And now for something completely different.
It is, of all things, a review of a comic book – which I first wrote for Amazon.
Moreover, it was written for comic book readers and is likely to make little sense to this site’s regular readers.
(Though perhaps it might speak to some souls who stumble across it, while surfing the lonely waves of cyberspace – people googling certain geeky comic terms or maybe even ‘Bill Mantlo’ …).
But if any regular reader wants a better sense of why I present this at this site, they can look here, in terms of what I write about:
Enabling the Catholic Mystery to be visible – just simply visible! – in a world where that Mystery is ever more obscured by ascending materialism and New Age-ism.
It might also be added that Bill Mantlo touches my very soul …
Anyway, herewith my Amazon review of a comic book I adore: Bill Mantlo’s Cloak and Dagger.
Over forty years now, since I first began to read comic books.
None of them has ever HIT me like Cloak and Dagger.
Fifteen years of my youth actively reading all the greats: Eisner, Barks, Miller. EC. Lee and Kirby, O’ Neil and Adams etc, etc.
Now Cloak and Dagger from the lesser-known Bill Mantlo means more to me than all of the above put together.
Cloak and Dagger: a Marvel comic about teenage superheroes in a grim, dark world of drugs and crime.
And yet this world of real horror is shot through with tenderness, morality and hope.
Strange … these Cloak and Daggers are less technically accomplished than some of the comics mentioned above. There are plot holes, some stilted expository dialogue here and there, the usual comic book clichés of a 1980’s Marvel book.
Big deal. Doesn’t matter. Something in these comics SHINES like no other.
What shines most of all here is Bill Mantlo’s writing. Writing with a heartfelt, moral core …
How to capture this writing in a few words? There is genuine social conscience, an understanding of moral growth, a very touching, personal emotional awareness from a writer whose heart is obviously ALIVE.
Here is a heart, which clearly feels both the joy and horror of what it is to be human in this world.
Strangely, the comic also possesses a very Catholic and some might say medieval sensibility. The supernatural pervades the series and the superheroes live in a Catholic church.
And Catholic themes and iconography repeatedly recur. Along with this is a vivid sense of good and evil. The evil is frequently disgusting, the good is beautiful and enobling.
Then there is the art of Rick Leonardi. Now Leonardi is an underrated great talent and his atmospheric art adds tremendously. But as much as I love Leonardi’s visuals, these alone would not lift it to the status of my personal favourite comic of all time.
I ADORE this comic and the reason for that is Bill Mantlo.
Again: despite the rough edges. Probably Mantlo was writing under comic book deadline pressure and couldn’t avoid the usual formulas and clichés.
Whatever: here is a true diamond – even if it is a diamond in the rough. Don’t let the rough distract you from what is precious and rare in the world of the comics.
Certainly, Mantlo never managed to do all with Cloak and Dagger that he might have done – given the opportunity.
He was apparently unceremoniously removed from the comic and then suffered the most tragic of accidents, meaning that in all likelihood he will never be able to write this (or any) comic again.
And the world of the American comic book is forever poorer as a result.
Now I confess, my comments here pertain to the entire run of Bill Mantlo’s Cloak and Dagger – an ongoing story spread out over some thirty issues in the 1980s.
Only four stories are collected here in this volume, but they are a great place to start, featuring as they do the series’ finest artist (again the underrated, but wonderful Rick Leonardi).
If like me, you get hooked on Bill Mantlo, you will either have to search out old back issues or petition Marvel to reprint the rest. I pray the latter will happen. This series deserves to be remembered and cherished.
A final note regarding these later stories not collected in this volume. Unfortunately, not all the later artwork in the series is anywhere near Leonardi’s high standards. And perhaps the lesser artwork in some of those later stories helps to explains why Cloak and Dagger never achieved the reputation it deserves.
But I wonder if Leonardi HAD drawn the whole series … I wonder if people just might begin to speak Mantlo and Leonardi, the way they speak of O’ Neil and Adams, Wein and Wrightson, Lee and Kirby.
And I wonder … what would happen if Marvel were to republish the entire run and the great Leonardi were to re-illustrate some later stories, replacing their substandard art?
I wonder … if some people might join me in my opinion: simply the best comic book Marvel ever produced.’
End of my original Amazon review.
I wonder if any of this site’s usual readers will have followed me through to the end?
If you have dear Reader, I will simply reiterate this – I truly have been very deeply moved by the thirty stories in all. Though in order to truly understand that, I suspect you might need to read the entire run of those thirty issues – beyond the four collected in the above volume.
Yes Mr Mantlo, you have forever touched my heart and soul and I include you in every Rosary I pray …
Moreover, there really is testimony to the Catholic Mystery here. In one story (not in the volume above) Cloak discovers that he has been prey to a demon lurking beneath the threshold of consciousness. And how does he discover this? He only becomes conscious when a Priest throws Holy Water over him …
I suspect Bill Mantlo thought he was only writing fantastic fiction. If so, he was closer to the truth than he imagined. For demons do exist and the power of the Priesthood has been given to help us deal with that unsettling reality …
Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck
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