It’s easy to become spoilt. Once upon a time, if we were lucky, we got a couple of Jason books a year, each one of which would stretch to maybe 40 or 50 pages. Each book was an event. Each book demanded repeating viewings. Fast forward to the beginning of 2012 and we have the second hardback collection in as many years chock full of the kinds of stories that would, once upon a time, have been issued singularly over a period of years – and Athos in America (the title story offering a sweet sequel of sorts to the earlier book, The Last Musketeer) is even chunkier and more rewarding than Low Moon, which was itself a career high. What we have here are six stories of about thirty pages in length, some of which are encumbered with some of the unlikeliest titles in Jason-history, such as ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf’ and ‘Tom Waits on the Moon’. Fans will find much here to laugh at, applaud and be surprised by. If you’ve yet to sample the delights of Jason, there isn’t a better place to start than here.
The book opens with ‘The Smiling Horse’, a wryly amusing tale of two kidnappers who are brought to heel by something (we never get to see what) known as the smiling horse. As with a great many stories, he employs a similar device to Beat Takeshi, having extended periods of ostensibly nothing as the clock ticks and the kidnappers smoke, argue, wash and complain about having to sleep in the bath. Hubert, employed by Jason as a colourist these days, finagles a nice device (a colour tone mid-way through from grey to a warm salmon) to indicate the passing of years – and still there is comeuppance.
‘A Cat from Heaven’ follows which feels like something of a departure: this is a story by Jason about ‘Jason’, a cartoonist given to drawing anthropomorphised dogs, breaking up with his girlfriend, being obnoxious at parties, getting mugged and forging an uneasy reconciliation.
The magnificently-titled ‘Brain that Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf’ plays around with linearity like Pulp Fiction but largely concerns a couple, one of whom is only a head, one of whom is on the look-out for a beautiful body to transplant the head on to. Narrative dexterity aside, this story is also interesting for betraying an interesting and moody shakiness of line (Jason is usually such a neat boy) – you get a real sense that here are characters absolutely at the end of their tether.
‘Tom Waits on the Moon’ doesn’t feature Tom Waits and is a kind of fantastical retake of Slacker – we see a bunch of seemingly random characters, each of whom are battling demons of one kind or another, brought together to witness the tragic demise of a scientist who unfortunately emulates Brundle-fly.
‘So Long, Mary Anne’ is a revenger’s tragedy of sorts, a gangster seduced into abandoning his long-time moll in favour of someone who possibly doesn’t have his best interests at heart.
And we finish with the requiem hymn that is ‘Athos in America’, a sad tale that left this reader wanting Jason to return to the last musketeer again at some point. We can but hope.
Any Cop?: All together a wonderful compendium of Jasonia. An essential purchase for comics fans.