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The Shop Around The Megalopolis...

Mighty Love
story and art: Howard Chaykin

Here's hoping that Howard Chaykin never gets over his obsession with those things that make fiction worth reading: sex and violence. He does them so well. And despite wrapping them up in spandex and leather (wait a minute…) in Mighty Love, it looks like he may even be getting mature about them.

His usual themes hide behind a new façade for Chaykin. Dipping a toe into the pool of romantic comedy, the writer/artist still delivers two-fisted action and somewhat tasteful nudity. But there's nuance to it; his protagonists, Skylark and The Iron Angel, really are falling in love, but do not reach a state beyond casual dating by the end of the book. (If we can stretch the meaning of "casual dating" to include fighting crime together.)

The twist Chaykin provides is an old one, borrowed from the Hungarian play Parfumerie. It's a good plot to borrow, as the play has been turned into three different films -- The Shop Around The Corner, Meet Me In St. Louis and most recently, You've Got Mail. For you see, though these two costumed heroes definitely have an attraction and could easily have a life together, they unknowingly hate each other in their civilian identities.

In lesser hands, this could be a tired "buddy cop" situation. One's a slick defense attorney that specializes in freeing high-powered slimeballs. One's a cop in a corrupt administration, trying to maintain her dignity and sense of justice. By night, they become costumed vigilantes, in a sense undoing the damage of their day jobs. Both are considered urban legends, and neither believes in the other's existence until a fateful collision over an armored car. In the movies, they call that a "meet cute."

Chaykin lays out their rivalry while establishing the rhythm of their city. Over a montage of seemingly unrelated scenes, he places their profiles face-to-face. Varying degrees of animosity are palpable in each panel, a sharp contrast to their later costumed encounters.

Better, though, is the artist's clear grasp of his characters' inner conflicts. Officer Delaney Pope clearly loathes her own inability to achieve justice, seeing attorney Lincoln Reinhardt as an easy target for her rage. As for Reinhardt, we do get to see a sympathetic side to him out of costume, as Chaykin has thrown in a bit of noir for his hero to literally fall for a femme fatale.

For yes, there is plot, a complex heist spiced up by Chaykin's usual dash of sexy cynicism and a hint of social satire. (After his contribution last month to Dark Horse's The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist, it's hard to remember a single Chaykin story that didn't involve prostitution as a key element.)

By now his attitude seems a little tired, but mostly because so many creators have aped it. Chaykin broke so much new ground with his series American Flagg, that everything he has done since still loiters a bit in that book's shadow. If Mighty Love is an idea he intends to develop further (and it is somewhat open-ended), it could be the book that regains him his deserved reputation as an innovator. Others have tried mixing superheroes with romance, but it too often comes off as soap opera or, worse, situation comedy. Here, even though they're in spandex, Pope and Reinhardt feel real.

Their love story isn't over; in fact, it's barely begun. And so far, there isn't a false note to it.

At $24.95, the book may seem a bit expensive. (Amazon has it, below, at $17.47.) But Chaykin's art is just as vibrant as it ever was, and really comes alive on the higher-grade paper. If you're a Chaykin fan, this must be a no-brainer.

Rating:

Mighty Love

Derek McCaw

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