David Yurkovich’s The S.H.o.P.: Not the Comics You Remember
A superhero who gets more powerful with each cigarette he smokes. An evil cheese overlord named Monterrey Jack. Cities with their own super-team franchises. Welcome to the intelligent, stylized, and quirky work of writer/artist, self-publisher, and Xeric Award recipient David Yurkovich in his graphic novel The S.H.o.P.
Told from the perspective of magic-wielding superhero Cosmopolitan, The S.H.o.P. recounts an adventure of the team of the same name (The Super Heroes of Philadelphia), and their involvement with the Establishment, the corporate entity that franchises superhero teams. In a hostile takeover move to set up its own power bases, the Establishment has been placing its own teams in various American cities, absorbing independent groups and individuals or driving them out of their areas of operation.
Originally named Threshold, Cosmopolitan’s team -- Meridian, Recoil, and Mr. Malevolence -- is "bought out" by the Establishment, and their named changed to the S.H.o.P., becoming one of many brand-name teams alongside the Seattle Super-Hero Association, the Crime-Fighting Unit of Iowa, the New York Super-Hero Syndicate, the Denver Alliance of Super-Heroes, and others. Joining the S.H.o.P. later are Nico-Teen, Ms. Vertigo, and the Red Silhouette.
Yurkovich is evidently having a lot of fun playing with the tropes of the superhero genre, subverting them and intertwining them with bits of mundane culture. Yurkovich’s superhumans fill the same iconic niche that do sports figures, rock stars, and movie stars in our world. They are the subject of Super-Hero Weekly ("The official weekly of the super-hero community!") They host radio talk shows and make the nightly news. They are Big Business.
But together with the absurdity of the world he is enlarging with each work, Yurkovich maintains a deeply human side to his characters. They are not merely spoofs or one-off jokes. There is friendship and love here, betrayal and despair. In one particularly powerful scene, Cosmopolitan ponders a new life after a battle has left him changed forever. In one eight-panel page and one single-panel page, Yurkovich uses one stark image and one caption -- paraphrases of "Amazing Grace" -- per panel to evoke the somber resignation Cosmo is experiencing.
This type of pacing is handled expertly throughout the book, quiet internal scenes interspersed with solid character conflict and enough action to keep the interest of those with gnat-sized attention spans.
Yurkovich’s art is as stylized and quirky as the story, expressionistic and stark in black and white, with faint echoes of Mike Mignola and Ted McKeever, but a signature that is all his own. Once seen, there is no mistaking his visuals for anyone else’s.
The S.H.o.P. is a stand-alone story, but it continues themes and features characters that Yurkovich has been working on in a series of self-published mini-series. They are not necessary to enjoy The S.H.o.P., but reading them helps expand the funny, strange, and hauntingly familiar world where super-heroes may or may not have super-powers, treachery comes in the form of a superhuman named the Librarian, and even Cleveland has its own super-team.
This review originally appeared in the web magazine Popimage, http://www.popimage.com