Joe and Max #1
By Jason Medley, Claude St. Aubin & Chris Chuckery
Genesis 5 #1
By Lovern Kindzierski, Claude St. Aubin & Chris Chuckery
By Mike Baron, Lovern Kindzierski, Howard Simpson, Dave Ross & Chris Chuckery
(All published by The Guardian line, December 2006)
Any sincere attempt by a comics publisher to reach new audiences (particularly from an all-ages perspective) is deserving of high praise, and Urban Ministries is doing exactly that with The Guardian Line, targeting the Christian demographic for whom the adventures of the superheroes they grew up with are neither representative of their beliefs nor appropriate for their children.
Of course, while good intentions are important, the final judgement should be based on the most basic of criteria: are they any good? The answer to that question is…they could be.
Joe & Max is the Terminator-style story of Joseph Julian Davis (the titular Joe), a young boy who is destined to defeat Steven Dark, a billionaire who appears to be an avatar or right-hand man of Satan himself. Dark has seen the future, knows that Joe will defeat him but not how, and offers him a Faustian bargain in exchange for his life. Max is an angel, chosen by God to watch over and protect Joe, to ensure he lives to fulfill his destiny. Despite the overt religious themes, Jason Medley delivers a satisfying read that won’t alienate a secular audience, using a light touch and injecting humor throughout the story. Having Max speak only in biblical verse, quoting appropriate scripture, could have been a deal-breaker, but it actually works, partly because Joe himself admits, “This is going to get really annoying.” Medley’s entertaining, well-paced script is nicely complemented by Claude St. Aubin’s excellent artwork and Chris Chuckery’s eye-catching color palette. There’s a Saturday morning cartoon appeal to the visuals and St. Aubin is a solid storyteller with a great eye for character design.
Genesis 5 and Code both feature similarly appealing artwork but, unfortunately, suffer from choppy pacing and considerably less secular appeal thanks to their respective religous themes being handled with noticeably heavier hands. Both are awkwardly paced setups that include appearances by Steven Dark, but unlike Joe and Max, their tone is a lot, um, darker, particularly Code, whose titular hero resembles Laurence Fishburne in full Morpheus mode, fighting demons.
Of these three launch titles, Joe and Max has the most crossover potential for non-Christians and I look forward to that story developing further. Code has potential, and I’ll likely give it another issue or two for Mike Baron and Lovern Kindzierski to work out its kinks. Genesis 5, though, was the weakest of the bunch, and if not for its explicit connection to the other two titles, I’d probably skip it entirely next time around. That also represents the biggest challenge for Guardian, though, ensuring these titles can be read and enjoyed on their own merits, while still giving the sense that they are a part of something larger.
A couple of side notes: Michael Davis, the “Creator of The Guardian Line“, has a letter to readers at the back of each issue that begins, “I love comics!” Of course, it’s no surprise that the co-founder of Milestone Media loves comics, but his explanation of what they mean to him sets the right tone for the fledgling publisher and gives me hope that The Guardian Line can find its niche and succeed in offering “heroes who try to do the right thing.”
I was also pleased to see that the advertising in all three books reflected the audience they’re targeting — HarperCollins imprint, Amistad Press, promoting Justine Simmons’ children’s book, God, Can You Hear Me?; Rock the Vote; Wheaton College’s Entrenuity program; Comics Buyer’s Guide.