Review by Frank Plowright
There’s a slight sense of Paul Grist spinning in the wind with what is spelled ‘Mud Man’ on the cover, but which the indicia and internal pages refer to as ‘Mudman’, the spelling also used by book sellers. The vast cast and their interlocking complexities of his previous title Jack Staff accumulated much praise, but never the sales that should have accompanied it, so Mudman takes a different approach. There’s a definitive lead character, although with supporting cast, and the stories are more straightforward if not always directly linear.
That said, Mudman has the full complement of offbeat elements that make all of Grist’s material so charming and enjoyable: the dim crook with the broad, phonetically spelled out Birmingham accent; the parochial small town setting; the shimmering air of mysticism, yet spliced with odd technology, and more. It all serves to edge the story slightly sideways from what might otherwise be the Spider-Man, or more recently Invincible, template of the teenage superhero.
Fifteen year old Owen Craig is on a spray painting expedition, accompanying his mate Jack when they break into the derelict beachfront property with a local reputation for being haunted. Owen finds a costume, hears some voices and wakes up the next morning with now idea how he reached home. Wetting his hands in the bathroom sink turns them to mud. It’s not the only startling discovery he makes that day.
Grist surrounds Owen with a serviceable supporting cast of amiable best pal, policeman father, sardonic sister, seemingly unattainable female classmate, school bully, and eccentric teachers, surely channelling his own school experiences for the latter. There’s an emphasis on fun throughout as the novice superhero comes to terms with his changed life and while danger intrudes, Grist’s storytelling expertise ensures that this remains hovering just above the all-ages boundary.
Just because Grist takes a more traditional path with his storytelling doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time to admire his art. He’s a master of deception. His pages appear simple, with few lines, yet they’re anything but. His stories flow brilliantly from one page to the next, the beats and pauses perfectly placed, and every required emotion clearly delineated.
This book collects the first five issues of the series, but sadly there was only one further, low sales possibly again taking their toll. Don’t let that put you off sampling a unique comic creator. Anything by Paul Grist that’s widely available is worth your time.