Jack Staff: Best Superhero Comic of All?

Well honestly, I’d have no way of knowing. It’s the only current superhero comic I read, so I can’t really compare. On the other hand, I have just about zero interest in current superhero comics and yet I read this one, so make of that what you will. However, Internet luminaries, men about town, and — most importantly — big honkin’ superhero comics fans Kevin Church and Chris Sims also count Jack Staff as one of the best (and in Sims’ case, the best) superhero comics out there.

What makes Jack Staff so good? On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot here that would make it any different from anything else. The title hero has a more-or-less secret identity (he has a non-hero identity, John Smith, but everyone seems to know Smith is also Jack Staff). He’s got some kind of superpower (he can “move energy”, but he doesn’t seem to do it very often.) He fights supervillains. He occasionally teams up with other superheroes. He even has a mysterious background. But there’s something about it that makes it far more interesting — and fun — than any other cape book on the market I know of.

Part of this is creator Paul Grist’s style. Not a single panel is wasted. There are no issues in which very little movement on the plot happens. It all goes lickety-split!

In addition, there’s a cast of dozens. We regularly check in on Becky Burdock (Vampire Reporter), Tom Tom the Robot Man, Detective Inspector Maveryk, Morlan the Mystic, Alfred Chinard, the members of Q, the Eternal Warrior, members of The Freedom Fighters (the superhero group that Jack Staff was part of during World War II), Bramble and Son (Vampire Hunters), The Druid, “Zipper” Nolan, and many others. A lot of these characters are take-offs of old British or Marvel characters (or, in Morlan’s case, Alan Moore), but if you don’t know who they are, it’s no big deal. I don’t have any kind of working knowledge of old British heroes and I do just fine. (Here on the Jack Staff Wikipedia page you can read about them.)

Grist keeps up with all of these folks by doling out plot in three-page units. You’ll get a few pages of Jack, then maybe check in on Becky Burdock, then maybe Maveryk does something, then back to Jack, then maybe Q has a turn, and so forth. It never lets up and it may seem like it would be tiresome, but it totally works, and each little dose plays a role in the larger story.

As a result, with only seventeen issues down in the current Image run (plus a couple of specials), it already feels like an entire universe, all crammed into a single comic. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

It also helps that I love Grist’s art style, which looks cartoony and effortless, yet never fails to express character, mood, and action.

(I will say that I tried one of Grist’s other works, Kane, and I didn’t get into it as much because I had a hard time telling characters apart. Not so with Jack Staff.)

Jack Staff was originally published by Dancing Elephant Press. Those twelve issues have been collected as “Jack Staff vol 1: Everything Used to be Black and White”, available from Image Comics. (The new series references these stories, but they’re not 100% essential. Still, you’ll want ’em.) It was then restarted in color with a new number one by Image. Issues 1-5 of the Image run have been collected as volume two, “Soldiers”, and issues 6-12 are collected as volume three, “Echoes of Tomorrow”. There was also a Jack Staff Special and the Weird World of Jack Staff. Issue 17 of the series just came out.

Even if you don’t much like superhero comics, if you ever had any affection for the genre, Jack Staff is well worth checking out. If you like superheroes, it’s even more worth checking out. Seriously, folks, it’s really good.

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5 Responses to Jack Staff: Best Superhero Comic of All?

  1. Nigel says:

    I used to love Adam Eterno (I think he was in Valiant, but I’m not sure) It’s nice to see him re-done as “the eternal warrior”. He was adrift in time and immortal presumably because of some dark past (sort of a wandering jew in comic book form) except for his one weakness: gold. You’d be amazed at how many gold daggers, swords, and bullets there are in the world! Excellent.

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  3. Kenny says:

    It’s my favorite superhero comic, too, and one of only a few I can stomach. I like the Jack Kirby structures of every few pages introducing a bold new character or plot twist. I like the way Grist makes use of the negative space. I love the self-contained continuity of one big, wacky staff all in the pages of one comic. I think it’s a book full of wonderful execution.

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