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Great Showdowns: The Return
posted November 6, 2013

imageCreator: Scott Campbell
Publishing Information: Titan Books, hardcover, 144 pages, October 2013, $14.95.
Ordering Numbers: 178116889X (ISBN10), 9781781168899 (ISBN13)

This is more of a novelty gift book than any sort of serious exploration of the comics art form, the kind of work that shows up for $3 on Amazon used the same week it comes up but also sells for cover price years down the road. No one should care about the intent. Scott Campbell is a fun image-maker and natural cartoonist and this book -- as was the case with its similar-name predecessor -- is a conceptually sound aim-and-point utilizing some of the more effective elements of the cartoonist's skill set. Campbell's style is developed to the point to being able to encompass anything. His figure drawing is delicate and therefore appealing in a way that more aggressive stylizations might not be. Because of his attention to key details in terms of hair and body proportion and color, his faces can turn on a smile and through the arrangement of roughly-conceived features because they've already imprinted their identity on the reader. It's kind of like watching one of your friends that nails a Halloween costume year-in and year-out by getting just enough right in terms of visual signifiers that the impression is made without overpowering the person beneath it. I have the attention span of a lemming, and massive gaps in my movie knowledge, and all but one of these images were immediately recognizable.

If you haven't run across this work yet, Campbell takes movie "showdowns" and depicts the confrontational forces in a kind of smile-and-wave photo opportunity at some moment removed from that encounter. It is a surprisingly sturdy conceit. Campbell gets mileage out of the staging, out of the figures themselves, out of the selection of what constitutes opposing forces, and from the act of making some of the more dire players cheerful. And... well, that's about it. It's nice and clever, and well-executed, and while I think anyone making a case for either Great Showdowns book as a kind of valedictory process for pop-culture relevance might have some convincing to do, I certainly think it extends and has fun with the pleasure we derive from so many of the last few decades of pop-culture movies. I read it in short bursts, standing in the kitchen, talking on the phone.