Chaykin’s Crusade

Posted by on March 23rd, 2010 at 2:44 PM

Dominic Fortune: It Can Happen Here and Now; Marvel; 184 pp., $19.99; ISBN: 978-0785140429

Howard Chaykin is back, triumphant, with the four-issue miniseries Dominic Fortune, which revives the Chaykin rake from the mid-1970s in an orgy of nonstop tasteless, sexist and racist action set in the Depression years of yore. The festivities begin in the air over Paraguay’s capital city where Fortune, a pulp-style “brigand for hire,” and a female adventuress named Delatriz Betancourt (a typical Chaykin exotic name choice) are flying in separate aircraft in a dogfight with Bolivian aviators. Fortune is shot down, but he parachutes onto the rooftop garden of Asuncion’s poshest hotel, where Hazel Fontaine is standing, stark naked, next to the pool around which she and some friends are conducting a party.

Back in Los Angeles, our lascivious rogue is subsequently hired by Hazel’s husband, Irwin Oppenheim, to serve as a bodyguard for a trio of aging movie actors, who are still engaged in a seven-year-long drunken party. While escorting these well-dressed louts through the lobby of a hotel, Fortune is assaulted by a man he quickly knocks out, leaving Fortune to ponder where he has seen the man’s mysterious lapel pin before. (We learn, later, that it signifies a festering Nazi militia.)

The first issue then ends with Delatriz discussing Fortune’s impending murder at the hands of minions hired by Malcolm Upshaw, a virulent and vociferous anti-Semite.

It’s an admirable inaugural issue. To reiterate my criteria, a successful first issue in any continuing title must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue should avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

Chaykin manages at least three episodes complete with beginnings, middles, and ends—the conclusion of the aerial dogfight, the fist fight in the lobby, and Oppenheim’s hiring of Fortune—and leaves us wondering why Delatriz is in league with an avowed anti-Semite to kill Fortune, a man of the “Hebraic persuasion,” whom she was ostensibly palling around with in the air war between Bolivia and Paraguay in the opening pages of this issue. It’s enough to make me buy the next issue: mission accomplished.

The book is full of Chaykin tics and tropes—tall, statuesque people, voice-over transitions between scenes, and characters with insatiable appetites for sex. This series is at least the second book-length rejuvenation of Dominic Fortune (a character with that name appeared in a miniseries in 2006), but since his inauguration in the black-and-white pages of 1975’s Marvel Preview #2, comic books have become more permissive on such matters as sex and vulgar language, and Chaykin, who has more than once demonstrated his passion for such irreverence, runs rampant here, doubtless testing the limits of the new license.

Perhaps the most egregious evidentiary instance is the scene in which Oppenheim hires Fortune: it’s a telephone conversation, and Chaykin switches back and forth between Oppenheim, who is depicted on the receiving end of a blow job while he talks, and Fortune, who is busily screwing Oppenheim’s wife as he accepts the hubby’s job offer.

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While neither genitals nor penetration are visualized for us, Fortune and Hazel are naked and in bed in positions leaving nothing to the imagination of any of the “mature readers” that the title, a Marvel Max marked “Explicit Content,” hopes to attract.

Apart from betraying a delight in depicting fornication, the book steams with the lingo of sex: cunt, fuck (in both usages, as a verb and as an epithet), whore, puta, cooze, and cock, not to mention other bodily functions (shitting and farting and pissing) and body parts (tits, asshole, and a verbal contest in the hotel lobby during which male participants discuss the comparative sizes of their “male members” for the benefit of an adoring bimbo).

Chaykin, who has described himself as “a Jew from the future,” also revels in the current secular fashion of acknowledging Jewishness—a fashion, in comic books, that is often these days more frequently indulged now that so many of the creators of the medium have been revealed as Jews.

Chaykin rejoices in this cultural advance, telling Gary Groth during an interview: “I’m no longer afraid, ashamed, or uninterested enough in my personal background to keep it out of the work. I’m no longer a Jew masquerading as a gentile through comics.”

He is, instead, eager to put Jews into his work.

Reuben Flagg, the protagonist of the 1980s series American Flagg, was a Jew, overtly but not blatantly. In the current run of Dominic Fortune, however, our hero is defiantly Jewish, and anti-Semites are patently the villains.

Fortune’s laissez faire attitude toward women as orifices to exploit for casual sex may not be particularly admirable in this age of feminist enlightenment, but in most other aspects of his personality, he is heroic enough to be a role model. While retaining his vaguely outlaw attitude about society’s values and mores and his mercenary motives, he will wind up neglecting his fee in order to do the right thing.

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