Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy Sir (It is Time to Talk about The Interman)

Hello. I’m Jeff Chon and I’m your new arbiter of good taste.

Introductions are horribly self-indulgent and self-indulgence is something I save for poetry slams and double live albums. So if you want to know more about me, then consult your local library.

At any rate, I should probably tell you what I hope to accomplish here. This column is going to be a review of great trade paperbacks / OGNs that I’d like to draw attention to. These are going to be books that are worth reading and worth spending money on. These are going to be works that add something positive to the medium while making you feel good for having supported them. These are going to be books that can be read over and over and over, until you finally write letters to their respective creators, while Dido sings about tea going cold. Not to put too fine a point on it, these are going to be books that deserve recognition because they are great works by frighteningly talented people who work in a field and subculture that champion mediocrity as the Real Deal Holyfield.

Because this is a review of TPB / OGNs and not a review of monthly pamphlets, you’ll find a lot of backlist titles discussed in these pages. As you may or may not know, a gigantic mountain of crap is released every month and there are a lot of great comics you may have missed in Diamond Previews while reading about the lunchboxes and Zippo lighters. This is why the Almighty has sent you to this link.

Speaking of greatness, let’s move on to Jeff Parker’s The Interman.

Jeff Parker
ISBN 0-9725553-0-7

Every once in a while, but not very often, you come across something that makes you think, “Maaaan… I wish I’d come up with this!” Jeff Parker’s The Interman is one of those somethings. It’s easily the best superhero comic since Warren Ellis’s run on The Authority and this isn’t even a superhero comic; which is meant more as a testament to everything Parker did right, instead of a comment on the sad state of superhero comics. By introducing the comics reading public to Van Meach, a.k.a. The Interman, Parker reminds us of the things that made protagonists with extraordinary powers so great and reintroduces us to what made us fall in love with comics in the first place.

During the cold war, a group of nations combined their resources to form Project Interman, a program devised to create humans that could reconfigure their DNA to match any environment they were placed in. Their goal was to create the perfect super agent to fight the Communists.

The result of their efforts is Van Meach, a seemingly unassuming fellow with the ability to adapt his body to various climates, environments, and fight-or-flight-style situations—The living embodiment of “survival of the fittest.” He can breathe underwater, lower his body temperature, and see in total darkness among many other things; but his greatest asset is his survival instinct, the ability to acclimatize that gives some creatures great advantages over others in the evolutionary ladder.

Like many other impulsively rash Cold War programs, the project was aborted. The government felt uneasy about “creating monsters” and destroyed most of the evidence involving the program’s existence. The only traces of Project Interman are Meach and a file accidentally stumbled upon by an accountant auditing the Pentagon. The file can easily be destroyed, but what of the Interman himself?

The CIA has been keeping tabs on Meach, who’s been contracting himself to wealthy industrialists who need his unique abilities. Because of the kind of money he makes and the people he works for, the Intelligence community (of whom we’ve learned so much about in our post 9-11 world) mistakenly believe their Interman to be an assassin or a mercenary on the verge of causing a major international incident.

Meach himself doesn’t know the first thing about his past. He knows he has these odd powers and some vague notions about a government project he was involved in. Like most adopted children, he wants to know where he came from, and sets out on a trek to find the people who would know best: the scientists and consultants of Project Interman.

And he has to do this while various members of international counter-espionage organizations try to kill him.

Clandestine government activities, man without a past trying to piece his life together, and a case of mistaken identity on a Hitchcock-ian scale—What more can a guy or gal ask for?

One of the many impressive things about this comic is how Parker is able to use tried-and-true superhero tropes to tell something that feels new and radical, yet familiar and fun at the same time. As we all know, genetics is the fashionable super power catalyst of the moment, sending radioactivity to that Phantom Zone where MC Hammer genie pants, all the Goonies except for the fat one (Sean Astin, not that Truffle Shuffle kid), and Robert DeNiro’s career as a credible actor hang out. The Spider-Man, Hulk, and X-Men movies all focused on genetic mutation and downplayed the radiation monkeyshines of yesteryear, so genetically created superheroes aren’t necessarily new hat. But I’ve never seen it done quite like this.

Parker understands that powers are secondary to super characterization and plotting. From the James Bond-style prologue with a Killer Whale to the tightly plotted chase sequences through the streets of various international locales, we never lose sight of what the Interman is all about. He’s not just a mere engine the writer uses to show neat stunts and tricks, he’s a man trying to find out who he is, and why certain global counter-espionage organizations want him dead.

The superhero (not that this is exactly a superhero comic, mind you) genre focuses a little too much on the super powers themselves and expect them to drive the story. People actually thought the way to make Superman interesting again was to take away a lot of his powers, and then later to give him pink and powder blue electricity or some such nonsense instead of, you know, writing better stories. The action comic genre has become more about plot twists and tough-guy innuendo, rather than actual characterization. These days, the stories and characters are interchangeable. There’s really nothing unique about any of these characters. The only real difference between Sausage-Making Tough Guy A and Sausage-Making Tough Guy B is that one is owned by AOL / Ted Turner and the other by the lingering ghost of Bill Jemas. We’re simply required to laugh and marvel at the carnage, because it’s a rap metal world and not giving a crap is cool.

Parker understands what makes characters interesting is the way they react to the world around them and the seemingly hopeless situations they’re unwittingly placed in. This and his sense of pacing make for some of the most exciting work you’d ever want to see in a funny book. The fight scene between Meach and a female martial artist is one of the most beautifully drawn fight sequences since Frank Miller had Old Man Wayne go balls nasty on the mutant leader in The Dark Knight Returns. And he does it without aping Miller’s decompressed style (who, let’s face it, is the king of fight choreography and the guy everyone copies), which makes it all the more impressive. There’s an actual 19-panel page of punching and kicking and dodging that doesn’t feel cramped, it’s easy to follow, and the eyes are drawn into the beautifully-colored punchy graphics in a way that tells an honest-to-goodness story while most fight scenes look like mere storyboards.

This type of action is hard to find in comics, and a well-crafted action adventure like this is hard to find in any form of media. When the inner-fanboy that resides in those dark don’t-go-there places, where you keep all the dark memories of getting dumped at the U2 concert or getting felt up by your uncle, screams “Man, I’d love to see this guy draw Spider-Man!” that’s a very, very bad thing. A very bad thing. But sometimes you just can’t help it, because certain people just seem capable of anything and certain people are just better than a great majority of the crap that’s out there now. Seems to me that the sky’s the limit for Jeff Parker. This guy’s the real deal, and I’m actually excited to talk about comics again.

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I used to be at the Savant meatwagon until we imploded and I've written for this site, on and off, since it was the Continuity Pages. I've created comics published by Moderntales and E-volution and have published my own S.P.I.R.I.T. '76. Why have you never heard of these, you ask? It's because the millions (and I do mean millions) who've read these awesome comics have decided they were so awesome that they should be kept a secret amongst themselves. The uninitiated must never know, or their minds will be blown. So you see, it's for your own good.

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