Review by Frank Plowright
Missionary Man is one of those series that seeemed okay and different when originally serialised, but time has moved on, and the creators who’ve stayed the course have fulfilled their early promise. It’s perhaps why there was no collection of this early 1990s work until 2011, despite it containing some of Frank Quitely’s first professional art.
The Missionary Man operates in the Tex City Outer Territories, which is the Cursed Earth in all but name. The wild badlands allow for a shot of Western action spliced with just enough SF to prove it’s still attached to Judge Dredd’s world.
When the feature began, both Gordon Rennie and Quitely were relatively unknown, and for something created first time out it remains readable, if never stretching boundaries, in what’s written as a sparse strip. The Missionary Man is a force of righteous vengeance acting in the name of god’s word rather than an accredited lawman, and when he arrives in town there’ll be a population decrease shortly after. In the second episode he picks up a sidekick in Resurrection Joe, as in comics a loner needs someone to talk with to explain the plot, and the dialogue is heavy on religious references, whether Biblical or otherwise.
Quitely may be a novice, but his instincts are in place from the beginning. In keeping with the mood the backgrounds are simple, but the effort is there when a crowd is needed, there’s detail to the clothing and the horses (sample spread left) and he knows the value of a silhouette. The other artists are also starting out. Simon Davis would eventually have a career and acclaim, but here he’s the weakest among them, showing promise amid the static figures and expressions, and it doesn’t help that he’s allocated the slimmest story, a set-up for a conflict that never comes. Garry Marshall’s pages feature more angular people (sample right), but there’s a darker overall mood than Quitely sets, and it’s effective. Sean Longcraft is also strong on design and colour, but despite some memorable single images his cartooning doesn’t quite fit the strip.
It’s interesting to see Rennie, Quitely and Davis as newcomers, and raising a glass to the lost talents of Longcroft and Marshall, but Rennie borrows heavily, and doesn’t add enough of his own ideas to make Missionary Man more than the sum of its parts. He’d later revisit the territory with Cursed Earth Koburn.