Posts Tagged ‘Ben Templesmith’

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It’s been awhile since the artistic collective known as 44Flood put out a new comic via their publishing deal with IDW, and while I admit that the last effort to go out under their label, Ben Templesmith’s dystopian sci-fi nightmare The Squidder is certainly a tough act to follow, if the first issue of the new four-parter Victorie City is anything to go by, it should be more than up to the task — even though I’ll be the first to admit that, perhaps more than any other comic out there on the stands right now, this one’s going to divide people on a purely aesthetic level almost instantly.

First, though, a few words about the story — writer Keith Carmack appears to be constructing a deceptively standard-issue hard-boiled noir here, with our ostensible “hero,” police detective Hektor Ness, playing the role of one good cop in a city full of crooked ones. He’s finally decided that he’s had enough of the corruption and sleaze his co-workers (particularly his partner) engage in as a matter of course, so he’s taken it upon himself to clean up the force single-handedly, one dirty cop at a time. Needless to say, his superiors are less than thrilled about his little endeavor and soon enough he finds that he’s the one in hot water rather than everybody else. Honestly, though, that’s probably the least of his problems, because a violently psychotic (and as yet unnamed) serial killer has just hit town, and he’s leaving a trail of bodies in his wake that would make a third-world military dictator blush. He really seems to relish his “work,” as well, given the blood-curdling dialogue that literally oozes from his mouth and the clinical calculation with which he goes about wreaking havoc.  These two principal characters are on a collision course from the outset, then — even if they don’t know it until the end of this issue, which closes with a striking and memorable double-page splash of them facing each other down.

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Hmmm — what could possibly be so “divisive” about all this, then, you ask? Well, I’m tempted to give an easy answer here and simply say “the art,” but truth be told, Vincent Nappi’s scratchy, rapid-fire, visceral illustrations, combined with the pared-down color palette he employs, are only a part of the overall “DIY” ethos of Victorie City. Jessi Adrignola’s lettering is likewise about as far-removed from the industry standard as you can imagine, and when you put all this under either of the book’s visually-arresting-but-highly-unconventional covers (Ben Templesmith’s wrap being at the top of this review and Nappi’s “B” cover being shown directly above), the result is something that wouldn’t look or feel out of place on the ‘zine rack of your local punk record store 15 or 20 years ago. The fact that it’s happening in the here and now is certainly worth getting excited about if you’re an old-school indie publication fan like me, but if you’re used to a more professionally-executed look to your reading material and frankly can’t abide anything else, well — this just ain’t gonna be the book for you.

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To which I say “tough shit — your loss,” even though I know it’ll make me sound like an asshole (or maybe that should be even more of an asshole). Honestly, whether the look of Victorie City is something you’re wholeheartedly on board with, or something you need to “get past,” the simple fact of the matter is that the story here doesn’t just “grab you,” it straight-up punches you in the nuts right from the opening page, and it doesn’t let you up once you’re writhing on the ground. You say it “looks ugly”? Well, that’s kinda the point, because the world it’s showing you is ugly in the extreme, as are most of the people in it. Go find your dose of “feel-good” someplace else, friends, because it’s not happening here.

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And so, now that we’ve sent everyone else scurrying back to their Marvel and DC four-color capes-n’-tights “reassurance therapy” sessions, I can safely tell you few misanthropic troglodytes who remain that Victorie City is almost certainly the comic for you. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer to the skull and as welcoming as a brass-knuckle sandwich. It’s the kind of book that waves its hand at you and says “howdy neighbor!” with an evil-ass grin while it’s standing on its side of the fence and pissing on your lawn. If a comic book could walk right up to you and tell you “hey, that teenage daughter of yours gets prettier and prettier every day when I see her walking home from her school at 3:30 in the afternoon to your house at 1432 Elmwood Lane, I might just have to introduce myself to her one of these days” — it would be this one. No prisoners are taken here and no fucks are given about it.

Am I “all in” for the next three issues? You’d better believe it.

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Oh yeahhhhh — here we go, of the trio of new Bat-centric comics DC has unleashed in the wake of the debut of the Gotham TV series, this was the one I was looking forward to most, and for one simple reason : Ben Templesmith.

No offense intended to writer Ray Fawkes, mind you, but it’s the art that’s had me jazzed for this one since the time it was announced, and why not? Anyone who’s followed Templesmith’s singular style for any amount of time ( and I  sincerely hope you’ve read his just-completed IDW four-part series The Squidder — it seemed to fly under the radar a bit, publicity-wise, which is a bummer since it’s an absolutely magnificent comic) knows that this guy can flat-out bring it, and frankly, I can’t think of anyone better to illustrate the shadowy recesses of Gotham City that go bump in the night.

As is his custom, our guy Ben is turning in his pages in full color here, layering on his rich and atmospheric hues over the stylish, well-controlled chaos of his highly individualistic line art, and, as you’d expect, the results are gorgeous. If I had time to take a break from “ooh”ing and “aah”ing over his panels I’d probably take a moment to stop and be surprised by the fact  that DC, a publisher best known in recent years for the uniformity (and, let’s be honest, dullness) of the overall look of all its books even took this guy on board at all, but, as we’ve already established, they seem to have come around to the idea that their little “Bat-universe” is a large enough place to allow for a handful of unique-looking books to wedge their way into its far corners. Like Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor, one gets the sense right from the jump that Gotham By Midnight is arriving in our laps with a very definite sell-by date in the back of its editors’ and probably even creators’ minds — and Templesmith has never stuck with any given project for all that long — but here’s to hoping that we can count on a solid run of a couple of years or so here, at least, with only occasional “fill-in” issues along the way. My fingers are certainly crossed.

Again, though, DC is guilty of putting the cart before the horse a bit here by setting events in this series after those that are currently taking place in Batman Eternal (as is also the case with Arkham Manor and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame” storyline currently playing out in the pages of Batman itself), but in this particular case it’s really not such a big deal since the fact that somewhere along the way Commissioner Gordon (who we all know is destined to get his job back anyway),  for reasons as yet unknown,  decides to put together a special police task force to deal with supernatural threats to the city ins’t exactly a development that “spoils” any as-yet-unseen story revelations.

The lineup for Gordon’s pet project made flesh,  Precinct 13 ( also known as the GCPD’s “Midnight Shift”),  is composed primarily of new characters, with one notable exception : a lieutenant named Weaver runs the show, assisted by detective Lisa Drake, forensic doctor Szandor Tarr, demon-hunting nun Sister Justine, and, casting a long shadow over all, as he tends to do, is the only “established” DCU character (besides Batman, who puts in an appearance, of course) of the bunch, detective Jim Corrigan, a.k.a. The Spectre.

Fawkes has been the primary writer on the sporadic Batman Eternal issues where Corrigan features prominently, and while it’s probably fair to say that the long, drawn-out reveal of his ghostly alter-ego in that series is down to choices made by James Tynion IV and the previously-mentioned Snyder, given that they’re co-plotting the entire weekly enterprise,  the same approach seems to be unfolding here given that The Spectre is mentioned, but never shown, in the first issue of Gotham By Midnight, as well.

Maybe that’s for the best — he’s certainly one of the most powerful characters in the entire DCU, so when he makes an appearance it probably should be a big deal, but I must confess that I’m already chomping at the bit to see how Templesmith draws him. I have a feeling that’s gonna be some epic shit right there.

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Look, who are we fooling? It’s probably no secret by now that I’d be all over this comic even if the writing absolutely sucked, but fortunately for us that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. Fawkes — whose work on the ongoing Constantine monthly has been bog-standard stuff at best, downright wretchedly mundane at worst — cooks up a pacy little yarn here that manages to hit all the notes it needs to in terms of character introductions by sticking a ball-busting IA sergeant named Rooks,  who explicitly states that his goal with Precinct 13 is to shutter their operation completely,  into the proceedings right off the bat, thus allowing him and us to meet everyone at the same time, before plunging down into a real rabbit hole of an investigation that centers on two young girls who went missing for a short time before coming home covered in mud and speaking a language no one can understand. Gee, do ya think something weird might have happened to them?

Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s strongly hinted that the first issue’s cliffhanger has landed our protagonists right at the doorstep of hell itself, so I think we’re probably in for a fairly exciting ride, and you can rest assured that, in Templesmith’s uber-capable hands, hell is gonna look like hell oughtta look.

I could have picked up Andrea Sorrentino’s admittedly good-looking variant cover (shown above) at the shop today, but Templesmith’s who I’m buying this series for, so I opted for his main one, as I’m sure I’ll continue to do month in and month out. As long as he sticks with this title, I will, too, even if the story goes to — oh, wait, it’s already there, But damn, so far I really like it anyway.