Pullbox Reviews: The Gloom – Pulp action, bullets a-flyin’, hilarity ensues…

Noir. Pulp. Overly complicated megalomaniacal plots to overthrow the free world. Sarcastic and self-aware dialogue that would get a flinch out of Wade Wilson. Nazis getting punched right in the face. If any of this has piqued your interest, you might wanna take a look at The Gloom from Arcana Studios & MTV Comics.

Set in 1940’s Manhattan, the Gloom is a fedora-wearing man of  mystery who strikes fear into the hearts of evil doers, swooping in to deliver burning hot justice from the barrels of his Hellfire Pistols, Winona & Gun (you heard me). If you’re worried about his accuracy- which we’ll be talking about later- fear not, gentle reader, for these pistols shoot bolts of hellfire that can only be aimed at the wicked. The Gloom’s alter ego is the non-hat wearing (that’s actually his defense when someone jokingly asks if he’s the shadowy vigilante… “I don’t wear a hat”) millionaire playboy Carson Kane.

I’m a big fan of the classic pulp style heroes… Doc Savage, The Rocketeer, Green Hornet, and of course The Shadow (The Gloom… crap, I just got that). It’s no surprise that as I was browsing the new releases on ComiXology, this particular title caught my eye. I looked at the preview pages, read the synopsis, and thought that this was an easy pick. When I started reading, I realized that this was probably one of my better spur of the moment instabuys as the wry humor carried it over into the realm of books that I love and will probably read more than once.

As an example of the humor we’re talking about, The Gloom is fighting Nazis and rescuing ace reporter Vixen La Fox, never realizing that she’s actually mild mannered love interest Mousey Blonde in disguise, after having rescued former captive and fellow adventurer, the aptly named bronzed Adonis known as Doc Adventure (deep breath). As the bullets fly, one of the villains drops a hand grenade. After four panels of dramatic action, full of exposition explaining that the grenade is rolling toward a poorly stored cache of dynamite (and chocolate muffins!), one of the other Nazis notes, “You know, Kurt’s grenade is taking a REALLY long time to go off…”

Cue massive explosion.

Admit it, you’re on the edge of your seat. This is riveting stuff!

Tony Lee has a solid handle on every aspect being lampooned in this book, from the chapters ending in movie serial style cliffhangers, to his parodied versions of the pulp-noir heroes I love. If this were a serious book, it’d be good. But it’s not serious… at all… and the way Lee handles it all makes it great. If it were a movie, The Gloom would have people sitting around laughing as they recounted the one liners and sarcastic asides, trying to quote the lines and failing miserably but still managing to have a blast. And at every jab, Tony Lee never gives the impression that he’s making fun of the pulp genre out of malice, but that it’s all out of love and respect. I think that reverent attitude toward his subject matter is what elevates Lee’s work in my eyes.

Capturing the tongue-in-cheek tone of Lee’s scripts in his illustrations, Dan Boultwood also walks that fine line between mockery and homage. He’s crafted scenes of tense action with a great sense of the dynamic, but isn’t caught up in the logistics. The fact is that The Gloom is all about what made those old pulp characters great in the first place, way before we had things like tactical marksmanship consultants.

Seriously… who is he aiming at?

Everything Boultwood does, he does with an eye toward the mood of The Gloom, pesky things like physics & concepts like point of aim are secondary… and I love him for it. The obvious humor aside, just look at the backgrounds & layouts shown in the preview pages. There isn’t a single panel that doesn’t rely beautifully on shadow to highlight a scene. I have to say that the Manhattan of The Gloom is more Gotham than Gotham and would be right at home alongside the classic look of Batman: The Animated Series. Boultwood’s use of color is so subtle, it’s easy to miss it completely. That’s a perfect thing to shoot for (with Hellfire bullets… fear not, innocent citizens), given the old movie serials that he and Tony Lee are paying tribute to here.

This is a second run at this fantastic title, gathered into the graphic novel format from its serialized (apropos) online comic strip courtesy of Arcana & MTV Comics. I’m in the middle of this collected edition and having a blast with it. Any minor glitches in character designs and action choreography fade wholly into the background… to be honest, I’m more than happy to assume that it’s all a deliberate nod to the thrilling days of yesteryear.

Final Score: 10+

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