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Square Jawed Heroes – The Aesthetics of Who Is Jake Ellis?

Comics are all about beautiful people. Find me a leading character who isn’t physically desirable and I’ll find you a comic I either don’t know or it isn’t selling. This is an aesthetic medium and the main players need to catch our eye. This is why I find it so interesting the lead character in Who Is Jake Ellis? isn’t exactly an attractive man. He’s quirky, bordering on ugly, and that’s something you just don’t get enough of. This pug faced spy is such an anomaly in the four colour world.

Have a look at Jon Moore, the lead spy at the centre of the mystery surrounding Who Is Jake Ellis? Look at his mug for one moment and soak it up.

I wouldn’t call him ugly, exactly, he’s not offensively repugnant or altogether nauseating. But he’s not what we usually see in a comic. Not as the lead, not as the hero.

Jon Moore is a very curious character to look at. He can come across, at times, as the hero type, but other times he’s got the pug face of a sidekick, or a henchman. He’s the sort of face you’d expect to remember from your childhood. Sprinkle on a few freckles and he’d be the chair-kid of the He-Man Womun Haters Club. In fact, this might just be Moe Szyslak from an alternate reality where his hideous looks didn’t deter him from a life of superspying.

But I kid. Jon Moore isn’t ugly, he’s more like a slightly altered Johnny Knoxville. He’s got that quirky cuteness about him that’s far more prevalent than bulging biceps thicker than most guy’s chests. Jon Moore isn’t an affront to your eyes but he sure as all get out isn’t what I’d list as an attractive man. Not that I’m the authority on attractive men. I just know what I like. I like that Jon Moore doesn’t look like every other four colour hero. I like that Jon Moore is such an individual that it’s carved into his DNA. I like that Tonci Zonjic took a chance on making the lead of this spy comic an average looking guy. I like that a lot.

There’s almost a vibe that Jon Moore could be any of us. Not in the way that gorgeous Hollywood superstars sometimes only apply two layers of make-up and think they’re playing a common man, no, this is an image of a man who could just about be anyone. An ordinary man to reflect ordinary times. This story doesn’t need heaving shoulders and a chiselled jaw line to rest upon, instead it has the pug nose of Jon Moore to find its perch. I’m not saying comic readers are ugly, I’m handsome as the day is long, but I think more readers will identify with this guy because he’s not all rippling abs and toothy smiles. This guy looks real.

What it comes down to isn’t a state of making Jon Moore average, it’s about making him real. This guy fits into the norm of society, unlike the other spandex heroes and shredded fellas who occupy the top standard deviation. There aren’t a lot of blokes walking around with washboard abs and shoulders like spirit levels. They are out there, they do walk among us, but they aren’t the norm. The rest of us don’t stop a room breathing when we enter it, we don’t steal the glitter from the disco balls, and we certainly manage to get by without starting our day on 1000 crunches. We are the united wallpaper of the world – things would look pretty empty without us.

Jon Moore is one of us. He isn’t going to own the catwalk with the likes of the Bruce Waynes and Clark Kents of the world. There’s no chance of aging like Reed Richards or even Dr Strange. He probably won’t grow out of his gawkiness and into a male model like Peter Parker somehow managed to do. He’s not going to compare abs with Dash Bad Horse or Matty Roth. He isn’t even going to rough it like Rick Grimes or Sven the Returned. Jon Moore doesn’t look like any of these guys. Hell, he shouldn’t. You show me a spy who is the most gorgeous creature walking in tight jeans and I’ll show you an operative who gets made every time because he’s too memorable.

If you go through most of the comics on your shelves you’ll find nothing but beefcakey guys – and don’t even get me started on the women. The expectations set in these four colour books is all about an aesthetic most men cannot achieve. But is it really a standard being showcased in these books, or a fantastical ideal? If we’re going to suspend disbelief and enjoy the fact that a man can fly, or you can survive the zombie apocalypse, then we’re in it to be entertained. These aren’t life lessons on the page, they’re narratives to delight and sometimes titillate. It stands to reason then that we should be entertained on every front. This includes the way these men are presented. They should look like an ideal, whether we think we could ever match them or not. You aren’t assessing yourself against the character, you’re just enjoying the character. Far too often this difference is merged into the one. No more, I say.

Movie stars are good looking for a reason, because we want to see good looking people on our screens. If that weren’t true then more ‘interesting’ looking character actors would be headlining their own flicks instead of playing second fiddle to the big stars, or finding their own little films to take top billing in. When people switch off we want someone attractive to cheer for and that goes for most mediums. Except for music, I can never understand musicians. But in comics, the heroes are nearly always good looking. Even Wolverine has been turned from a ferret-like mole man into a suave rugged outdoorsman who loses his shirt more than that werewolf in Twilight.

Comics are predominantly read by middle aged guys, if you believe the hype, so why does the leading man’s appearance matter any? It shouldn’t, but it does. Even men judge other men by their looks. Maybe they don’t go for the same attributes that women do but they certainly use the visual to judge. A good looking man who is in control is someone to be idolised. That man has it all.

Jon Moore isn’t in control of his life or his situation or his memory, and he certainly isn’t in control of the imaginary man who may or may not represent his subconscious. Jon Moore doesn’t have a lot of control in this world and that is reflected in his appearance.

He isn’t ugly but he certainly isn’t beautiful. He’s a guy who could be any of us, and maybe that’s a more powerful statement to put on the page than some unachievable Adonis who doesn’t look like us, or even people we know.

I really dig the fact that Jon Moore is a character that doesn’t look like the cookie cutter spat him out onto yet another mound of muscle. Jon Moore is a character with substance and not some visual shortcut to what the creators want us to think of him. Jon Moore is an individual on the shelves and racks and that should be celebrated. He is also the centre of one of the best releases of this year, amidst a flurry of excellent Image debuts. Pick up the comic, have a read, but more importantly have a look.

By Ryan Lindsay

Ryan K Lindsay is an Australian writer who finds time in nearly every day to get words of some description down. He was published by Marvel once, in a back matter essay in Criminal, but he can more regularly be found penning reviews and op/ed pieces on comic news website The Weekly Crisis. His favourites are; character, Matt Murdock; story, Y: The Last Man; novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay; movie, Chasing Amy; and woman, his wife.