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posted June 5, 2004
Alan Moore and Zander Cannon
By the time this review sees print, the five-issue mini-series Smax is most likely finished and may even be available in trade paperback form. The rush to collection is a good thing when it comes to entertainments like this Alan Moore and Zander Cannon's fantasy spin-off of the Top Ten superhero cops franchise. In book form the work will likely find a larger audience drawing in part from traditional fantasy novel readers. But in the midst of its serialization it is worth noting right now just how well the creative team makes use of the standard comic book format, kind of a lost art.
As was the case in Top Ten, Smax is drenched in visual references and jokes for the attentive and genre-smitten reader: every background character, building, and event has likely wandered in from a fairy tale, epic fantasy, or science fiction story. In issue #3 the references can be fairly obvious, like the Sergio Aragones character Groo walking down the street, or reasonably subtle, like a man wearing the black vest and medallions of Dave Sim's Cerebus saying something disparaging about women. This barrage of puns gives the comic book much greater heft than a more straightforward telling would afford, and supplements the talking head nature of the main narrative with levels upon levels of squinting and scratching one's head in classic Mad-Era Will Elder fashion. The strategy works particularly well in a fantasy book because many readers of that literature are predisposed towards noting the background events, attempting to find through the accumulation of off-hand detail a truer, deeper sense of being in another place. Moore does his usual adept job at blending character progression with plot, making the flow of oddities seem more natural because of the lead's open disgust at its silliness and giving the reader a way of judging important story moments that has more to do with emotional ups and downs than the tired rhythms of quest literature. One might have hope for American comics as throwaway popular entertainment if they were as witty and engaging as this one, and use for the comic book pamphlet if all them were as smartly conceived.