Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Comic Review: Union Jack - London Falling


Union Jack's first mini had somehow been released in 1998 and very welcome it was, with an added round of surprise coming from Ben Raab actually putting in a good shift on the script despite his form. However, after those three issues it was back to jobbing cameos for Joe Chapman (though an unsuccessful pitch would lead to Paul Grist's superb Jack Staff) until he turned up in as one of Allan Jacobsen's New Invaders alongside other long-established but semi-obscure characters such as US Agent, the original Human Torch and the Thin Man. While this only lasted nine issues it presumably put this four-issue series on the table to give the character another try-out.

While Union Jack is British he was devised for an American comic by American writers and aside from his stint in Knights of Pendragon has largely stayed that way. It's the same here with Christos Gage handling the script. The result is a very American view of the UK; this is one of a spate of terrorist-influenced storylines in comics following 9/11 and the war on terror with the basic plot being very simple - a squad of superpowered villains are planning a co-ordinated attack on London and most of the rest of the Earth's superheroes are busy.

Thus the job falls to who MI5 can round up - the vampire-hunting Union Jack, considering retirement; Israeli super-operative Sabra; the latest Saudi to take the title of the Arabian Knight and Contessa Valentina of SHIELD's London office. On the other side are the likes of Jack O' Lantern, Ecstasy, Firebrand, Shockwave, the Corruptor and more - normally I'd love this sort of thing but it really feels like Gage is trying a bit too hard to trawl through the backwaters of the Marvel Universe.

To be honest though the real problem is that this is an incredibly predictable book; the rag-tag team play to their strengths and take down the villains on a tour of London's landmarks (complete with people cheering like New Yorkers in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films), Sabra and the Arabian Knight get over their cultural differences by fighting together and everyone else has the decency to get incapacitated so Joe can handle the last few threats by himself. There's a bit of generic political comment as the authorities make sure the fat cats get evacuated while the working classes (of which Joe never fails to remind us he is a member) are left to take their chances with debris, and then right at the end there's a twist about who's really behind this that's obvious to everyone but the writer and his hapless protagonist.

'London Falling' is then a generic read, the only novelty being the British setting and the focus on a minor largely non-American cast. Union Jack himself isn't spectacularly written and broad platitudes about patriotism and doing his bit for the people replace nuanced characterisation, which is shoved to one side for a series of monument-heavy dust-ups. It's not bad but in a way that adds to the frustration and the nagging feeling that the whole thing was the result of some sort of bet to see how many internet searches the cast could force the reader into.

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