Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Hero Complete Comics Vol. 1 (graphic novel review)

Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Hero is a character in the Teknophage epic which was dreamed up by Neil Gaiman in the early 1990s but folded in a comicbook bust the like of which happens every ten years or so. It’s fair to point out that this volume can be read as a standalone but does tie in with the others in the series, namely Neil Gaiman’s Teknophage Vol. # 1 and 2. Linking the saga together is the Teknophage himself, a 65 million year-old lizard and one of the classic villains of comics, up there with Darkseid, Magneto and Doctor Doom.

We learn in the first three pages that Mr. Hero was constructed by the Teknophage in his factory on Kalighoul in another dimension and sent to Earth, presumably to cause trouble. Henry Phage has a long term plan to corrupt and conquer our planet. ‘But even the devil can err in his works and in place of a demon…create a hero.’ The caption says so. In a later story, it’s revealed that Mr. Hero has entirely different notions about who created him. In any case, he’s a steam-powered automaton with a soul and two heads. One directs him for fighting and the other is better for thinking. Both speak in Victorian English calling villains cads and bounders but otherwise behaving with great courtesy, especially to ladies.

For a while, Mr. Hero performed on stage with a magician in Victorian England, doing a bit of pugilism to show off his talents. His left hand went awry and broke a man’s jaw, after which he was retired and put in a crate. That stray hand is currently in the possession of Henry Phage, lizard ruler of Kalighoul, but how it got there isn’t clear. The rest of Mr. Hero is found years later in Los Angeles by one Jenny Hale, a vivacious young female who works in a museum. By Dickensian coincidence, she comes across his head in a junk shop the next day and when it’s attached he becomes animated. Phage detects that Mr. Hero has come back to life and sends henchmen to recover his property.

These malevolent minions include the Chameleons, a gang of shape-changers who can blend into the background. There’s a striking image of them peeling off a brick wall. There’s also Mister Pierce, a thug with razor-sharp fists, Deadbolt who can electrify things and Bloodboil, who will fill you full of toxins. They are supervised by Beaumont who runs Henry Phage’s business empire on Earth and a chap called Kingman, who is meant to be in charge but seems to spend a lot of time watching television and playing video games, having become enamoured of our culture.

There are different artistic teams for the pages set in Kalighoul with Henry Phage and the pages that take place on Earth. The scenes on dark, macabre Kalighoul are by Bryan Talbot and Angus McKie. The action on bright, sunlit Earth is pencilled by Ted Slampyak and inked by Bob McLeod, Art Nichols and some others. It’s all okay. It won’t blow your mind but it won’t hurt your eyes neither and the story is easy to follow, which is the main thing.

The ‘Teknophage’ volumes in this series struck me as similar to our great British comic ‘2000AD’ with dark themes and imagery. The atmosphere and art in ‘Mr. Hero’ is more like that of a traditional super-hero comic with fairly decent characters trying to save the day and do the right thing. The Teknophage is, of course, a very naughty reptile and his story is not at all fluffy which is why the different art team on his pages works well.

Having over 200 pages of entertaining story in bright colour on quality paper for this money is extremely good value. You probably have to resign yourself to buying all the related books but they’re worth reading, too.

Eamonn Murphy

June 2017

(pub: NBM/Papercutz, 2016. 232 page graphic novel softcover. Price: $14.99 (US), $17.50 (CAN), £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-62991-435-0)

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