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Pulp Culture
New superhero comic looks at romance in a world of capes

June 19, 2003
By Franklin Harris

Andi Watson isn't the last writer/artist I'd expect to jump into the world of superheroes, but he is pretty far down the list.

Nevertheless, Watson is currently at work on Marvel Comics' "Namor," which features the publisher's seafaring hero as a teenager — confused, a bit rebellious and, for the first time, in love.

But I'm not writing about "Namor" this week.

Instead, I want to direct your attention to Watson's other superhero book, "Love Fights" (Oni Press), his first ongoing, creator-owned series since his breakthrough work, "Skeleton Key" (available in collected editions from Slave Labor Graphics).

"Love Fights" takes what Watson does best — a story about relationships — and drops it into a world where it's common for a slugfest between a caped crusader and a criminal mastermind to interrupt your morning commute.

This is not entirely novel. The idea of portraying the world of superheroes through the eyes of ordinary people has been in vogue since Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross' "Marvels." Other examples are Busiek's "Astro City," Brian Michael Bendis' "Powers" and DC Comics' "Gotham Central."

But Watson is the first to use superhero trappings as set decoration for a romantic comedy.

Jack is a comic book artist, which, in a world where superheroes are real, means his comic book is about a real superhero, who goes by the unfortunate name of The Flamer. And The Flamer gets a bit testy when portrayed improperly.

"He wants you to make him look 'more heroic,' " Jack's editor tells him.

But Jack has bigger worries, like getting a date. He hasn't had one in two years, 10 months and one week, a dire circumstance he blames on the abundance of superheroes in town.

Women aren't interested in normal guys, Jack complains. "It's all about muscle tone, six packs, secret identities and, and ... laser beam eyes."

But Jack's friends won't have any of his excuses.

Meanwhile, not too far away, Nora works for a gossip magazine about the superhero set. She is frustrated, however, because she'd much rather be reporting than getting lunch, making copies and seeing to it that the water cooler gets fixed.

Jack and Nora take the same subway to and from work, and it's clear that Jack is interested in Nora.

Now, if he can just get the nerve to ask her out . . .

Oh, and Jack has a lost cat, Guthrie, who has fallen into the clutches of a supervillain. But enough about that.

As usual, Watson's writing is warm, clever and on the witty side of funny. He excels at clipped, naturalistic dialog. But the real treat is his artwork (absent in "Namor," which is penciled by Salvador Larocca).

His combination of bold, uncluttered lines and almost-watercolor backgrounds ("Love Fights" is in black-and-white) is reminiscent more of a New Yorker cartoon than of a typical superhero book, which, of course, "Love Fights" isn't. And his use of many shades of gray gives the artwork greater depth and texture than the usual black-and-white comic book.

Fans who have missed seeing Watson's work month-to-month won't be disappointed. For that matter, newcomers shouldn't be disappointed, either. "Love Fights" is the superhero comic for people who think they hate superhero comics.

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