Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Return of Fortune

Proof that old comic book characters never die, the newsprint just fades away: This past week saw the first issue of Marvel's Max line's DOMINIC FORTUNE miniseries, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin.

The Fortune character is a byproduct of two phenomena of the mid 1970's: The interesting-but-unsuccessful Atlas/Seaboard line of comics; and Marvel's black-and-white magazines. For the former, Chaykin created The Scorpion, a non-super-powered hero whose adventures were set in the '30's. When Chaykin parted ways with the company (which soon folded), Chaykin took the concept down the street to Marvel, where two Fortune adventures were printed in various Marvel black-and-white anthologies. The magazines were not covered by the Comics Code, and so tended to include what would now be called PG-13 or soft-R rated material; so Fortune's fortunes tended to be on the non-PC side. When the two stories were reprinted in 1980, Dom got a full color series in Marvel's THE HULK newsstand magazine. I found this series to be a lot of fun, particularly since Chaykin painted the series and included some wonderful montage splash pages.

Fortune was noteable as a pre-RAIDERS exercise in '30's nostalgia. Fortune, who called himself a "brigand for hire," was a soldier-of-fortune who lived in a gambling ship anchored off the coast of L.A., past the three-mile limit. He flew a bi-plane, wielded a broom-handled Mauser, inexplicably dressed in a fencing outfit when on missions, and dealt with a pulp-magazine retinue of zombies, earthquake machines, telekinetics, and other denizens of pre-WWII Los Angeles.

Because Chaykin was more experienced as an artist than as a writer, most of these Fortune stories were scripted by others, such as Len Wein and Dennis O'Neil.

Now, some 34 years after Fortune's first appearance, Chaykin brings him back. Chaykin now has years of experience as a writer not only in comics, but also in television. Further, he wrote and drew some of the most critically-acclaimed comics series in the '80's, particularly his futuristic satire AMERICAN FLAGG!

The new series is touched by all that. It is far more political and serious than the earlier series. It focuses on one of Chaykin's favorite subjects, American anti-semitism, an issue tailor-made for a series set in pre-WWII Los Angeles and for Fortune, nee Davey Fotunov, one of the earliest comics heros openly acknowledged as Jewish.

Since it's the Max line, and it's Chaykin, the first issue would be rated a hard R, with lots of bad words and nudity. But it's also an example of a terrific creator coming back to one of his most enjoyable creations.

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