It feels good to finally be reviewing The Hero Code. I was watching artist Jonathan Rector’s Ustream show back when he was actually drawing some of the early pages featured in this first issue, and it seems like ages ago that I first saw writer Jamie Gambell mention it as an upcoming project somewhere. Later, I donated to the Kickstarter project to help get this series made. And finally, a few days ago, a nice big bundle pack full of comics, prints, cards, posters, a badge, a T-shirt and other assorted goodies arrived in the mail, and as I sat down to read the first issue, it felt like the culmination of a long journey. But was The Hero Code #1 worth the wait?
In his afterword at the back of the comic, Jamie Gambell talks about how The Hero Code is designed to hark back to a simpler time for the superhero genre, when the good guys were good, the bad guys were bad, and the stories were fun and accessible to children. It’s an admirable goal. Deconstructionist superhero stories are so old hat that they’re the new norm, and that’s coming from someone who’s writing a deconstructionist superhero story. So, it’s nice to see Gambell present what comes across as a totally earnest love letter to classic superheroes of old, with nary a sly wink in sight. Making an impressive about turn from the grim, horror-orientated fare of Omnitarium, Gambell succeeds in making the story kid-friendly, too – dialling back on any bad language or violence – but at the same time not pandering to kids or patronising them, instead trusting them to keep up with a plot detailed enough to interest adult readers as well.
In terms of the plot, the main body of this issue revolves around introducing our central trio of heroes, each seemingly serving as a pastiche of one of DC’s iconic trinity. As such, we get Optiman in place of Superman, Myth seemingly sharing traits with Wonder Woman, and The Black Wraith, a shadowy figure thriving on the fear of the criminal underworld in a manner much like Batman. Right now, each is in their own city, reacting to the dawn of this age of the superhero in their own way, and there are mere hints of the threat that might bring them together, with glimpses of potential antagonists including a vengeful gangster, a mad scientist, and a shadowy figure watching all of the heroes from afar. It’s mainly set-up, and Gambell is taking his time to carefully lay out all the pieces of his puzzle before putting them together. One criticism could be that perhaps he’s taking his time too much, as by the end of the first issue I had yet to come across the hook that is going to keep me coming back for more. I understand the intention that here the twist is there is no twist, but still, I’m trying to think about how I would pitch this series to someone if I was selling it at a con, and just had a sentence or two to catch their attention. But still, if, like me, you like a classic superhero romp, and are always interested to see new superhero universes be built from the ground up, you’re likely to find much to like in this opening issue.
Of course, the major winning factor that sets this book apart from much of the numerous other creator-owned superhero titles out there is that The Hero Code boasts the powerhouse art stylings of Jonathan Rector. Now, I may be a bit biased, given that I work with Mr. Rector on my own comic, The Standard, but nevertheless, I’ll say that his work continues to amaze. His pages don’t look like something you’d find in an indie book. I could pick at random any Marvel or DC book out of the pile of new comics I bought this week, and odds are that, when placed side by side with this, The Hero Code would look just as good, if not better. His layouts are exciting, his action dynamic, and the character’s finely nuanced in their “acting” through facial expression and body language. Rector’s art is always a joy to behold, and it keeps on getting better. I imagine he won’t be on the independent scene for much longer, so if you want to be cool and say you were following a superstar artist of years to come back before there were huge, The Hero Code #1 could be your ground-floor entry.
Though I must say that Rector is here assisted by some gorgeous colors from Heather Breckel. The colors are bold, bright, and jump off the page, the perfect compliment to Rector’s bombastic style and Gambell’s intended tone. One particular standout sequence for me is the scene in Dr. Pontarius’ lab. Here, everything is bathed in an eerie, glowing green that creates a real 50s B-movie vibe for our mad scientist, and strikes just the right atmosphere to help make this the most visually memorable moment in the first issue.
I had a lot of fun with The Hero Code #1. From my perspective, it’s a good feeling to have been following the progress of a comic for so long, and find that it turned out good at the end of it all. But really, the whole creative team have done such a stellar job with this debut issue that, if I’d never heard of it and picked the comic up on a whim, I think I’d still be impressed enough to want to read more. Now, the journey towards issue #2 begins!