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.