Bravo for Adventure

Bravo for Adventure

Alex Toth is rightly recognized as a genius artist, with a particular facility for dramatic black areas. Bravo for Adventure was an aborted comic series about pilot Jesse Bravo, a swashbuckling adventurer, with everything related to it collected here in a handsome, oversized hardcover.

The presentation is everything a history buff could ask for. Editor Dean Mullaney’s introduction lays out the project’s checkered past (with plans to publish interrupted) for those readers, like me, who’ve never heard of it before. A four-page history by Toth lays out the character’s life story as 1930s charter pilot, stunt flier, world traveler, former Navy pilot, and Hollywood socializer.

The main story here, intended as a graphic novel for the 1970s European market, is full of cliches. Bravo’s air charter business is in financial trouble. Bravo doesn’t take to being told what to do by anyone, let alone a gambling mogul’s henchman. Bravo doesn’t like cheaters who sully the name of his dead friends.

Toth’s lettering is an essential part of his work, but it becomes wearying to read in such large chunks as sometimes land on the page (particularly when a long line across the full page is interrupted by art). Toth seems to have had more in his head about this character than ever made it to the page, so when given a chance, lots of it spills out. It’s telling, not showing. And the dialogue, meant to evoke 1930s adventures, can be inadvertently laughable. It’s overwritten and could have used tight editing. A couple of examples:

Bravo for Adventure

“You’ve ben had, not once, but twice — by a 200% phony!”
“Think this is dirty money, eh? Sure it’s from suckers who drop it on my tables…. That parts the shekels from the suckers!”

It’s a shame that such a gorgeous package contains such pedestrian material. The fundamental importance of comics to me is what does the art and text communicate? In shorthand, how’s the story? And what we get here is overly familiar, particularly if you’ve ever seen a noir film or an Errol Flynn movie.

The only woman won’t take no for an answer. She’s spoiled, daughter of a powerful man, used to getting what she wants, but Bravo won’t kowtow to her demands. (My gracious, it’s catching!) She charters a plane to follow Bravo to a movie location, only to have her downed vehicle on a deserted desert highway hit by a car. (This, at least, is fresh, if a tad ridiculous.) Soon there are all kinds of groups chasing after each other to recover money or escape, pulling guns and yelling at each other.

The art is fabulous, even if the story is exaggeratedly dramatic in accidentally humorous ways. Weirdly, though, the main characters dress in the (then) modern style, with Bravo in what looks like a polyester suit with open-necked shirt (and later, a turtleneck) and the girl in a pantsuit. After her fiancé is disposed of, she cuts her hair into a curly pixie. With her Peter Pan collar, she looks like a grown-up Little Orphan Annie.

The second story, from 1982, has Bravo get conked on the head and wander through psychedelic images telling him “life is nought but illusion”. Way too self-indulgent a read for me, and something else that’s been done elsewhere many times. That’s followed by extras: examples of colored pages of the story (the meat of the book is printed black-and-white) and promotional material and sketches. As I said, it’s a terrific package, showing how this kind of thing should be done, but the content doesn’t live up to the presentation, particularly for today’s reader. Then again, the likely customer for this already is familiar with the cult of Toth and just wants to see the art.

There are preview pages at the publisher’s website.



7 comments

  • I am writing my own review for the Alex Toth’s Bravo for Adventure and was looking around for what other people had to say. Though I appreciate your opinion on this work, I feel like I have to address a couple of the points you brought up. I’m not sure what you meant by the overwritten dialogue since the examples you chose don’t clarify your angle. Is it because it sounds hokey or old-fashioned? I’ve read some of the greatest and the worst books (and comics) ever written, and I found nothing wrong with this dialogue. As a matter of fact, I found that it suited the story like a pair of gloves (and incidentally, I bring that up in my own review); this is a period piece, and that was how they used to say things back in those days, and there’s nothing we can do about that – unless you’re okay with historical re-visioning. Though I have other observations about your comments, I’ll cut to the chase and say that you called this work pedestrian; it may have been that you just meant just the writing. Even if the writing did not suit your fancy, can you not see the level of craft between the art and the writing? You can’t feel the impeccable flow between panels, how there’s just enough writing to pace your reading of the pages? You can’t register the facial expressions with the words, as they bring about the work of a personality coming to life in simple black and white? Anyone can ardently dislike this book for all manner of reasons, but how would anyone justify calling this pedestrian?

  • As I said in the review, I found it pedestrian because the story was cliched, the characters were cardboard, and the dialogue was silly, particularly to modern ears. Yes, that’s mostly about the writing — but I also noted there is sometimes physically too much dialogue on the page, which is an artistic layout decision, and the costuming choices seem wrong for the setting.

    As for your assertion that “that was how they used to say things back in those days” — I’m certainly not old enough to know how people talked in the 1930s, but based on the large number of movies I’ve watched from that period, I still think the dialogue is not as well done as it could have been, and it needed a good editing pass.

    Of course, no one’s going to criticize Toth’s figure work, but this book is best treated as a time capsule, not a fresh read for today’s audience, in my opinion.

  • You know, I feel we’re not talking about the same book. The script does not radiate with stellar writing, but the dialogue does an effective job for the kind of story that it is (that came out during a time when you couldn’t find much outside heroes in primary-colored long johns – and merely for that refreshing change alone, it should be better-acknowledged). After reading through it again, I couldn’t find the writing elaborate or wordy. But this is all tit for tat; it’s not your cup of tea, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
    Nevertheless, when you say, “It’s a shame that such a gorgeous package contains such pedestrian material,” you’re calling into question why the book exists at all. The packaging is better than the content, so why bother with it? And this is unfair. Maybe the story is a time capsule for you, but it’s certainly not pedestrian. It’s an authorial work from an important creator who didn’t have too many chances to to do his own stories. From the perspective alone (time capsule or no time capsule), the content outweighs the gorgeous package many times over.

  • Yes, I am recommending people avoid the book unless they’re specifically interested in the historical aspect. For a modern reader, without the context of reading the work in the 70s when there was a lot less varied material available, it’s not worth the price. In my opinion, of course. You’re making a good case for the work, though — perhaps they should have included more essays from fans like you talking about why the book is a good idea!

  • Thank you for bearing with me. Although I certainly admire Toth’s work, I’m not a blind fan that finds Toth faultless; I wrote a review of another Toth book recently published where I was not only critical of the stories but even more so of the art itself. Anyway, many happy reviews to you!

  • Thank you for being so reasonable in discussion. Although neither one of us is convincing the other, it’s refreshing to hear such a different perspective from mine so well explained. Out of curiosity, which Toth book didn’t you like?

  • Creepy Presents Alex Toth – stories with surprise endings of the worst kind and art smothered under a film of sketchy gray. I’m in the minority since most Toth enthusiasts hail this as some of his best work. As an artist and art instructor, I felt Toth didn’t have a handle on rendering the grays. The stories were written by various scripters including a few by Toth himself, and many of them were wordy (talk about overwritten), so much so that there were a few pages obliterated by word balloons. You can check out the full review here:

    http://blog.reyarmenteros.com/creepy-presents-alex-toth/

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