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As posted 12/18/02 at The Fourth Rail

Recommended (7/10)

David Yurkovich has long been doing super-hero comics for those who don't like super-heroes, with unusual concepts such as a man with broccoli for a head or a guy whose power is to turn things into chocolate. So I was surprised to find that Altercations was a relatively straightforward faux-retrospective on super-hero history, lacking any of the really out-there stuff that has defined Yurkovich's work in the past. However, the more analytical look at the super-hero genre is still quite welcome, and though the vignettes often leave me wanting more, I found the structure of this book and the ideas presented within to be solidly entertaining and interesting.

Usually, super-hero histories are little more than marketing for an existing universe, whether it's a handbook, secret files or something of that nature. Yurkovich has his own characters and shared universe of a sort, but Altercations is not set up to shill any of those other books. Instead it's more of a faux-documentary done in comics instead of film, examining some of the fictional events in a fictional universe that defined a certain fictional subculture. The use of chapter breaks by Alfred Pinchley, apparently a noted commentator, really helps to set the tone and having Pinchley and Yurkovich discuss what is real and what has been embellished helps to create an academic tone that really establishes what Altercations is all about.

Leaving aside the overall structure, though, which is fascinating and inventive in itself, Altercations is a variety of bite-sized morsels of Yurkovich's imagination. The stories here explore some old super-hero chestnuts, including the final battle between hero and villain, the revelation of a secret identity, the origin story and confrontations with super-foes, but there's always a little something more to it. The endings of each tale carry with them a weight and reality that sets them apart from your standard super-tale, and hint at a larger canvas of human experience beneath the capes and spandex. I was particularly moved by the endings of "A Brief Encounter" and "The Strongest Woman on Earth," although the strongest story is probably the unexpectedly dark and twisted "At The Mercy of the Monopolist" which reminds us to be careful of labelling the hero and villain without knowing the whole story.

In terms of artwork, the book is very much a matter of personal taste. Yurkovich's style is one that is more abstract that almost anyone working on super-hero books, and his design sense and color sense is unlike what most super-hero fans will be used to. It's hard to compare the art to anything else, but suffice to say that like the best artists Yurkovich's characters are distinctively his, and like most artists who manage that, a lot of folks won't warm to that very personal style. Those looking for realistic anatomy and detailed backgrounds won't find it here, Yurkovich's style is more expressionistic.

I confess that at $8.95 the whole thing felt a little bit more lightweight than I would have liked, but Yurkovich's work is so distinctive and of such consistent quality that I'm always glad to see more of it. Altercations might be a way to ease into Yurkovich's work for those who are used to more standard super-hero fare, but what I really hope that it does is drive more people to his strange and wonderful work like The Broccoli Agenda and Death By Chocolate.

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