If you've read any of the previous Middleman stories and liked them, I'll save you some time by just telling you to buy the third volume now. Everything you enjoyed about the first two adventures is here in #3.
OK, now for you folks who aren't familiar with The Middleman...
The Middleman is an agent for a secret organization that may or may not be affiliated with the government that vows to save the world from international threats. His organization is so secret that he doesn't even know who he reports to, much less what the name of the group is. The Middleman and the A.I. computer he deals with just refer to their employers as O2STK (Organization Too Secret To Know).
The Middleman's a talented fellow, evidently a brilliant strategist and master at most -- if not all -- forms of combat. He's also been trained and has mastered, as we learn in this volume, hundreds of games in the eventuality that an adversary might challenge him to one. The training works well, as The Middleman wins here at one of the few games he's never played before: Elephant Polo. The guy is just absolutely oozing with secret agent/super spy goodness.
In the first comic series, The Middleman met a budding artist by the name of Wendy Watson and he's brought her on as a Middleman-In-Training. She still lives in an "illegal sublet Wendy shares with her nubile roommate Lacey." In volume three here, Wendy's managed to procure an audience with a prominent gallery owner but has to pull a Cyrano de Bergerac number with Lacey while she and The Middleman battle illiterate-deaf-mute ninjas in kendo armor with sixguns. Part of her dilemma, of course, is deciding to save the world alongside The Middleman or trying to achieve fame as an artist.
As you might have figured out by now, The Middleman isn't exactly a straight adventure series. It does have quite a bit of adventure to it, but through a lens that highlights the basic problems of other adventure series such as -- and notably -- the James Bond franchise. (In fact, the annotations at the end note that a "variation of the plot point described by The Middleman... has been used in in over 75% of James Bond films, with the almost exact chain of events described occurring specifically in some 40%...") But while it might be easy to mock standard conventions, the enjoyment that comes from The Middleman is in how it's able to embrace the absurdities in an appreciative and almost reverent way. The Middleman knows the plot every bit as well as the rest of us and thus, we're able to skim past all the details we already collectively know to get on with the unique aspects of the story. It's not unlike how Shaun of the Dead looks at the zombie movie genre.
Obviously, all this speaks to writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach talents and it should come as no surprise that the property was optioned to ABC. (For anyone concerned, I believe all the initial filming was in the can before the writer's strike; the show was able to get into post-production before any significant hindrances that might result from the strike. In fact, the pilot might actually be well-served by the strike as there could be little competition if the strikes continues long enough.) I need to mention, though, the talents of artist Les McClaine as well. Grillo-Marxuach's script demands a lot of McClaine here, but he's able to deliver across the board...
One of the particularly impressive scenes from an art perspective, I felt, was where Wendy had to talk Lacey through an interview with a gallery owner while fighting several ninjas. McClaine shuttled readers back and forth between both women's trials without missing a beat. I was impressed because repeated scene-shifting can be tricky in the first place, but to be able to choreograph an followable fight scene on one end of that requires more than a modicum of talent. The other fight scenes with giant robots, mutant sharks and the mandatory sexy female henchman are all equally well laid out and worth mentioning here.
In fact, the only real art problem I could find was because of Grillo-Marxuach's annotations. He noted that Manservant Neville was based on actor Mark A. Sheppard. Indeed the character does look something like Sheppard, but the error is that -- in drawing him from memory -- McClaine put the character in a fur coat as he mis-remembered how the actor dressed while playing Badger in Firefly. The fur coat was quickly modified to a gorilla suit (naturally) with no modification to the script, and the result is the somewhat disquieting, but humorously absurdist, notion that it's perfectly normal and acceptable for an evil henchman to wear a gorilla suit over his shirt and tie.
If you like the secret agent genre, I think this is worth picking up. If you think the secret agent genre is silly, this pokes enough jabs in it to make it worth picking up. If you're ambivalent about the secret agent genre, but just like good comic storytelling, this is worth picking up.
(Special thanks once again to Guy LeCharles Gonzales, who turned me on to The Middleman series back in March.)