Rating: 4/5 – Dark underbelly of the safest city in America
I would argue that we are in a Golden Age of comics, not only in terms of quality and accessibility but in terms of variety. Crime comics have always had a presence in the market but I seem to be coming across more of them. Here we have a group of young men transitioning to adulthood while earning money in the drug business. The setting is Plano, Texas in 2002 and the comic is mostly told from the viewpoint of the ringleader, Leo. The book sets up our crew of five miscreant youths and how the sixth member is invited into the group. This follows the not uncommon trope where we look at where a criminal enterprise facing a point where they expand the scope of their crimes past the point of their competency. The 2002 setting is ably established via visual cues that work without standing out excessively. To this reader, the time frame seems resonate more than the physical setting but we are early in the story yet. The back inside cover is a text piece explaining the setting in time and place and while the setting is very real, it feels like it could have been any suburb outside a big city.
The website not only provides ordering information but a three page sample. The art is provided by John Cardinal aka Monsta, who most recently contributed a segment to Saddle Sore 2 (reviewed here https://comicspectrumdigital.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/saddle-sore-2/). Here we have a cast of six main characters who are differentiated by their representation and the storytelling. It does require careful reading as the characters are not introduced until several pages into the book. I would note that there is a “Baxter” and a “Barber” so it would not have bothered me if one of them had a different name. The language in the book is explicit and there is plenty of use of slang. Most is fairly common popular culture references and/or readily understandable within the context of the story. That language conveys the reality of the book even if its reality may not jive with similar experiences of the reader. It is a real, believable world. Most of the crew is getting ready to transition to college and away from “the life” but Leo is upping the ante with a big score. Can he pull it off?
Monsta’s artwork provides clear storytelling and works well in showing facial expressions. As you can see from the samples on the website, he like use of screentone in the backgrounds along with heavy inks. I am glad the book is in black and white both to communicate the tone and some of the big blocks of blacks are impressionistic. Lastly there is a framing device at the beginning of the book, setting up a reunion of the main characters in the future. The end of the book returns to that setting and provides an unexpected and unusual twist setting up issue 2. There is plenty of story but the issue is a little lighter than most regular books. I did not notice it in the reading but did notice it when holding the book. I don’t count pages in the book as a metric as I judge it by how much story, not how many pages. There are no ads in the book and it felt physically lighter. On a side note, those publishers that load up ads at the back the book to make it feel heavier really drive me crazy. I reach the end of the story and there are still pages of house ads left. Argh…digression over.
From a sampling of the three pages, you will likely have a feeling if this book is for you. However I will note that the twist ending does really jump the story up. Lawrence Rosales, co-creator, is also providing standalone short stories regarding the characters on his audio podcast New Worlds. Both the comic and the audio work by themselves. The typical structure of the show is he reads a short story and interviews the author however for the tie-ins, he just reads the story. He has posted the first tie-in story, Gumdrop, on Episode Five available on iTunes and streaming at http://earth2network.podbean.com/2013/07/30/new-worlds-the-short-story-podcast-%E2%80%93-episode-5-%E2%80%93-special-edition-%E2%80%93-gumdrop-%E2%80%93-the-guys/ This provides another avenue to sample the style of the world created. Hopefully this is to your liking and you join me in following the story in print and in audio.
Reviewed by: Andrew Sanford – firstname.lastname@example.org
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