Imagine with me, one moment, the life of one Mr. Garth Ennis, Esq. - Gartholemew to his intimates. Perhaps he spends a month or two at a time reading about tanks, and all the ways the militaries of the world have betrayed the soldiers who manned those tanks. And then he will write a book about tanks, illustrated by some unfailingly brilliant European artist who fell out of the womb knowing how to draw textbook accurate World War II munitions. The artist could be 28 or 80, doesn’t matter, they all know how to draw a Panzer freehand in their sleep. Full to the brim of the heartache and trauma of war, this book will be, alongside the fragility and endurance of male friendship, and the meaning of honor in the age of mechanized warfare. It will receive excellent reviews.
And then after his labors are over, he takes a deep sigh before walking into the convention hall and signing two hundred copies of Hitman #14. Sometimes he signs his name across Tommy’s bat, if he has a silver Sharpie he usually puts it in the black shadow on the front of the baby seal.
“Are you ever gonna do more Dicks?” the fans demand, one by one as they file by.
“It’s a living!” he chimes.
Now, of course the preceding passage was purest whimsy, sheer japery. I don’t even know if he even goes to cons. If he does, he might have a big sign that says “NO HITMAN #13-14 SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE” right in front of his table. He’s apparently got a TV show now, or so I have been given to understand - they may not want him interacting with the public anymore. But the fact remains that there are two Ennises: one of them is funny and the other one is not. (If there’s a funny part in one of his war books it’s usually because someone’s going to step on a landmine in two more pages. If the Sarge lifts his foot he’s dead and he knows it!)
Suffice to say Marjorie Finnegan, Temporal Criminal is very much the funny Ennis. You could probably get that from the title. No bones about it, the book knows exactly what it wants to be and do, and sets out to accomplish those things from the very first page. What does it want to accomplish? Well, it’s a sexy ultraviolent romp through time. Doesn’t that sound like your bag? If it isn’t I’ll understand, but you’re not hurting anyone but yourself.
So, with that said, you should probably also be aware that Marjorie Finnegan is something startlingly close to what might - in certain circles, among certain individuals - be termed a “cheesecake book.” Point of fact: I’m actually pretty OK with cheesecake books. There was, after all, the solid year where I read just about everything Zenescope put out. That was by choice. No one asked me to do that. I was depressed, certainly. But a good T&A book that knows what it’s about and sets about doing it in a straightforward and completely unabashed fashion can be a wonderful thing. I didn’t maybe used to think so, when I was a wee puritanical bairn who blushed at all the soft core porn being published in mid 90s X-Men spinoffs. (Which I was buying.) As I got older, however, I realized how many of those books are held aloft by fanatically loyal fanbases of women who love dressing up in sexy costumes - here’s looking at you, Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, long may your vaginas be haunted. It can be a fun vibe, for those what dig it.
Anyway. The titular Marjorie Finnegan wears a distinctive set of overalls that seem like the kind of thing that could be easily cosplayed, if the series has even modest success. I mean, he’s got a TV show! Could happen. Now, I want you to make me a promise: every time for the rest of your life that you see a critic use the word “titular” to describe a buxom female in a work’s title - like I did back in the first sentence here, for the sake of example - you should get up, walk to the kitchen and go take a shot. Hack move! I’m no angel. I’ve done it. Sometimes you go for the cheap shots. We should all try to do better in this regard, especially since the Black Widow movie is coming out soon again. We as a culture will be tested. For my part I can’t promise I’ll never indulge in double entendre from here on out, but I’ll do my breast.
The book is drawn by Goran Sudžuka, one of those tremendously talented Croatian artists who crossed the Atlantic in the late 90s to seek their fortune in American comics. Sudžuka came up alongside Darko Macan, pals with the great Igor Kordey. He’s got an arm’s length of credits on books from both of the Big 2, won the Russ Manning Award in 2001. Definitely knows how to draw a fucking comic book. My gosh! I’m easily impressed by things like framing wide furnished interior shots from above, such as to require an artist to show whether or not they actually understand three point perspective or are just performing an elaborate hoax on the reading public. But no, I must assure you: Sudžuka knows how to draw shit. There are stairs in this book, for the love of God - more than one staircase!
Perhaps you don’t understand why staircases are such a big deal. Ask an artist sometime. Then ask them to draw you a horse driving a car. Sudžuka could, I have absolutely no doubt, draw a horse driving a car down a staircase.
Good cheesecake art, I here assert, is one of the most difficult genres. The reason why is down to skill: when the story goes out of its way to showcase scantily clad ladies, there’s simply no place for the artist to hide. You either know how to draw the human body, in barely or not at all clothes, really well from any angle, or you don’t. When it comes to drawing a beautiful woman, fewer lines is always better. Can you suggest the fullness of a three-dimensional human figure on a two-dimensional plane using only curving, sinuous lines of varying thickness to simulate perspective? If so, you should be making a great deal of money drawing comic books!
I don’t want to lead you to think, however, that Sudžuka’s very, very good art is the book’s only appeal. Nor should I move on without pausing to note the work of Miroslav Mrva’s on color. The palette is bright, brighter than I’m used to associating with an Ennis project. Does his best not to get in the way of Sudžuka’s clean line. I tend to think flat colors are best for clean lines, and for the most part I think Mrva agrees. Going back over the book a second time I was surprised to find out he did use some gradients, but they’re subtle.
The plot, more or less, is Time Bandits, DC’s Chronos, what looks to be Marvel’s upcoming Loki show - you know, mischievous scamp gets time machine, hijinks ensue. Marjorie lives in a medieval tower suspended in the timestream and kept together by the computational efforts of a dismembered head named Tim, in front of whom our heroine appears to enjoy spending a great deal of time dancing with just a towel. “It’s a living!” he chimes.
There’s a time sheriff on Marjorie’s tail, and I appreciate that the identity of said sheriff wasn’t the most obvious twist, but a far more interesting answer. As with many Garth Ennis stories, there is no greater sin than performative misogyny. That’s a thread through much of Ennis’ work, the rejection not just of overt but also of subtle and self-harming forms of misogyny. That he does this so often by telling stories about either actual or putative male-only spaces is notable. There’s no better signal in an Ennis story that someone is an irredeemable piece of shit than to show them being rude or abusive towards a woman. There’s a high priest in ancient Egypt who catches a twelve-gauge to the chest for calling Marjorie a “slave slut!” in the first couple pages. Wholesome fun for the whole family.
So, I liked it. It has a good energy, definitely need more of this energy in 2021. Solid pros stretching their legs and having fun. I didn’t think I’d ever be typing the words “Garth Ennis time travel sex farce,” but here we are. And it’s good.