Action Man #1
“To the Victors, the Spoils” & “Absolute Beginners”
Written by John Barber
Art by Paolo Villanelli (and Chris Evenhuis)
Colors by John-Paul Bove
Letters by Neil Uyetake (and Shawn Lee)
Review by John Dubrawa
Growing up in the United States, I was never privy to the exploits of Action Man, who was quite literally the British’s licensed equivalent of our own American hero, G.I. Joe. Little did I know that Action Man has actually been around since the 1960s and has had all kinds of globe-trotting adventures while attempting to foil the plans of his evil arch-nemesis Dr. X. Those that are coming into IDW’s newest series like I am with a distinct Americanized slant will be happy to know that Action Man #1 from John Barber requires absolutely none of that prior history with the character. Barber wipes the slate clean for new readers in an interesting (and perhaps controversial to our friends across the pond) way: He straight up kills Action Man. That’s right, Action Man dies in the opening prologue of a series named after him. It takes some real stones to do that.
How then does Action Man #1 proceed without its titular character? By replacing him in a plot almost eerily reminiscent of that of the recent Melissa McCarthy movie Spy where a former spy’s support specialist is the unlikely choice to take over his mantle upon his death. That specialist here is Ian Noble, who is thrust into the role of Action Man even though he seemingly lacks the training to be there. From here the plot of this first issue is more or less a James Bond-lite affair, complete with a tough-to-please mission-giving director and a weapons specialist who supplies our hero with all that cool spy gear. Barber is a lot more aware in his script than a typical spy movie is, poking fun at such conventions as “cutting the blue wire” when facing a ticking time bomb, but the script never truly manages to go all-in in its subverting of the genre (like Spy did), so it winds up feeling a bit too predictable. Ian as a character is also not nearly as exciting as his predecessor, who’s described as both a tenth-level judo black belt and a three star Michelin Chef. What the what?
While I understand that the point of Ian is that he is this Plain James character, the art of the issue from Paolo Villanelli certainly adds that lacking dynamism. Villanelli’s style is very manga-influenced and that allows the action sequences (of which there are many, naturally) to really flow with a lot of kinetic energy. His pencils can be a little rough at times, but the style works to separate itself from artist Chris Evenhuis’s prologue chapter, which has a more traditional realism bent to it. John-Paul Bove’s colors work in both situations, lighting up the panels to lend to the big, bold action that Barber’s script is calling for. With a name like Action Man, you expect in-your-face visuals and that’s exactly what you get with this team.
Check It Out. The Action Man property may not have resonated with me prior to reading this new comic series but thankfully John Barber has created a clean slate for any and all readers to jump on board. Right now the plot feels a little too cliche to recommend buying this issue outright but for those that like a little bit of a humorous take on your secret agents, Action Man #1 might be your cup of tea.