Time now to dive back in to the AiT/PlanetLar pool.
LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS
Maybe it's just the assembled wiseguys on the back cover, straight outta Reservoir Dogs, but once again I'm reminded of Tarantino...this time crossing The Sopranos or Goodfellas and Of Mice And Men with a caper flick starring James Garner, Chris Penn, and oh, I don't know...Jennifer Lopez, maybe. Anyway, Independents is the story of a tough-guy cowboy type who owns a decrepit amusement park "somewhere out west", and lives with a tough-girl pilot and a somewhat intellectually challenged, good-natured fellow who's built like a linebacker. Tired of scraping along, they decide to knock off a local bank...which just happens to be a money-laundering facility for the Mob. Unwisely, they take the Mob money along with the ordinary money, and take pains to cover their tracks, but the Mob understandibly is not having any of this and sends a battalion or two of made men and their goons to get it back. And of course, our motley trio of bank robbers is up to the task of fending them off, until the mobsters finally manage to get the upper hand- but you just know our cowboy still has some tricks up his sleeve. Matt Fraction has crafted a lively and fast-paced script, marred only by some strained credibility (hardly a novel thing with this type of story) and a determined lack of surprises, although there is one death that I wasn't expecting, given the tone of the story to that point. Kieron Dwyer is an artist whose work I had seen once or twice before, mostly on superhero stuff, and thought it was OK. He shows a nice flair for down-to-earth dramatics and action, and his style reminds me a lot of John Buscema with Tony DeZuniga inks here and there, but a lot tighter. The art seems to have been done on parchment (or perhaps Photoshopped to look like it) with brown inks, which is eye-catching but becomes a little monotonous, kinda like Charlie Adlard's experiment with chalk-and-charcoal on grey paper on White Death. I'm all for experimentation, but I think perhaps there's a reason why this sort of multimedia work is still looked upon as experimental in a storytelling sense...B+
Continuing with the QT comparisons, now we have Jackie Brown meets The Question, or perhaps Rorschach. Lots of Ditko influence in writer Joe Casey's concept, methinks, and this book reminds me of a Charlton comic for some reason. Codeflesh chronicles the exploits of one Cameron Daltrey, a bail bondsman who couldn't control his temper with skips, and after one particularly brutal incident, was instructed by a judge that he could keep his business but was forbidden to hunt down the often super-powered skips himself. So he comes up with a handy solution: he dons a mask, decorated Rorschach-style with a bar code (to emphasize his status as a bought-and-sold commodity, I suppose, even though this is more implied than made explicit) and goes after them undercover, essentially working for himself in disguise. Problem is, he can't be in two places at once, and his suspicious girlfriend doesn't like being ignored. So in between chasing down and beating up freakish thugs, he argues with his girlfriend, she breaks up with him, he keeps trying to get her back, and so on. Kinda reminds me of the sort of thing that Spider-Man had to deal with back in the day. He also has a partner, name of "Staz", who really doesn't seem to do much except answer the phone and drive Daltrey here and there. All things considered, though, Codeflesh succeeds in being a fast-paced street-level actioner, full of brawls and seediness, despite the superheoric overtones. That Adlard fella does the art honors, and keeps things moving along briskly...but his work looks different here than I've seen previously, which may be due to a couple of things- I don't know when this was originally printed, so it may be some of his earliest stuff and therefore less polished, or perhaps he just consciously decided to ink with a fatter, sloppier line to compliment the tone of the story. Reminds me a bit of Ian (Halo Jones) Gibson in places, it does. I'd definitely like to read any further Codeflesh stories, just to find out where it's all going. Haven't heard of any new issues or graphic novels coming out anytime soon, so I won't hold my breath. A-
THE COURIERS, DIRTBIKE MANIFESTO and COUSCOUS EXPRESS
I'm lumping all these together, because they're essentially three chapters of the same story which deals with "Urban Mercenary Couriers" Moustafa, Special (I kept wanting to hum "Brass In Pocket" whenever someone called out her name), and Moustafa's girlfriend Olive, who's no UMC but can take care of herself for the most part, and has in nerve what she lacks in smarts. Moustafa and Special are couriers, just like the guys and gals you see on bikes and rollerblades every day, but they don't just deliver legal papers and takeout Chinese- oh no. They augment their income by carrying stuff of a decidedly more serious, and deadly, nature. Big money, data, weapons, protection services, and so on. Of course, they are young, hip, badass extreme fighting machines, deadly living weapons on roller skates and bicycles, able to do complicated stunts that would make Jackie Chan stare in amazement, and can shoot like Gunny Sergeant Hartman's wettest dream. In The Couriers, the trio mix it up with a sadistic Chinese general (you know he's a bad guy when he nonchalantly tosses a young girl's pet cat out the window) who has tracked the girl, who saw something in his house she shouldn't have, to NYC (she was sent there by her mother, presumably to keep her safe) where our duo has been hired to collect her and ensure her safety. Much high-tech and low-tech mayhem ensues, before the mostly satisfying resolution. Like Bill Sherman, one has to wonder where the authorities were while all this was going on, especially in the post-911 NYC climate. Oh well, there's that suspension of disbelief thing coming into play again, and even that gets stretched beyond recognition when Special (she's got to have some of your attention...sorry) does a flip onto a speeding motorcycle, sticks her shotgun in a guy's mouth, and shoots through his head and also through the helmet of the cycle's driver. Awesome, dude! Then she cracked open a cold Mountain Dew. Aw, I'm making that part up. Even the artist recognizes that it's most likely impossible, so ya gotta give him credit for that. Dirtbike Manifesto begins with a weapons delivery gone bad, and when one of the Courier group dies, Moustafa and Special head to upstate New York (for some reason portrayed like it's Kentucky or Tennessee, except with lots of snow) and mix it up with redneck militia types who were connected his death. Brian Wood gives this story an interesting spin with a pair of antagonists who function like counterparts to M and S, and most of the second half of the book is taken up with an extended fight scene between them, including a dirt bike chase through a snowy woods. Again, all fast-paced and full of action, and this tale isn't quite as hard on the old disbelief suspension, so I liked it a bit more. However, my favorite of the three was Couscous Express, in which we meet M's girlfriend Olive for the first time (I believe this was the first of the three novels), and are introduced to the Couriers via a conflict between Olive's family and "stylish and dangerous Turkish scooter enthusiast Mafioso", in which Olive enlists her boyfriend's aid. Another reason why I liked Express more was the Chris Bachalo-meets-Ted McKeever art of Brian Weldele, as opposed to the less satisfactory (to me, anyway) work of "Rob G", artist on the other two books. Weldele starts the story in heavy ink wash, then abruptly changes to a simplified, choppily inked and heavily zip-a-toned style for the bulk of the book before going back to wash at the end. He does both styles well (even though he has a tendency to get carried away with copying and pasting the same image several times on a page), fortunately, so it's not the annoyance you'd think. About Rob G., well, what can I say. I'm sure he's a cool guy, and a great skateboarder, and is a whiz on a computer (he certainly knows how to use a Photshop filter to suggest movement, as he does several times during his two stories)...but I found his work crude and unsatisfying, with especially poor figure drawings. He manages to provide an occasional pose or action scene with a little spark, and there are a couple of cityscapes which are as intricate as they are sloppy, and impressive in spite of themselves, but for my money I would hope a better artist could be found to illustrate the further adventures of our far-fetched, but still likeable, "Urban Mercenary Couriers". I like this concept and these characters a lot more than I like the execution (if you'll excuse the expression) so far. The Couriers: C+; Dirtbike Manifesto: B-; Couscous Express: A-.
More later, hopefully over the weekend, including Channel Zero, Jennie One, and Available Light.