Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chronic Review: Echoes # 1 and Memoir # 1!

Echoes # 1
Minotaur imprint of Top Cow
Script:      Joshua Hale Fialkov
Pencils:    Rahsan Ekedal
22 pages for $2.99

Before I get to Echoes the story, perhaps it's worthwhile to acknowledge that this is the first book of Top Cow's "Minotaur" imprint.  That's what the bull looking guy at the top left hand corner is about.  It's Top Cow's way of telling you that this is a Vertigo book.  They would probably find such a simplification slanderous, but it makes it no less true, and I don't think it's a bad thing to be a Vertigo book at all.

”We’ve been looking to expand Top Cow’s publishing line for some time with a brand that focused on self-contained, cerebral stories,” explained Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik.  Of course Sablik is scripting the next addition to the Minotaur line: "Last Mortal".  I don't know if qualifies as arrogance to refer to your own work as "cerebral" or not...but it might be.  I'm certainly guilty of worse, and I'm getting off topic.

The point is that it's a pretty good idea, as most Top Cow ideas are.  Speaking of, this is actually not Echoes' first appearance.  That happened in the ridiculously affordable Top Cow First Look TPB, which included this issue and five other #1s for $4.99.  It's very rare that you find a comic publisher committed to walking the customer value walk, and not just talking it.  Top Cow is a customer value walker.  And if Echoes is any indication of the quality we can expect from the Minotaur imprint, it should be very successful indeed.

Joshua Hale Fialkov is the guy that brought you the very acclaimed Elk's Run.  His penciller is one Rahsan Ekedal, and there is no colorist on the book.  They left it in black and white, and that was a very wise choise.  This is noir country, and blacks and greys suit it very well.  Ekedal has been asked to draw a lot of haunted faces, and you do that with the eyes.  Ekedal does it very well.  And when I say "haunted", I don't mean to imply that this is a ghost story.  This is all painfully, plausibly real.

I suppose I should probably say what the story is now, instead of what it isn't.  Your main character is a carefully medicated man trying to hold things together with a mental illness, a wife, a child.  He probably has enough problems to deal with, but his dying father tells him to retrieve a box from a crawlspace in one of his final lucid moments.  Some of his mutterings suggest that there might be some dead bodies involved.

Our main character (a nurse calls him "Mr. Cohn") visits that house and investigates that crawlspace.  Whatever problems dad had....might have been passed to the son.  As he finds the box, his watch tells him it's time to take his anti-psychotic.  But the water in this abandoned house is fetid, undrinkable.  Cohn waits on the pill and dives into a very dark piece of his father's past.  Echoes would appear to be an exploration of that past, and how deeply the sins of the father dig into the son.

And it's really goddamn good.  This is very cutting horror.  It cuts as deeply as Crossed, without the heavy axe strokes.  Echoes allows you to sip the evil smooth and subtle.  Most of the juice is the mood, and in the helplessness of it all.  There might be evil you just can't beat whatever your best intentions, and that's scary.  That there is something out there, not rampant but prevalent enough that you know somebody who knows somebody who has this kind of illness.  They have an illness, and they can't stop themselves from making little dolls out of the bones of little girls.  That's creepy.  That's Echoes.

Fialkov does not reinvent the wheel, but the car sure does drive nicely, and isn't that mostly the point?  We've seen killers, we've seen sickness, and this is not literature's first unreliable narrator.  (until Cohn gets straight with his medication, you really can't trust a damn thing he shows you)  We've seen all that stuff, but we rarely experience a man rolling in the bones of his father's victims with such an unflinching grace.  My prose is probably getting to purple here, but this is a very dark but coordinated dance, where Ekedal provides perfectly eerie music for Fialkov's steps.  

If you like horror at all, I don't know how you could be unsatisfied with Echoes.

Memoir # 1
Image Comics
Script:      Ben McCool
Pencils:    Nikki Cook
22 pages for $3.50

Memoir is also in the creepy mood business.  About ten years ago a sleepy little town named Lowesville experienced a traumatic....something.  Nobody in town seems to recall exactly what.  Reporter Trent MacGowan is writing a story on the incident, hoping to finally get to the bottom of things.  Things are really damn weird.

Nobody is shaped like this
Trent MacGowan is a bit dodgy, the people of Lowesville are impossibly hayseedy and bizarre, and Nikki Cooke refuses to draw anything with correct or consistent proportions.  On something like the JLA that would be exceptionally irritating.  Here on Memoir that style seems to fit right in.

There's some potential in McCool's writing.  I found MacGowan's introduction delightfully odd.  He's taping an interview on a local television show. As the attractive reporter spews the usual nonsense, MacGowan undresses her with his eyes, reads her body language, and his running inner commentary is completely self-absorbed, betraying no concern about what's happening except as it feeds his libido or pads his bank account.

Trent The Playa
MacGowan has the world so thoroughly cracked he can't even be bothered to sweat the spotlight of a television interview.  He's like a highly tuned self-interest machine, calculating his advantage at all times, and the people around him are not fellow players so much as props.  There's a little unrefined freshness in there, McCool's got some real chops buried in there somewhere, I know it.

Some of the townsfolk prod Trent into visiting "The Butcher", who is beyond bizarre.  Butcher warns him about the meat, and about the dead people.  Good to know, good to know.  Other than that, nobody is feeling particularly talkative, and some are positively hostile.  Just when it seems that the trail is going to dead end MacGowan receives a mysterious and anonymous email asking to meet and claiming that he or she remembers everything.  And that's when the weird dude who was digging in the middle of the street uncovers what may or may not be a whole stack of mutated alien bodies.  And that's your Memoir!

The Butcher
I gotta be honest with you.  I can nitpick a whole heaping stack of issues with this book.  The art is wildly quirky, and this book probably isn't served by it's blacks and whites.  I think it's paced too slowly, and the story could have been moved along twice as efficiently.  There is exposition that could be handled in smaller panels, or fewer panels.  I'm not sure we need a giant computer screen panel in which our intrepid reporter replies "NOT UNTIL YOU TELL ME WHO YOU ARE AND WHY YOU WANT TO MEET".  There's a lot of wasted space in this issue. That first splash page showing a sketchy aerial view of the town is particularly egregious, in my opinion.  What does that communicate that the other panels showing the town atmosphere didn't?  

We miss you, Bill Hicks!
There's a blatant lift of an Old Bill Hicks joke, but I can't be too upset about that, since I've built about 40% of my on-air persona on Mr. Hicks.  I don't like Trent MacGowan, (we're not supposed to, really) I don't have any empathy for the people of Lowesville, and I have no easy spot to invest in this story other than being curious to know what's happening next.

The thing of it is, I do want to know what happens next.  It's too weird!  And I want to know enough that I fully expect to pay $3.50 next month to find out.  And if that isn't an endorsement, well, I don't know what is.  Memoir is an odd duck, and just odd enough to keep you staring at it.  It's not a genius duck, or a particularly polished duck.  But sometimes I'll bring an odd duck home if it waddles with some moxie, and Memoir does.

- Ryan

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