Button Man, eh? I totally remember reading a few episodes of it in this huge pile of early-90s 2000ADs I got a decade ago, but I couldn’t be sure what the storyline was as my memory is an abomination. Luckily, the more recent Button Man volume (volume 3), the excellently named ‘Killer Killer’, has a perfect recap on the back cover:
“Harry Exton used to be a ‘Button Man’ – a player in the lethal Killing Game., pitting man against man. the stakes were high – you became either very rich or very dead. Then Exton turned against the Voices – the mysterious unseen backers who arranged the gajmes – and quit. But nobody walks away from the Games and lives. Now, it is time for the hunter to become the hunted!”
And that’s all you need. The basic plot is simple, but that is no insult to the comic. It’s kind of a 90s action movie for my dad to watch on Channel 5 at 10PM.
Only it’s a really fucking good one.
I mean, it’s written by John Wagner, who has not, to my knowledge, ever written anything actively bad. There’s the odd Judge Dredd short by him that’s pretty disposable, but that’s the nature of the medium – when you’re pumping out 6-or-so pages of comic a week, not everything’s going to be gold. But Wagner writes tough action better than almost anyone, and this is exactly what the Button Man’s aw aboot.
It’s got motorbikes (see above), it’s got characters being disposed of all the time, in a variety of solid action movie ways, from simply being shot:
to one of my most feared of action movie mainstays – forestry traps:
And it helps that the protagonist is a grizzled musclehunk alpha-chap with Mel Gibson’s face, for that full-on uncomplicated old-style action-thrillz effect.
I mean I say ‘uncomplicated’, but I just mean the story is easy to follow, due to the skill of the creators, and the sheer momentum of the thing. It’s not like there aren’t lots of moments that took me completely by surprise, either, and there ARE a lot of other things going on, which add atmosphere and depth, but without tangling things up?
Wagner and Ranson make it seem almost effortless, and I guess that is bcause they are both seasoned pulp veterans who are very, very good at this sort of thing. Just some great storytelling.
And, yeah, Arthur Ranson! He’s a lightbox-and-photo-reference sort of guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s anything AT ALL like the current Americo-trend for hideous lazy tracing bullshit doofuses, typified by the Greg Lands of this world. Ranson’s work looks immediately recognisable as being by him, he has an amazing sense of composition, and his art has consistency (inconsistency is a particular Greg Land flaw).
And he’s got a really appealingly graceful and er, liney, style that elevates it so far above what you think of when you hear about ‘lighboxing’, that pricks like me should probably stop bringing it up.
I mean, just look at his Judge Anderson stuff. Plus, he draws my favourite version of Satan EVER (though it’s not from Button Man):
He’s an astonishing artist, and also a perfect fit for a story Button Man, giving it a grounded feeling, as well as, I don’t know? A sort of Avengers/The Saint kind of ‘classic’ feel to it? I’d say ‘retro’ but I hate that word, and it also implies a certain level of kitsch, which his art isn’t, at all. It’s hard to explain! Art is hard to explain! Naaargh!
His work is atmospherically similar to John Ridgeway’s, and I suspect it’s to do with them both being artists for, I think, classic British publications like the Commando comic and Look-In magazine?
Plus, Arthur Ranson has a great sense of colour. The pallette he uses in Button Man: Killer Killer is pale, cool and atmospheric, and he totally does a great snow scene:
It is always so refreshing to see good comics colouring, especially in this era of horrible over-rendered shiny computer pish.
Arthur Ranson, though, he’s great! And as I said, I really like how liney his stuff is! LINES (and good ones, not Finchian needless cross-hatchery).
Button Man: Killer Killer is a great comic, and I think I might go and give it a reread just because it is such a pleasure to see this thing done so well. Intelligent action, basically, with brilliant writing and art. Shall I sum it up with one panel of a visit to the dentist, that takes place early in the book (there’s great tooth action, too, incidentally. Gross)?
I think I will.