Local Focus is all about taking a closer look at recent release Australian comics. This time, we crack open a gritty take on capes that flips the script on the bad guys and literally punches the heroes in the face.
The earlier issues of Unmasked recently got highlighted in the ABC documentary Comic Book Heroes, as we watched artist Emily K. Smith’s disappointment over the non-arrival of her comics at San Diego Comic-Con. Thankfully, the rise of digital distribution allowed the first two issues to go out directly online, where they found an audience. The third issue sees a change of artist, but continues to take us deeper into the world of Simon Zandt and his wife Nancy as their thrill-seeking spirals out of control.
Unmasked is about a crew of super-criminals with powers who, under the guidance of a powerful boss, learn to become professional criminals and not merely villains. Despite making off with millions of dollars, it simply isn’t enough for Simon and Nancy, as they are just as much in it for the costumes and giggles as they are for the cash. Indeed, their sex life is fuelled by the risk-taking, and walking away from a life of villainy is a scary prospect in such a symbiotic relationship. In this third issue, an incarcerated Simon relates how he picked a fight with a hundred million year old demigod in the face for kicks, and finally pushed one of his crew too far.
Christian Read’s clever framing of the book as mostly in flashback, as Simon relates his story from prison, immediately creates it’s own drama as we inevitably ponder how he managed to get there. Actually, given the path of self-destruction that he and the missus are on, it’s not a question of how so much as when. This would provide enough momentum to keep us engaged, so it’s just a terrific bonus for the reader that Simon and Nancy are such compelling characters. It’s completely grounded in their day-to-day lives and aspirations on one hand, crazy-cool wild children on the other.
Local legend Gary Chaloner takes over art duties from Emily K. Smith’s wonderful work on the first two issues, and while there is a noticeable difference, Chaloner is a terrific match for the material as well. The strength of the art on this series has always been in depicting the physiques as those of normal human beings, and the casual nudity and sex between the lead characters is refreshing. Chaloner gets to introduce the god-like Primortal, an imposing tower of a character beautifully rendered with a purple star-field in his cape. Yet it’s the little things that sell the images, particularly Primortal’s quizzical eye-brown raise as Simon comes at him with a baseball bat.
While Unmasked wanders into Mark Millar territory, with immediate comparisons to Supercrooks coming to mind, any parallels should end there. Read has crafted a punk-rock tale of capes and heists, and it remains as compelling three issues in as it did in the first panel. In an age of Dark Knights and skyscraper toppling men of steel, the need to make our heroes ‘real’ has given us mixed results. Unmasked lets the crooks be just that, and if we’re honest, it’s always the bad guys that we root for, isn’t it?
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