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With the Chaco conflict drawing to a close, Dominic Fortune is looking around for a new opportunity that will allow him to make some more cash. As luck would have it, he gets two very different offers at the same time, and the one he chooses, which was supposed to be the easy alternative, not only turns out to be a great deal of trouble but also leads to someone trying to kill him.

36_DOMINIC_FORTUNE_1.jpgThe comic historians note that the direct ancestor of the Dominic Fortune character was an Atlas Comics adventurer called the Scorpion. Now while that may be technically true it is also correct to take cognizance that the energetic Mr Fortune is part of a long line of Chaykin anti-heroic creations like Cody Starbuck, Ironwolf, Rueben Flagg, Cass Pollack and Harry Block. These guys are all taken from the same dramatic mould; they are extremely tough, totally self reliant, very attracted to the female half of humanity and are definitely not afraid to kill if they feel mortally threatened. This type of adverse adventurer, owes more to the legacy of the pulps than to the early days of comic books and Chaykin is the creator who has cornered this particular part of the heroic market and that’s because nobody does it better than him.

It’s always good to see a begetter return to work on their original creation. What’s really fascinating here is that this is only the second Dominic Fortune tale that Chaykin has fully created. He is taking on the chores of scripting, drawing, inking and coloring the whole project by himself and the last time he had that much overall artistic control was way back in 1976 black and white magazine one-shot ‘Marvel Super Action’. That publication was part of the non color periodical line that was instrumental in helping to break the Comic Code Authority strictures. In that previous tale, Howard used that artistic freedom to emphasis the more violent aspects of Fortune’s personality because even with the new leeway that was now afforded to him at that time, he still dare not delve too far into the characters sexuality. However, with the MAX imprint, Dominic Fortune is now at liberty to shows us the more sensual side of his personality.

I think it’s eminently fair to say that Sex has played an integral role in Chaykin’s comic art output since those early days. His heroes now engage in more overt sexual activity than other others in mainstream comics and at times they even tap into the spirit of the 60’s and 70’s alternative Comix scene. This process stared with his Cody Starbuck tales in Star Reach and continued on through ‘American Flagg’, ‘Time²’,’the Shadow’ all the way to the groundbreaking seminal work of ‘Black Kiss’ There are those who feel that this type of story demeans the comic experience but surely if panelology is ever to be taken seriously then it must be seen to be dealing with adult themes and Howard is certainly full square on that track.

Still, coitus aside, Mr Chaykin has always been able to tell an interesting story and this one looks like being no exception. His pacing has always been a strong point and the narrative flow of this issue was totally on the money, whereas the plot is also developing very nicely indeed.

The first ever aerial war battles that took place on the American continent was the during the three year Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia and it is during the final days of this conflict that this new tale of Dominic Fortune opens. With the typical aplomb of this character, he has hired himself out as a pilot mercenary to both sides during the three years of the conflict and is now looking for a way to move on to his next money making opportunity. Forced to bail out of his bullet damaged aircraft, he parachutes into a swimming pool which drops him right at the feet of a famous actress, Hazel Fontaine and after a bit of salacious flirtation he gets an invite to a party that evening by his date for the evening Delatriz Betancourt at which he is introduced to an American businessman called Malcolm Upshaw. This man is looking for people to join his new fascistic organisation and is interested in having Mr Fortune as a potential candidate until Dominic reveals that he is Jewish. This causes the offer to be retracted and the adventurer to verbally put Mr Upshaw in his place.

Of course this means that Fortune still needs gainful employment and after a discussion with Irwin Oppenheim, the husband of Fontaine, he accepts a job offer of body guarding some high powered people for three weeks. This apparent milk run job of just watching out for three of the studios more famous stars: Jock Madison, Vaughn Lorillard and P.T Oakley (who are thinly disguised analogues of those legendary alcohol and sex party animals of Hollywood: Errol Flynn, John Barrymore and W.C Fields) turns out to be more of a challenge than Dominic was expecting and it ends up with an unsuccessful attempt on his life after which the assassin takes their own life by way of a cyanide tablet.

As for the graphical content of this book it is my humble opinion, Chaykin’s art in this comic is not as clearly delineated as it used to be in the past. His line drawing skill is still extremely sharp but some of the perspective shots and several of the panels depicting either full body or head poses were not exactly anatomically accurate. Howard’s style seems to have grown a lot looser over the years and changed from a position where he seem to feel every conceivable thing needed to be included in a panel to a point where he is only including what he feels absolutely needs to be on there to tell the story and no more. I personally miss the previous level of painstaking creation that was evident in his early American Flagg work, where even something like a gunshot sound effect was an integral part of the comic page. However, these are just minor personal quibbles and they certainly don’t detract from what is overall an extremely well drawn issue.

It’s also worth noting; that a particular strength of this innovative artist, over the years, is that whether it be costume, machinery or how a room is decorated the reader gets a very strong sense of verisimilitude from the finished page because we know that Chaykin has scrupulously done his homework and that what we are seeing is historically accurate. In this book we are treated to that same level of archival authenticity and the sense of being in the mid-nineteen thirties is really palpable.

In summation, Mr Chaykin has always royally entertained me over the years. From his captivating ‘Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser’ debut in 1973 right up until I had finished the final page of this book I have always felt that I was reading the material of one of the best panelogical producers in the entire history of comics. That’s why this book gets four stars from me.

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The Author

Marlowe Lewis

Marlowe Lewis

Marlowe Lewis is old. I mean really, really old. So old in fact, that the first ever sequential art that he ever saw was when his lifelong friend in their small clan began painting bison on the cave walls. This was a true turning point in his life. Firstly, he was immediately and irrevocably hooked on the visual arts, and secondly he discovered another use for dried bison dung.

Marlowe Lewis is British. This is not an apology.

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1 Comment

  1. August 18, 2009 at 12:35 pm — Reply

    The comic historians note that the direct ancestor of the Dominic Fortune character was an Atlas Comics adventurer called the Scorpion.

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    Wonderful that you noted this! If you look back at that first issue of The Scorpion, February 1975, you can see that the costume is a near dead on to the one Domonic Fortune would appear wearing in Marvel Preview #2, Winter 1975. The turn around is amazing for that character (the last issue of the Scoprion was published July of 1975!)

    Great review!

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