THIS REVIEW OF ‘MCMLXXV’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE

By Brendan F. Hodgdon. Over the last few years, Image has become known for epic, complex narratives that broaden the expectations of what comics can do as a medium. That being said, they are certainly not above putting out a good old-fashioned adventure comic, particularly when a Man of Action is involved. With MCMLXXV, writer Joe Casey and the art/design team of Ian MacEwan, Brad Simpson, Sonia Harris and Rus Wooton have delivered a rollicking old-school story with a great new hero at its center.

Of course, being an Image book, it still has a killer art style that stands out from the pack, a resonant setting and a focus on a type of character we don’t see enough of from other publishers. Without being overburdened by continuity or mythology, Casey & company execute a simple, unassuming story. MCMLXXV serves as a reminder that while comics are capable of more complexity and maturity than ever, sometimes we need an unapologetic hero comic to come along to rev our engines.

MCMLXXV #1MCMLXXV #1

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Joe Casey.

Art by Ian MacEwan.

Colors by Brad Simpson.

Design by Sonia Harris.

Letters by Rus Wooton.

What Kind Of World Are We Living In? One refreshing element of this book is how little time Casey and MacEwan dwell on the worldbuilding. There’s no portentous expository voiceover, no hyper-detailed mythology. We’re simply dropped right into a world of late-night taxi fares and spooky villains and get taken for a ride. Usually this lack of definition and explanation would be disappointing—after all, half the fun of comics is the opportunity to explore new worlds in-depth every month.

But Casey and MacEwan pull it off thanks to one very helpful x-factor: New York City. Thanks to the very strong impression that the New York of the ‘70s and ‘80s left on popular culture, the creative team has a distinct world to play with. With MCMLXXV, they build from films like The Warriors, Escape from New York and Taxi Driver, adding ninjas and demons to the blinkered twilight grime of the New York that was. It’s not hard to imagine things that go bump in the night lingering in that world, and that choice of setting adds depth without having to distract from the plot to do it.

Of course, the result is that for now the mythology of the book is left very undefined, which makes it hard to guess where things will go from here. But that doesn’t feel withholding; rather, combined with the matter-of-fact directness of the book’s main character, Pam, it underscores how the mystical uncertainty of issue #1 is par for the course in her world. She never truly knows what will come next. That’s just how life is for her.

Street Art. The artwork from Ian MacEwan and Brad Simpson is really fun. Their aesthetic recalls Frank Miller and Sean Phillips to a degree—the character designs and the carefully deployed use of silhouettes and shadow in particular remind me of Sin City and Criminal. But there’s also a more fluid and kinetic vibe to MacEwan’s work here that suits the book’s almost superhero-esque action throughout. The style strikes a comfortable balance between the series’ tangible and recognizable depiction of 1970s New York and the fantastical, genre-friendly elements of the story.

MacEwan’s pencils alone nail this balance nicely, but his inks and Simpson’s colors are also a huge part of it. The constant friction between the late-night shadows and the vibrant neon colors gives the book an added energy, and could be seen as an extension of the story (humanity living in open defiance of the darkness, supernatural or otherwise, that surrounds us). And it adds to the action scenes, too, as the brightness of Pam’s enchanted tire iron cuts through bizarre demonic ninjas. MacEwan and Simpson’s work is sensational even when they’re delivering the story’s pulpy action beats. Based on the surreal apocalyptic imagery in this issue they will likely have even more to show us as the series progresses.

Heart Of A Hero. Casey has spoken about his desire to have MCMLXXV read like modern folklore, à la John Henry. In that regard it makes a lot of sense that he would want to forgo the usual genre obsession with exposition in favor of just telling a story. Thankfully this does not extend to his character work. He doesn’t write Pam as some larger-than-life, unknowable titan of monster-fighting; he establishes her as a human being making her way in the world, monsters be damned. Her life may not be normal, but she refuses to let that define her.

Pam still earns her fares as a cab driver and still has a loving boyfriend waiting at home. She has fond memories of her family and a desire to do good in her heart. While the nature of the story definitely conveys the vibe of an old-school tall tale, Casey keeps his hero grounded and relatable. I would expect nothing less from the ever-talented Casey, but it’s always gratifying to see a story that nails elements like this so effortlessly.

There’s certainly something comforting about a book like MCMLXXV. It’s a straight-up rollicking adventure, unpretentious and unabashedly fun. While it might seem a little slight, it crackles with personality and boasts a great style, and its premise is packed with long-term potential. For anyone searching for a great, throwback pulp story, this is it.

8 out of 10

‘MCMLXXV’ #1 hits stores July 25.

 

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