Friday, July 19, 2013

Contusions of a Dragonslayer

Smax: written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Zander Cannon, Andrew Currie, and Richard Friend (2003): Moore and Cannon send big, blue, nigh-indestructible Smax and techno-whiz partner Robyn ("Toybox"), two of the super-powered cops of Moore, Gene Ha, and Cannon's Top 10, to Smax's alternate Earth for the funeral of Smax's uncle, after the events of Top 10 issue 12. Well, adopted uncle, as he was a dwarf and Smax is...well, the book explains his origins.

Jeff Smax's Earth is one on which fairy tales, legends, and myths have all happened, sort of. There are dragons, elves, ghosts, and about a zillion other things, many of them appearing in the background. Cannon's art often emulates the crowded panels of Mad magazine -- here a Troll, there Harry Potter, and over in that corner, Stewie Griffin holding a gun to Maggie Simpson's head.

In the midst of the violent yet comic shenanigans comes the dragon Morningbright, unfinished business from Smax's mysterious past as a dragonslayer who failed to earn his last 30% commission for killing Morningbright because he ended up running away right off his own Earth and onto Earth-10, where he eventually got a job as a cop with Precinct 10. While he's not bright, Smax isn't a coward: Morningbright was a debacle he doesn't want to think about.

Somewhat like the dragon of John Gardner's Grendel, Morningbright can see the future, or at least enough of it to be a real problem. That his powers make him nearly omnipotent is another problem. That Smax has to somehow figure out how to kill him to fulfill a prophecy -- which on a magic-driven Earth is somewhat binding -- is another problem. That Smax and Toybox have to assemble a heroic group while meeting affirmative action quotas is also a problem. There are a lot of problems here. But years before Robyn ever came to Smax's Earth, Morningbright gave Smax a message for her, apparently intended to spook her. Why?

Simultaneously zippy and dense, Smax is a lot of fun -- and the dragon is a fascinating creation both in the writing and in Cannon's depiction of it. Morningbright is super-creepy, especially once the specific nature of his hoard of gold finally becomes clear. Recommended.

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