Perusing the comments section of various pop culture blog sites, there seems to be a prevailing notion that divides the print faithful from their digital counterparts. It isn’t split with the vitriol or elitism that seems a stigma for geek arguments, such as the classic debate of Wonder Woman’s lack of pants or the ultimate decision, Agent 13 or Diamondback?
Plus, the market for print compared to digital is significantly lopsided.
But print versus digital is, surprisingly, somewhat tempered in its relation. “You read your comics your way, I’ll read them my way.” And in that exception, the most important aspects of the digital platform are overlooked and insignificant.
Personally, I love my floppies, but I’m also quite fond of my digital stack. A majority of that consists of HD collections of my favorite books, like Mouse Guard and Pax Romana. But there are a number digital ‘exclusives,’ if you will, from a growing group of talented creators and innovative publishers.
Monkeybrain’s creator-owned line, published through Comixology, has seen praise for its variety, price, and quality of work. One such book, Masks and Mobsters by Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson, is exceptional enough to warrant a reprint collection at some point, because my print brethren are missing out on a gem here.
Masks and Mobsters is labeled as ‘A Crime Anthology,’ and has thus far remained true to its name, but one can’t help but see the makings of a bigger picture in its first few issues.
Williamson’s work is unfamiliar to me, as I’ve missed out on his Big Two runs and never got my hands on Xenoholics. But at .99¢ an issue for 10 pages of story (plus extras) I was willing to make the blind purchase. Though the page count leaves one wanting, Williamson’s stories are dense and layered, portraying a fully realized world with its own rules own history, populated with fleshed-out characters each with their own voice and motivations.
In short, the stories take place in Golden City, which is vaguely reminiscent of 1920s Chicago. The roaring era is heralded with the arrival of ‘masks,’ as the criminals call them. What follows are individual, yet connected, tales of the changing times, thus far dealing with the death of prosperous hero Doctor Daylight. New power balances are being explored and established as mobsters and police deal with the new elements of heroes and villains. Everyone is finding their place in this strange world and though we see crooks and capes permeate the panels, the definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aren’t easy to dole out.
Mike Henderson, another quality creator whose work slipped past my radar, beautifully renders the story. Henderson makes clever use of the black-and-white motif. His line work is clear and concise, providing sharp details to both his backgrounds and the denizens of Golden City.
The character designs reflect the era of the ‘20s while attaining a sense of wonder that should exist in a world where superheroes fly overhead. Robots and mad scientists stand alongside snitches and bagmen, and none of it feels out of place. Henderson’s use of negative space is deft, using the stark contrast to highlight or subdue actions and panels.
One criticism comes from the condensed nature of the stories, often leaving the action sequences suffering. Each issue tells a stand-alone story in ten pages, usually framed by a character’s narration or a time-jump device that has been more gimmicky than effective. But in the third issue Henderson and Williamson hit their stride, where the action flows perfectly and the framework serves a satisfying conclusion.
Williamson has thought long and hard about the Golden Age of Golden City and the people who bring it down. It’s a fascinating, almost gritty reimagining of what comics used to be combined with what they are now. If Mario Puzo wrote about superheroes, I imagine it’d be along the lines of what’s being done in Masks and Mobsters.
Luckily Williamson has a fully abled accomplice in Mike Henderson. I know the writer said his anthology series would see rotating artists, but Henderson has been a perfect match on Masks and Mobsters. Here’s hoping this team, and this book, see a long and healthy run, and hopefully a big group of readers to go with it.
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