Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chronic Review: Shuddertown # 1

Shuddertown # 1
Image Comics

Script: Nick Spencer
Pencils: Adam Geen
22 pages for $ 3.50

Shuddertown is the story of detective Isaac Hernandez and the lies he swims in. He's a classic noir protagonist; as flawed and dark as the criminals he seeks to bring to justice. Isaac doesn't have a lot of friends or a cheery disposition. What he does have is a history with drugs and a pile of cases that just don't seem to make any sense.

There's plenty of evidence at the murder scenes for Hernandez to find. The problem is that all of this gift-wrapped evidence points to dead people as the perpetrators.

It's a nice little hook, and Spencer plays it out with smart dialogue. Geen's pencils are very moody and fit the tale nicely. It's reminiscent of Maleev, or JH Williams, which always reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz. (I wonder what percentage of today's comic book art we can actually trace back to that guy - 8 percent? More?) This is such a departure in terms of sophistication from Fade to Black that one finds it hard to believe they came from the same imprint. (although there are preview pages for Fade in the issue, just to remind you of the absurd fact) If somebody handed me this comic without the cover, I would have guessed Vertigo, for sure.

This is a mystery within a mystery. Spencer has been up front about the fact that there are layers here, and Hernandez foreshadows this as well. He's always talking about lies.

The success of the story depends upon the audience's investment in trying to parse out what is actually going on here. And I have a theory.

Before I lay this out, understand that we don't have much to go on here, and I'm traditionally very bad at piecing these things together. The good news/bad news for me is that I have a gift for maintaining the suspension of disbelief when I'm reading or watching something.

The good news is that I'm always surprised and can enjoy these things as the author intended. The bad news is that while everyone else knows the punchline a mile before it arrives, I'm the village idiot.

It seems to me that the themes here are A) Lies and B) Impact post-mortem. And I think that Isaac Hernandez is actually stone dead somewhere, and what we're seeing right now is the man's personal hell. What we're reading now is Hernandez being haunted by his past, trying to piece together murders that don't matter any more with evidence that doesn't make any sense. Hernandez is stuck in the past, but the world has moved on.

I don't have much to go on other than a gut feeling. My strongest piece of evidence is an interpretation of a brief phone conversation:

Isaac (and presumably the reader) are meant to infer that the Blevins case is in the past tense, and it is. But I think that somebody is trying to tell Hernandez that he is in the past tense. When Isaac meets Sam, he wants Hernandez to show him his side wound. Gunshot wound? Hard to say.

I think that wound may have been lethal, and Hernandez is just too committed to his own lies to admit it. Perhaps as part of a sacrifice of some kind. That wound is sitting right about the level a Roman centurion pierced Jesus to speed up his crucifixion.

It's quite possible I'm reading too much into this, but that's the whole fun of this kind of exercise, and these little opportunities to really test your noodle so rarely turn up in the genre. (Grant Morrison notwithstanding) I like this book a lot, whether I've "figured it out" or not. I suspect I haven't.

If you like Vertigo as a general rule, you'll like what you find here. This is worthy of your time if you're looking for something outside the superhero genre, and straight up your alley if you enjoy noir or stuff like 100 Bullets.

The only real disappointment for me was when I got to the back cover trumpeting the coming of issue of # June. I guess the good news is that Spencer is honest enough to announce the delay. I just don't get it, though. In order to find an audience in the era of mandatory attrition, you simply must hit that audience monthly. I hope this book survives, but I'm not sure that anything is going to fly in 2010 on a quarterly schedule. Shame, really, because comics needs a little more of this...

- Ryan

1 comment:

Adam said...

Thanks for the review!

The June part on the back is a misprint. ;)