PUBLISHER: MARVEL (1998)
WRITER: BEN RAAB
ARTIST: JOHN CASSADAY
Union Jack has been one of my favourite minor Marvel character for some considerable time, be it cameoing in The Invaders or Captain America or being a semi-regular in The Knights of Pendragon (preferably the first, good series). I was pleased to discover the first issue of this series until I saw the name on the cover - Raab. Ben Raab. A spectacularly untalented man who'd taken the new lease of life Warren Ellis gave to Excalibur and pissed it away by making it the X-Men reserve Team title, effectively jettisoning everyone but Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler.
I then got a rather pleasant surprise. It was really bloody good. Then followed three years of futile search as I hunted for the other two issues, unable to find any solid evidence they even existed. Then one day I wandered into the shop in 2002 and Marvel had arbitrarily (well, probably to cash in on the standing of artist John Cassaday, then making serious waves on Planetary and soon to star on Astonishing X-Men) collected it in a TPB.
The series expertly delves into the traditions of the Union Jack character without getting bogged down by years of backstory. Cassaday's pencils and Dave Stewart's rich colours effortlessly invoke a gothic mood to proceedings, while Raab knows just when to stick in dialogue and when to just let the art do the talking. The plot itself is pretty decent, concerning an attempt by the followers of the original Union Jack's archenemy, Baron Blood, to use the Holy Grail to allow them to survive daylight. There's a fair few twists and turns along the way, plus a welcome cameo from another ex-Invader.
Considering his hack-job on Excalibur in general and Pete Wisdom in particular, it's surprising how good Raab's handle on the character is. Only the love/hate relationship with Romany Wisdom doesn't quite ring true, maybe due to some slightly clumsy dialogue but that's really a minor gripe. It's more of a character study of Joe Chapman and the traditions of one of the oldest (in narrative terms) Marvel heroes, and as such it's an unqualified success. The excellent plot and sumptuous art merely serve to make this involving on several levels. Well worth a look.