Less Than Heroes
Written and Illustrated by David Yurkovich
In an essay in the back of Less Than Heroes, David Yurkovich claims that his book was inspired by the simpler, more fun- and adventure-filled comics of yesteryear. Comics that were made before Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen left their permanent influence on everything that came after. Which is kinda ironic since it was Watchmen that I kept replaying in my mind as I read this book.
The concept is that a superhero organization called The Establishment has developed a syndicate system under which they lease the services of their super heroes to major cities. It’s much more efficient than, say, the Marvel or DC universes where if you’re lucky enough to live in New York City or Metropolis you’re okay, but God help New Orleans if Doctor Doom decides to strike there and all they have is Brother Voodoo to defend them. With The Establishment every city willing to pay gets its own super team, so the wealth is spread around a little more. It’s kinda like socialism only with super heroes. And you gotta pay for it.
Not wanting to pay The Establishment’s exorbitant fees, the city of Philadelphia has opted to hire an independent team called Threshold to protect it from super villains. Less Than Heroes is about Threshold and their relatively cushy gig protecting a city without a lot of crime. There’s a lot of down time for the team that gives us a chance to get to know its four members as they discuss such important issues as snack time and dental hygiene. When actual threats begin arriving in the City of Brotherly Love, Threshold is forced to step up or be stepped on, especially when the New York Super-Hero Syndicate is called in for extra help.
There are some bleak moments in Less Than Heroes. The escalating threats that Threshold faces are pretty solemn stuff. A faceless bad guy called The Stamp Collector is amongst the most chilling villains I’ve ever seen. But that’s not what reminds me of Watchmen. There are also plenty of light moments to counter-balance the dreary (remember snack time?) and even when they’re faced with certain doom, the members of Threshold remind me more of Joey, Chandler, Ross, and Rachel than Doctor Manhattan, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.
No, what reminds me of the Watchmen is the focus on the price associated with being something more than human. When everyone else looks to you for protection, what do you have to give up in order to support them? Yurkovich’s exploration and the answers he comes up with are as thought-out and valid as Alan Moore’s.
He’s no Alan Moore when it comes to execution, but that’s hardly a condemning comparison. Not even Alan Moore is always Alan Moore in terms of execution. And Watchmen was conceived as a single, twelve-part story while Less Than Heroes was originally two, separate, two-issue mini-series. That means that Less Than Heroes doesn’t read like a graphic novel the way Watchmen does. It’s more like a trade paperback collection of related stories, which of course is exactly what it is.
Yurkovich uses simple panel layouts to illustrate the book. Nothing fancy, just what’s needed to get his story across. What’s in the panels, on the other hand, can be quite fancy. He uses a variety of techniques and styles to differentiate between multiple storylines, but each is as detailed and witty and affecting as the others.
Despite Yurkovich’s intentions, Less Than Heroes isn’t simple or even adventure-filled like Silver Age comics. But it is full of thought and wonder and that makes it way better.