Focused On The Law
♦Tripwire’s Contributing Writer TIM HAYES takes a look at Rebellion’s One-Eyed Jack trade paperback, which kicks off its Treasury of British Comics series…
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: John Cooper
Rebellion’s excavations in the old Fleetway and IPC archives for its Treasury of British Comics series have started in a logical place, with John Wagner writing a fearsome American police officer armed with a large gun and an inflexible attitude. The debt that Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s Judge Dredd owes to One-Eyed Jack, collected here in strips from Valiant published between 1975 and 1977, has been clear since at least 1981 when 2000AD reprinted a couple of them under the heading “When Mega-City One was NYC, this was the law.” But One-Eyed Jack is a wider mid-70s cultural item too, a direct transmission into British living rooms already filled with all the US cop shows that three television stations could pipe in, where even twelve-year-old readers of Valiant had heard what Dirty Harry was up to with that .44 Magnum.
These strips are breathless and violent, mostly three-page episodes with crowded four-tier layouts, the panel borders slanting under pressure as eye-patched maverick detective Jack McBane shoots armed robbers, sets fire to buildings with criminals inside, or just throws them from the roof himself. The prolific John Cooper draws them all, and as he and Wagner find their footing the art gets more inventive in its shadings and perspectives, although Cooper has a knack for figures in motion right from the start. He was a great fit for the footballers of Striker in The Sun later on, and everyone in One-Eyed Jack seems to be throwing their weight around.
The plots repeat a bit when gathered in one place, as the constant aggro behind the old-style monospace lettering starts to become a blur, and allowances may be needed for broad characterisations. But macho excess and its normalised reception is one of Wagner’s points, and the level of comic cynicism is for the reader to decide. When a criminal goes to collect a bag of money from Grand Central Station, he opens a luggage locker to find McBane himself squeezed inside, a cunning plan worthy of The Naked Gun. Later McBane strangles a man with a dead snake, a spot of symbolism that might have appealed to Wally Wood’s more definitively absurd and extremely X-rated 1970s anti-hero Cannon, working through his own masculinity issues. And if McBane’s world is nuts then it’s all down to the men, since the only meaningful female character is McBane’s sister, and she turns up for just four panels after McBane manages to shoot his own nephew dead. She spits in her brother’s face, spittle carefully placed by Cooper like a tear from McBane’s sightless eyeball. Is that remorse caught in the working eye, some hint of authentic regret…? Doubtful.