MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

cover #1, by Ken SteacyNorthguard: The ManDes Conclusion

(1989 - three issues, published by Caliber Press)

Writer: Mark Shainblum. Art: Gabriel Morrissette.

Northguard (in the comic New Triumph featuring Northguard) was a Canadian super hero that arose during a period when black & white, independent comics were proliferating, and it enjoyed better than average notices for its attempt to mix super hero conventions, with a more realist, adult, indie comics tone. It ran five issues before the bottom fell out of the independent market. Then, a few years later, American publisher Caliber gave it a new shot, re-releasing the original issues in a TPB (Northguard: Manifest Destiny) and publishing this original mini-series by creators Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette that was intended to wrap up the dangling plot threads left from the cancelled series.

As such, a new reader coming on this might find it a bit confusing in spots, because the characters are already established, and the story is built upon what went before. Yet you can still pick up on the gist, and the basic action-thriller plot is contained herein. The story has Northguard -- essentially an amateur playing at being a super hero -- and the soldier-of-fortune Steel Chameleon heading down to the States (from Canada) to investigate the mysterious ManDes corporation that had been involved in some of their previous adventures. Northguard is captured by ManDes, a megalomaniacal organization run by the psychotic, religious fanatic Rev. Tyler. With Northguard -- and Northguard's powerful Uniband -- in his power, ManDes sets out to finally lay siege and destroy the PACT corporation that backs Northguard.

I had mixed feelings about the original Northguard series, and that continues here. The property has some strengths...and some weaker points. Perhaps a problem is that for a series that wants to be a little smarter, a little more sophisticated than the average super hero comic, a little more real and character driven...few of the characters fully engage. Put another way, if someone were to revive Northguard again for another run, I wouldn't think it was a stupid idea...but neither do I necessarily feel it was needed, either (the way you can have other properties where you'd love for someone to revisit the characters and the milieu).

At the same time, by virtue of being a dramatic wrap up, there is a visceral effectiveness to the ManDes Conclusion some of the other Northguard issues didn't have as much. This is intended as the big showdown story, and it does ratchet up the tension, and offers up more action, creating a tangible feel of the heroes on the ropes.

Morrissette's art, like Shainblum's script, is also a mix of stronger and weaker aspects -- sometimes the figures can look at bit stiff, or awkward, other times, there's a startling effectiveness to his work. Though he doesn't always do a good job distinguishing characters, and there were scenes where I had trouble deciding which character was in the panel. The series was always black & white, but here he seems to be exploiting that more, making use of grey washes, creating mood and atmosphere (suitable to the ominous tone) rather than just seeming like it's a colour comic that's missing the colours.

One might've wondered how the series would play to an American audience, with its story of good guy Canadians and the villains American fundamentalists out to conquer Canada...but presumably American readers didn't take it personally (and, of course, good guy Steel Chameleon is an American) -- after all, Caliber was an American company.

While the original New Triumph series was published with a slight "mature readers" label, the Caliber issues are a little less so, though still intended to have a mature feel, and with some racial epithets uttered.

Northguard was a decent series. The original run didn't end on a cliff hanger, exactly, but it did feel as though we stopped in mid-story, and this concluding mini-series allows it better to coalesce into an eight issue arc -- even if some threads are still left dangling, and the creators were certainly leaving the door open for further adventures. But with too many comics series (and TV series) stopping in mid-story, Northguard: The ManDes Conclusion allows the whole series to end a bit more satisfyingly.

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