Almost as a rule, I’m leery of comics projects like The Devil’s Handshake (Archaia).
It’s “based on characters and stories created by Ryan Schifrin,” who gets a very Hollywood “story by” credit and shares the writing credit with veteran comics writer Larry Hama.
If I don’t actually read a comic book with similar credits that’s a similar half-comics industry, half-film industry production every day, I certainly read about one every day, and they tend to not be very good comics. Whether it’s actually the case or not, they often read like rejected screenplays and pitches being reformulated as comic books, and, obviously, that’s hardly the best way to go about making great comics.
Why am I bothering to mention all this here? I’m not just kvetching for kvetching’s sake. (At least, not this time!). No, I just wanted to point out that I personally have all this baggage concerning film and TV industry people dabbling in comics, and I still found Devil’s Handshake a heck of a lot of fun. If you don’t share my particular biases and prejudices, than chances are you’ll love it.
The sub-title of this book, a prestige-format, 42-page “graphic novella,” is “A Basil and Moebius Adventure.” The pair are Basil Fox and Alaric Moebius, a pair roguish, buddy copping, British Indiana Jones-types who recover artifacts for a mysterious, prick of a boss with at least a little magical power and the handle “The Collector.”
We meet them as they’re in the middle of a job, and are lashed to logs and about to be thrown into an active volcano by some indigenous people, some of them wearing huge tiki-style masks. They’re not the only ones after the maguffin, though. There’s also a pair of undead guys in fedoras, trench coats and mummy wrappings they refer to as The Ghoul Brothers, and a buxom, scantily clad Lara Croft-looking type, who works as a government agent.
All want the artifact for slightly different reasons, and it changes hands a few times on the way to the Libyan desert, where it helps raise a pyramid that needs exploring.
It sounds like the stuff of old school pulp adventures, and it is—but Devil’s Handshake is set in present day (Which means our heroes dress in 1930s fashions just because they’re jerks, I guess).
Schifrin and Hama make a surprisingly good writing team, and I found myself wondering who exactly wrote what, as the book is fast-paced and full of the sort of technically-possible-in-the-real-world adventure Hama’s known for, but there’s a great focus on colorful characters, sharp dialogue and witty repartee that doesn’t sound like the Hama whose G.I. Joe comics I grew up reading (Of course, it could be the difference between writing comics for kids and writing comics for adults, too).
Adam Archer and Lizzy John provide the art, and it is lush, painterly in style and colored as realistically and dramatically as possible. It’s not a look I particularly like seeing in a comic book, and I think a lighthearted adventure comedy like this would have greatly benefited from more traditional looking, pen-and-ink-on-Bristol-board, comic book-y comic book style cartooning.
But hell, that’s just me. And, like the book’s credits and possible genesis, it’s something I personally don’t care for, but ultimately didn’t stop me from enjoying the book’s considerable strengths.