It took a while to get to us and had a name change along the way, but B. Clay Moore and Tony Harris’ “Whistling Skull” is finally with us. All good things come to those who wait, right?
Written by B. Clay Moore
Illustrated by Tony Harris
– A new series from acclaimed creators B. Clay Moore (Hawaiian Dick) and Tony Harris (EX MACHINA, STARMAN)!
– In 1940s Europe, the Nazi war machine is on the move…but crimes are still committed in even the smallest hamlets. Can one heroic duo solve the most bizarre mystery of all?
– From the world of the JSA: THE LIBERTY FILES, witness the birth of a new hero for the ages!
The first mini of perhaps eight or so, “JSA: The Liberty Files – The Whistling Skull” #1 brings us the astounding adventures of the Whistling Skull and Knuckles — aka William and Nigel, two old friends who’ve grown up to be crime fighters. William is a smart and dashing pulp hero who hides his face behind a grotesque skull alongside Nigel his simple sidekick as they fight crime overseas in the thick of war, and as the action picks up we find William attempting to live up to the legacy that stands behind him while he dons the mantle of the Whistling Skull. Oh, and a mystery is afoot that requires solving. All in a days work.Continued below
What we get with “The Whistling Skull” #1 is a quite refreshing read. It’s fun, it’s well-crafted and, most importantly, it’s exactly the kind of book DC has been missing from the stands.
What’s clear here more than anything else is that this book is something different from the rest of the DC line. Yes, it takes place in a version of the DCU and yes, it claims to be connected to the “JSA: Liberty Files” Elseworld story, but it’s about as connected to that as the string you pull to unravel a sweater.* There are a few brief cameos for you fans of the classic JSA, but this is mostly just an exciting and reminiscent look at the kind of books you’d see from the DC of yesteryear. DC’s been so worried about having an interconnected universe that it is very rare that we can get a book like this from them, something with the ideals that Wildstorm used to hold — even from their books that spin out of Wildstorm-based titles. While overdone nostalgia towards the pre-New 52 era isn’t generally advised, this is a book that clearly made only a few compromises towards its initial vision when it was a creator-owned series, and its very easy to forget that this is a DC comic in the first place.
The only major detriment to the book is that, for the most part, the issue doesn’t start the overall story off on the sturdiest of feet. While it may sound like an odd thought, the book somewhat plays like a radio play, featuring a lot of talking and doing a lot of telling but not too much showing. It’s an uneven split between the amount of time spent giving us action and adventure true to the spirit of the era that furthers the plot and that which is spent just having main characters talk to one another. A big aspect of this medium is that you should be able to show, not just tell, and given that the book “begins at the end” you’d imagine a faster pace would behoove the overall execution of the story. There’s enough here to “get” what Moore and Harris are trying to accomplish, but it’d be nice to see future issues focusing more on pushing the plot forward rather than filling up space with (admittedly amusing) banter between the two heroes.
Yet the slow pace aside, the comic is the beginning to what seems like a rather fun pulp adventure. Its setting a throwback to a genre most popular in nostalgists, the title achieves great results by mixing a few superhero tropes with the kind of dialogue and aesthetics you might find in a Carol Reed film. In fact, most of the Skull’s dialogue sounds like it could be coming straight from Rex Harrison’s lips (or his contemporary Michael Fassbender as Lieutenant Archie Hicox), and the scenes set in a sleepy town in 1940’s Switzerland help keep the book focused and on point. Much of the success of the book comes from its effective evocation of a specific time period and its ability to so easily blend modern ideals through a pulp-based filter, and this is a great testament to the collaboration between Moore and Harris, both of whom seem to be putting their all into the book.
So needless to say, Moore and Harris are doing great stuff together. Moore’s writing here is great; fully immersed in the time period and 1940’s chic, Moore writes William and Nigel as if they were characters we’d known for years. Given the legacy aspect of the book, the fact that you’re so easily able to acclimate to the characters despite little backstory shows how well Moore can capture what makes superheroes such an endearing idea in fiction. Harris is doing great work as well, although to expect any less would be foolish. While the pages are less stylized overall than his fantastic cover art, its clear that Harris is having fun crafting the characters, with seemingly less use of photo reference and more emphasis on the setting to really give the book its home in 1940s Switzerland. And if the opening scene is any indication, you can expect quite a lot of excitement from the book in later issues.
It should go without saying, but if you’ve ever had interest in pulp adventure comics like the Mignolaverse’s ‘1940s’ stories in “BPRD” or “Lobster Johnson,” “Whistling Skull” is not a book to miss out on. What once was going to be a creator-owned Wildstorm title now resurfaces as a new “JSA: Liberty File,” yet don’t let that put you off: this is a very good sign that all is not lost at DC. While its still mildly shackled to the confines of a shared universe, the potential for the Whistling Skull, his supporting cast and related unfolding story is rather great, and if this winds up being similar to DC’s recent “Shade” mini then the prospects are good indeed. A certain era is gone from the company, but its clear that the dream is alive somewhere, and with this issue slowly creaking open the door to the kind of fresh, fun non-atypical comics beyond your average superhero jams, a purchase of “The Whistling Skull” is a strong vote for a sharp future.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Give it a go
*Very loosely, in case you didn’t catch that