't manufactured nostalgia and it's not some old Dude who hasn't learned how to use a computer, crankily trying to show young whipper-snappers how they did it back in His Day. This is the culmination of two of Comicdom's greatest talents close work (off and on) over the past 25 years on one of the industry's most enduring titles (however obscure).

I have already added Nexus to my pull list and, at $2.99 a pop - full-color, with no ads - it's a better deal than most of the mainstream comics on the market! Add to that the level of quality and Nexus is a must-read for all fans! Select back issues are available for PDF download in case you want to get caught-up (yes, this does mean I may not get anything done this week) - just type "Nexus" in the search box and clicking on half the links on this page will take you to the Nexus page, replete with character bios, previews, and more!

Highest recommendation!

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

1 comment:

Manodogs said...

I did mean to include one little nit-pick, but seeing as how I was so caught-up in my Fanboy-ism and it did not occur to me while writing it, I figured it was more of an afterthought than anything (although it did bother me on first, and subsequent, readings), so I'm just commenting.

A lot of the panels are WAY too busy; it's hard to not just follow the action, but even tell what is going on! Part of this is due to the small size of the panels, but either way, they are simply too busy.

It is not enough to detract from the overall experience, but it is a nit-pick I meant to mention.