Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Waking: A Tale of Two Mindsets

I was at Boston Comicon a few weeks ago and I picked up a copy of "The Waking" because I had read the first issue before, enjoyed it, and the reviews on the TPB were pretty good touting intelligence, a fresh new twist on the zombie story, a book that will have you on the edge of your seat, etc.  I can see that.  But I can also see this is a book published by Zenescope.  Yeah.  Cover time...

There is a cool concept here, and I'm pretty much going to tell you what it is, so *Spoiler Alert* I guess.  Basically, this little girl, the one on the cover, was killed and the murderer got away with it.  So the dad gets really sad, and starts to hate a lot, so people who were killed come back from the dead to kill their killers.  Apparently murder victims can never be at rest because of the harm done to them, but if they kill their killers, they will be.  But here's the thing, once the zombie kills the person it has come back for, it for reals.  So daddy doesn't want his little girl to kill the man who murdered her because he doesn't want her to die again.  He figures he'll just bring back everyone who was murdered and one of them will eventually get the guy who killed his daughter, but since she didn't do the killing she won't die herself, and they can be together.

Not a bad idea, I suppose, for a guy who can bring the dead back to life because he's sad, but if you think about it, doesn't that mean his daughter, murdered, will never find peace?  Maybe, but the topic was never addressed.  Other topics were however, but not with much enthusiasm or depth.  The obvious question is whether or not the police detectives, who serve as the protagonists of the story, should try and stop the zombies?  The line of questioning could serve to open the way for some pretty meaningful dialogue on justice, responsibility, the natural order of things, etc., but instead is summed up in about two panels.

Panel 1:  Female cop says, "I don't want to stop them because they're right." (Referring to the zombies...also, I'm paraphrasing.)
Panel 2: Male cop says, "Yeah, but it's our job." (Paraphrasing.)

And then boobs.

"Where did that come from?" you may be asking yourself. But remember, it's Zenescope, so take a great idea and the possibility to really tackle some issues, but imagine that idea was thought up by a fourteen year old boy.  So they let you know that the deep ideas, the good stuff, is there, but then the time and panel space needed to have any kind of meaningful discussion is instead replaced with a detective complaining about too much sex with his nympho wife (because there's plenty of that in this book...complaining, I mean) and shots of his wife naked in the shower...which really progress the story...yup.

There's other stuff too, like how we have four detectives as main characters, three males, one female.  The guys are all in dress shirts, ties, trench coats, typical city detective garb.  Our female detective, on the other hand, wears skin tight jeans and a top that is designed to expose massive amounts of know, the stuff professional women wear to work.  Not to mention that some of the dialogue comes across like it was written by a kid in high school who thinks it's a sign of maturity that he can make sex jokes with girls, while everyone over the age of eighteen lets out a heavy sigh, and everyone in the workplace files sexual harassment claims...

In the end, not to sound like a broken record, but it did come across as if there were two writers; one who thought of a cool idea and wanted to discuss some interesting ideas in an artful way, and the second who works for Zenescope and had to have boobs in a comic...cuz boobs are cool.  So, worth the $12.99 asking price?  Ummmm....I's a cool stepping stone to some interesting conversation, but really, if you just read this review...I think you're set.  I will tell you this though, the TPB contains issues #1-4, and is a self contained, full story in it's own right.  The guy at the booth who sold it to me (discounted for the Con) said they're making more and the next TPB issue will be coming out...eventually.  I probably won't be picking that one up.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dark Rain: A Review

I picked up Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story when I found it on sale at Borders not too long before they closed their doors for good.  I heard awesome things about it, and the book jacket was covered front to back, top to bottom in praises of the work Mat Johnson and Simon Gane put together.  Now I've read the book myself, and the feeling it left me with, when all was said and done, could best be described as, "meh."

Okay, first I want to talk aesthetics.  My copy of the book is gorgeous.  The book itself hardcover with the title of the book and Vertigo pressed into the cover.  The jacket is amazing too.  Nessim Higson and Daymon Gardner did an amazing job with it.  The image of the house in the flood, the map of New Orleans, glossy and textured over the house image, and the image of the man on the back, looking to the heavens as the sun sets (rises?) are all beautiful and eye catching.  The picture on the internet doesn't do it justice, you really need to see it for yourself.

As for the inside of the book.  The artwork is fine.  Simon Gane chose to use a lot of muted blues, greys, and blacks to set the mood of New Orleans just after Katrina.  It's dark. It's stormy.  People are sad, lost and there isn't much hope to go around.  The characters are expressive, and Gane is really good at showing the emotion, the turmoil of the characters involved. 

If I have a problem with the artwork it's that the backgrounds aren't very detailed.  Look passed the characters, the action, and you're going to see blank sheets of blue, black, and grey.  It's fine for the overall look of the book but sometimes I was looking for more.  It may have been done to keep the attention on the characters themselves, but Gane is so good with his expressions and actions I don't think it necessary.  The characters would hold up on there own.  Show me some of New Orleans.  Although, I have to admit, when there were backgrounds, such as a city under water or a couple of bodies floating in the water, they packed a punch.  Maybe that was the whole point; limit the use of detail so that the detail we get hits us harder.  I don't know.  You'd have to ask Gane.

As for the writing, I don't want to give away anything, so I'm not going to really get into the plot, but I have to tell you, when Johnson has a point he wants to get across, he does it with all the subtlety of a nine pound hammer.  It isn't necessarily bad, but I've seen it all before.  Our hero isn't really a bad guy, just a regular guy who made some mistakes.  Really though, he's got a heart of gold.  When he isn't stealing from other people.   The "scary black guys" with backwards hats and backpacks aren't bad guys.  They're the one's handing out food and water.  Like we didn't see that coming four panels away.  And then there are lines like:
"Governments just leaving them to die because they're black.  Most of 'em."
"No.  Because we're poor, black, and never vote Republican."

Not to say there weren't some touching moments.  One scene that got me in particular was of  a mother holding her infant child that had recently passed; knowing it, but trying her best to avoid dealing with it.

At the end of the day I'm not sorry I read the book, but really, if the chance came again, knowing what I know now, would I still buy it.  I'm not sure that I would.  The book has some talking points, I'll give it that, but it doesn't go out of the way to reveal anything we didn't already know, nor does it help itself with statements like the one I mentioned above.  I guess in the end I'll say this, if you can pick it up for $5-$10, it might be worth the time and money.  But for the $24.99 asking price on the book cover?  I'll pass.