Remember the good old days? A time-traveler always does, just in case he needs a place to hide out. But what is the secret of Bridget Chronopolis? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Aztec Ace #1 awaits!
Writer: Doug Moench
Penciler: Michael Bair (as Michael Hernandez)
Inker: Nestor Redondo
Colorist: Philip DeWalt/Denis McFarling
Letterer: Adam Kubert
Editor: cat yronwode
Publisher: Eclipse Comics
Cover Price: $2.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00
Previously in Aztec Ace: Doug Moench was one of comics’ workhorses in the 1970s, cutting his teeth on Marvel’s black-and-white magazines, creating Deathlok and Moon Knight, as well as the amazing run of comics that made Master Of Kung-Fu famous. By 1984, he was the regular writer for Batman at DC Comics, but also part of the early lineup of creators at Eclipse Comics. While Moench writing wasn’t always out there as compatriots like Gerber or Englehart, he still had more than enough wild ideas to launch a series about a time-traveling Aztec warrior from the 14th century who… Well, we’ll get to that.
EDITORS NOTE: There is an Aztec Ace Kickstarter currently running (ends June 28th) that will reprint the entire Aztec Ace one in a giant collection. The art will see improvements from the original, and there is a special deal for Major Spoilers members – When you purchase the book via the Kickstarter at the $49.00 level, you can contact Drew Ford of It’s Alive directly through the Kickstarter campaign and let him know you found the campaign from Major Spoilers, and he will upgrade you to a $79 signed copy of the book for FREE.
Aztec Ace #1 opens at Montezuma Conterminus, Tenochtitlan, circa the year 1518, as the man called Caza returns home with his favorite corn chips. The fact that our time-traveling hero is first seen after a trip to the distant future specifically for a bag of Fritos sets the stage perfectly for the anachronic madness we are about to receive. Entering the ziggurat he calls home, Caza seeks out his new pupil (we can’t go with companion, that’s the other time-traveling guy), a woman named Bridget Chronopolis, who is busy enjoying the creature comforts of ancient times. Her ceremonial bath is interrupted by the arrival of our hero, and while she is shocked for a moment, she quickly acclimates…
The first sign that we’re dealing with 1980s independent comics comes in the blatant and overt sexual tension between our leads, something I find refreshing after years of chaste Bronze Age heroes in superhero comics. These days, Bridget’s flirtily bathing herself might seem downright tame, but for the time period, this was HIGHLY-CHARGED comic book erotica, and the lush art of Bair and Redondo makes it all that much more compelling. Leaving his charge/love interest to be dressed by her handmaidens, Caza returns to his Den of Anachrony for a Coke and some music.
Oh, and by the way, his navigator is the floating disembodied head of Sigmund Freud…
There’s a real charm to these pages, allowing Moench to revel in all his favorite things vicariously (the musical choices Caza makes are pretty sharp for an Aztec), but he doesn’t lose his sense of character and dialogue. Bridget and Ace have an awkward courtship discussion, which also helps to explain to us that, while we’re at the beginning or our comic, they’ve already experienced the events of their first adventure together. It’s sweet to see their flirtations, but there are still a number of unanswered questions for both of them. For his part, Caza seems very troubled by Bridget, while she seems a bit too casually at-ease at finding herself 400 years in her relative past. Moench’s dialogue takes center stage during their flirtation, with the cadence and poetry of his words making this feel like more than just your average comic-book story.
As Aztec Ace #1 transitions into the meat of things, it also transitions into a loving pastiche of Raymond Chandler detective stories (remember what I said about Moench’s favorite things?), specifically ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ The best part comes when Ace intones, “It all began 400 years later in San Francisco.” Time travel humor at its finest. But, instead of a Falcon, the maguffin in Aztec Ace #1 is a feathered serpent, and a mook named Rinaldo has a problem with being given an ersatz version of the gold statue. Detective “T. A. Zek” has an advantage, though, in that when the time/space continuum starts throwing paradoxes, he is ready to take the upper hand…
Also, Ace’s statue is the genuine article.
Again with the anachronic order, as Caza/Zek/Aztec Ace finds himself haunted by the memory of Rinaldo’s main squeeze, Bridget, before we actually see how they met. The first time I read this issue, I was totally and utterly confused, but after a couple more pass-throughs, it becomes clear that Moench and company were working on a whole different level for 1984, a level that was clearly ahead of its time. (Pun intended.) Taking off with the idol, Caza is unaware that, as fascinated as he was with Bridget, she finds herself equally preoccupied with the strange detective. I’m completely in love with techniques use to tell this story, as we are shown explanations for various story beats before the actual moments are revealed to us, making the reader focus on every panel in order to follow along. Even better, the character work and historical references both 40s and ancient reel me in and hold my attention. I share Bridget’s shock when the tribe sacrifices one of their own members for the favor of their gods, as well as her shock when Caza explains the true nature of what he does: He travels through time and protects history, as best he can, regardless of his own morality or feelings on the matter. Had the idol gone missing, had that sacrifice not occurred, the tribe might have torn themselves to pieces, sacrificing hundreds, which would change the Aztec tribe’s interactions with the Europeans, and by extension the history of the Western hemisphere…
There’s also a question of whether or not Benjamin Franklin has been and/or should have been murdered, which will be important later. Having heard his explanations, Bridget offers to be the Robin to his Batman, which is a pretty fresh reference for her native time, leading Ace to accept her offer and take her with him through time and space. I was first exposed to Doctor Who about the time that this comic book came out and it is quite clear that Moench is mining a similar vein. Amazingly, the romantic story at the center of Aztec Ace prefaces the revamped 2005 Doctor Who series, with Bridget in the role of Rose, and Caza as a Ninth Doctor with a better haircut. Unlike Rose and Nine, however, their sexual component is overt and actually quite charming. The sudden appearance of a massive “Prime Paradox” sends Caza running, as we once again see the effect long before the cause, and Ace and Bridget are quickly sailing the Golden Meld (which, Bridget notes, has a pleasant vibrational effect on her nether-regions) back to the past. I love how Moench gives Bridget a very specific speech pattern, and it’s easy to imagine her with a thick Noo Yawk accent, sounding like a gangster’s moll from a Bogart movie. They make their way to London, circa 1859, where they make sure that Big Ben chimes at the right time to fix the life of the the 5th Baron Grimthorpe (who really existed, though I had to go and look him up to be sure.)
They explain more of the story as we go, including a wonderful meet-cute and Ace getting a beating from a gang of time-traveling mooks called Ebonati, in the employ of his greatest enemy, a creature called Nine-Crocodile. Also, since the idol had been hidden with with a coat of paint, he has to bootstrap the paradox by painting it, thus resolving the glitch that nearly wiped out both of them. It’s neat to see how the structure messes with cause and effect, befitting a good time-travel story. Throughout Aztec Ace #1, Bair and Redondo deliver really amazing visuals (their depiction of time itself, embodied by Five-Worlds, is epic and confusing but beautiful) and the running battle through time is wonderful, including Bridget kicking but in her own leather aviator’s helmet to match his. The bad guys are routed, the timestream is protected, and there’s only one question that remains: “Have we made love yet?” At a time when there wasn’t a lot of sex depicted at ALL, having a relatively realistic adult relationship with sex is quite lovely. As the issue closes, Ace sets right what once went wrong once again, fixing a time paradox briefly mentioned earlier in the book, with unexpected consequences….
And, with that naked-Benjamin-Franklin cliffhanger, we fade to black on a weird and fascinating first adventure. This issue makes for a tantalizing start to the universe of Aztec Ace, setting up as it does a world where almost anything can happen, and Moench’s use of unusual cryptic captions that only make sense later in the story is great. Best of all, thanks to the density of the writing and art, Aztec Ace #1 not only holds up to modern sensibilities but invites multiple readings even 30 years later, delivering an unusual-but-fascinating story in a strange order and looking great doing it, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.
Seriously, if you run into this one, snag it, as Eclipse back issues are always elusive in the wild.