Rob Hanes Adventures: An All Ages Comic Stuck In Analog
I've gotten a few dead-tree books in still sitting on my desk which in a bit of New Year's optimism I'm determined to get reviewed, plugged and just generally, processed, one way or another. One I definitely wanted to get to is Rob Hanes Adventures, a comic book serial from Randy Reynaldo.
I like the (mostly) all ages tales of detective/adventurer Rob Hanes. But I don't understand why it's a comic book and not a webcomic. It's the 21st century already!
The first thing anyone will notice about Randy Reynaldo's Rob Hanes Adventures is that it's professionally put together. The paper soft comic books are nicely put together, Reynaldo is a very capable artist and the whole presentation is slick enough to look like it came from a major publisher. I have in hand the latest available issue #10 of the serialized comic book but this review is also going to cover two stories available as webcomics.
Reynaldo has been writing tales of Rob Hanes for over 15 years now (since 1991). He describes it as an "all-ages series" that "follows the adventures of a modern-day troubleshooter and soldier of fortune who travels the globe on assignment under the auspices of worldwide Justice International." And my impression is that for the most part it is an all-ages comic in terms of its simple plots, black and white characterization and subject matter. While not a superhero comic, it clearly aims itself at the audience of old-school superhero comic books: young boys (probably 8-14 if I had to guess). I guess for the record there are a few bits of language I wish Reynaldo had avoided but to be honest there's nothing in there that an 8 year old probably hasn't heard on the schoolyard...
"The Pride of the Chickenhawks"
I got a copy of this issue in the mail last fall and it's the reason why I'm reviewing the comic today. I enjoyed this one -- it is probably the best of the stories I'm reviewing today. Rob Hanes goes undercover as a baseball player on a team where its best players are getting suspended because of steroid use. All of the players deny ever using steroids and Hanes is trying to get to the bottom of it all. In the all-ages world of Rob Hanes there not much doubt that some evil figure lies at the bottom of the mystery which is a comforting spin on the real world issue of steroids any baseball fan has had to live through for the last couple of years.
Things to like about Rob Hanes Adventures: straight-forward stories wrapped up at the end (no soap opera pathos and unending storylines), highly competent art, characters without too many shades of grey: Rob's a good guy and the bad guys are clearly bad. Rob is such an everyman that I read most of these stories wondering if I believed he was capable of doing what he is presented at doing but that's probably due to me not being the target audience for the tale. For the most part I put that aside and enjoyed the action.
This particular issue had some nice light-hearted moments in it and the everyman side of Rob plays well when Reynaldo uses it to comedic effect. I hope he pursues more of this approach than the traditional action tales that appear to make up the bulk of the archives.
This webcomic is in full color (a nice job on the coloring by Barry Gregory) which is a plus. This basic tale of government corruption in post-communist Russia feels a little dated given the twists and turns in world politics since the 90's but it works fairly well. There are a few twists, enough to keep the plot from being 100% predictale.
I was surprised at how James Bond-ish Reynald paints his Rob Hanes characters in this episode. He hooks up with both of the women featured in the tale, despite demonstrating some clear chauvinistic qualities. He's seemingly invulnerable in terms of not getting scratched while not especially displaying any particular ability or intelligence in carrying out his job as investigator/hired muscle.
This webcomic is also in full color. This one is a slightly more complicated plot involving various branch offices of Rob's employer Justice International (which kept made me thinking of DC Comics' Justice League International) in conflicting investigations. To be honest I couldn't make much of the plot or the revelations along the way. They were either too confusing or just not that interesting. Part of it is simply that I haven't read the whole series of books and some of this plot seems to be an ongoing storyline (note the last page which clearly leave much of this tale open-ended). This does cut against the self-contained story in a book aspect of the other two episodes -- something that I think is a strength in an all-ages tale.
As with another in-print comic I recently reviewed, I am struck by how handicapped this tale is by the monthly comic book format (and this one seems to be on a one issue-a-year schedule at best) and I wonder how well it has connected with its clear target audience through distribution in direct market sales. This is not a superhero book and it's not aimed at the 24+ age group that modern superhero comic books seem to be aimed at. It's an all age spin on the now almost-defunct newspaper action comic strip.
While it's a positive step to put two full color versions of the comic up on the web, this is clearly a strip that would be well served to flip its mentality to webcomic-first, print to follow. First off, it just works better in color and it would be nice to see it all presented that way. Second having the full archive of a story-driven comic on the web means every new reader can get onboard with the full set of adventures of the character right away. Some of those readers are going to become fans and fans buy things -- books or other merchandise associated with the comic.
Moreover, I think the space of the web would give Reynaldo more room to work with the character than 18 pages or so of a comic book. I like the self-contained nature of the stories he tells but there's no law that says they have to be 18 pages or else. The web would let some of the more superficial bits in this comic have the room to do more.
Note: The creator provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.