Updating children’s icons for either a new generation or a new (older) audience is a well-worn path in US superhero comics, with examples including the updating of CC Beck’s Captain Marvel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank into a ‘realistic’ superhero befitting the violent nature of the current DC Comics universe.
In Europe, though, this method of revitalizing sales is not all that much practiced. Belgian artist and writer Willy Vandersteen created the popular series Willy and Wanda (US)/Spike and Suzy (UK) and left a series of instructions when he died making sure that the core of the series was kept pristine while continuing the adventurous series of this comic duo ad infinitum.
However, in 2013 the heirs of Vandersteen opened the gates to new interpretations, leading to the rather successful – and quite pleasing – Amoras series (as discussed in Crossing Borders previously).
J.Rom is the superhero member of Force of Gold, an organization dedicated to fighting crime with high-tech gadgets. During a mission gone wrong, he finds himself manipulated by a master criminal and becomes indirectly responsible for a large number of deaths.
Skip forward five years and J.Rom has turned into a depressed alcoholic, until a young lady subtly named Epiphany shows up, trying to re-energize the superhero of old to combat Abaddon, a villain threatening to take down not only J.Rom’s city but also the world.
So that’s quite a long way to go: from none-too-bright monosyllabic deus ex machina strong man to a down-in-the-gutters superhero trying to climb his way out of a mediocre story. Just for comparison’s sake, here are old and new Jerom.
Where Amoras went the way of a YA novel, à la The Hunger Games, with intrigue, shock endings and relatable characters for the 16+ year old crowd, J.Rom firmly draws its inspiration from American superhero comics. However, writer Bruno De Roover, who has worked mostly on studio-driven kids series, only succeeds in extracting the worst of this genre, as you can probably tell by the above summation of the story.
It’s about as clichéd as you can get, and I would like to think that the teenage crowd is a bit more savvy than De Roover apparently gives them credit for, especially if you take into account how popular superhero movies are currently, with a lot of them featuring good scripts with great dialogue.
De Roover’s text boxes, reminiscent of Frank Miller’s speech patterns, already sound dated before you’re two pages in, and his decision to keep Jerom’s monosyllabic dialogue, which worked well in the kids’ version, just has him sounding like he simply doesn’t have all his marbles.
Artist Romano Molenaar is not an unknown artist in superhero circles, having drawn Batman, Birds of Prey, Witchblade etc, while also chronicling the further adventures of British legendary creator Don Lawrence’s Storm in Europe (though that one is done in his painted style).
His drawing style for J.Rom has morphed into something more cartoony, reminiscent of the Top Cow house style, but here it’s scratchier than ever and, frankly, has seen better times.
Given free rein on the design front, even Romano falls victim to the 90s chapter of the superhero visuals manual, with tacky body armor and headgear straight out of Cyberforce or a Rob Liefeld comic. His designs for Epiphany and the resident tech wizard are uninspired and bland, as is the interior of the Force base – a huge warehouse stuffed with gadgets and indistinct machines that… do stuff.
The coloring by Joël Séguin further complicates matters, with a murky palette that falls rather flat and is too obvious in its computer coloring. He is not a bad colorist, having worked for Image Comics and Marvel, but his style seems to have trouble synching with Romano’s scratchy line work.
This is the first issue of three and it’s all set-up, but the execution and visuals certainly set the tone. After the inventive re-imagining of Willy and Wanda in Amoras, J.Rom – Force of Gold is a big disappointment. In terms of narrative and story, it severely underestimates a target audience who are quite capable and expectant of a more complex comic than this straightforward superhero bash.
J.ROM – Force of Gold #1 of 3 by Bruno De Roover and Romano Molenaar is published by Standaard Uitgeverij in Dutch. It is a full-color softcover counting 56 pages and retails for €7.99.