If you don't know what it is going in, Guy Adams and Jimmy Broxton's Goldtiger: The Poseidon Complex has one of the best hooks I've ever seen: "Hey, did you hear 2000 AD was putting out a collection of Goldtiger? Oh, you've never heard of it? That's not surprising, it was only ever popular in Malta back in the '60s, but it was this newspaper strip about two fashion photographers who were also secret agent mercenaries. You gotta read it, though - the story behind the strip is so intense that the artist, Antonio Baretti, wound up in a mental hospital." It is, to say the least, a pretty intriguing setup.

If, however, you do know what it is going in, it somehow gets even better.



So here's the deal: Goldtiger, or at least, Antonio Barreti and Louis Schaeffer's Goldtiger, does not actually exist. The idea of these two creators being put together to create a rival newspaper's answer to Modesty Blaise in 1966 and making something that was too inflammatory to get past the publishers is all part of the fiction that Adams and Broxton are creating with their new book. And to be honest, it's a fiction that they're doing very well.
Everything about the book has the ring of being just strange enough to sound real, and they back that up with a beautiful sense of design - the cover even looks exactly like the kind of cover you'd see on a modern collection of older adventure strips, whether it's the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse hardcovers from Fantagraphics or IDW's collections of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy. The strip itself has that authenticity, too, full of the Zip-A-Tone shading, heavy inks, and casual nudity that you'd find in the adult-oriented adventure comics of the era - at least in the ones from Italy.



And believe it or not, that was my biggest problem with the book going in.

It wasn't that I didn't think the "actual" Goldtiger wasn't good; its the opposite problem. Those strips are so good, so well-done and fun, that I initially though that the "story behind the story" gimmick would be unnecessary and distracting. That is, after all, the big trick: Goldtiger The Meta Concept only works if Goldtiger The Actual Strip is good, and if the strip really is good, it's hard not to care about that more than all this other stuff that keeps getting in the way.

Which brings us to the events of The Poseidon Complex itself, the story-within-the-story that finds Lily Gold and Jack Tiger investigating the disappearance of yachts on the Thames. It's the kind of swinging, ultramod adventure that takes them to exotic locations before winding up on a cargo ship and battling a crocodile man who hunts bikini-clad victims for sport. It's exactly the kind of retro throwback that I love reading, and it's full of interesting bits and pieces that come through. Both of the lead characters are gay, something that's heavily implied in the "strip" and then confirmed in the material that surrounds it. It's not really groundbreaking, and in fact comes across as the same kind of tongue-in-cheek comedy treatment that's typical of the era and the genre - Lily gets buried under a pile of comely Russian assassin/gymnasts at one point and is perfectly all right with this arrangement, for instance - but it's constructed well enough that it feels fun rather than regressive.

But while the adventure story is good, it's the meta stuff that actually makes it great.



Those two halves of the story eventually tie together into one narrative in a way that's both engaging and unexpected, but even before that happens, the way it's set up is masterful. Following the premise that Goldtiger is an obscure, forgotten masterpiece that never got a foothold outside of Malta - and certainly not in the UK, where the new "collection" is being published by 2000 AD - the "behind-the-scenes" information is pieced together in the form of excerpts from interviews and letters between Barreti and Shchaeffer about the direction of the strip.

The premise that gets built slowly throughout their interactions is that Barreti is brilliant but unstable, something that's underlined when he responds to the cancellation of the strip by going off-script and providing two strips where he draws himself at the drawing table swearing to defy them and complete it himself if that's what it takes. Even beyond that, there's a friction between the creators - at more than one point, Barreti skips over a section of the plot that he deems to be boring, leaving the curators of the book to piece together the events by including the scene from Schaeffer's novelization of the same story.

It's the letters, though, that are the best. I'm particularly fond of the Barreti's response to the editor who cancels the strip before it's published, and who gets his name wrong in a what's little more than a form letter dictated to his assistant:



Barreti continually refers to Schaeffer only as "Writer" and to himself as "artist," and the two are brutally mismatched right from the start, despite being stuck together by their creation's unexpected Maltese popularity. And that flawed collaboration is honestly as interesting as the crocodile man who eats people and wants to destroy ships with a laser gun that turns things into water.

There's a battle for control over the strip between the two creators that plays out over the course of it that, as someone who's had his share of (mostly friendly and productive!) arguments with collaborators over the years, is downright harrowing. Barreti deems entire weeks' worth of strips to be boring and skips over them, occasionally drawing himself in as an extremely critical narrator so that he can get back to the action...



... while Schaeffer eventually resorts to drawing rough layouts for Barreti and labeling things as "IMPORTANT." Barreti, in response, decides to just run the layouts as is, sending Schaeffer's unfinished, cartoony figures off to the newspaper. It's the kind of bitter sniping between collaborators who don't get along that creators are afraid of, and it makes for some genuinely hilarious interactions.

At the end of the day, Goldtiger is a book that's more than the sum of its parts. It manages to be a thrilling throwback adventure, a meta-commentary, and the story of two damaged, incompatible creators all at once, and despite my initial misgivings, it's impossible to separate all of those stories out from each other. There's a strange bit of magic to it, creative and otherwise, and it ended up being the first great read of 2016.

The collection is out from 2000 AD in March, and is well worth picking up.