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:
“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.