Friday, May 13, 2011

Chronic Review: Nether World # 1!

Nether World # 1
Image Comics
Script:    Bryan Edward Hill/Rob Levin
Art:        Tony Shasteen

Image is a bit unstoppable right now.  Lots of energy over there.  They're a bit more hit-and-miss than Vertigo if you look at the track record.  But if you were to ask me right now, as I type this:

"Who's got the most juice in comics?"

The answer is Image.  Enter Nether World, the latest in what seems to be an endless supply of fresh ideas.  The elevator pitch goes like this - Ray Parker is a classic noir dick hired by two different clients to find the same troubled dame in a city of lost souls.

Listen, the book has flaws.  The material has been done before, as the script itself alludes to midway through.  We've seen the Tough Guy With A Checkered Past, oh, sixty bajillion times at this point.  No noir tale is complete without a femme fatale bringing the detective (he's actually more of a skip tracer, but you say tomato...) a poisoned case, and so we've got that, too.  There's a lot of rough talk, and foul play, and nothing is as it seems, which is exactly how these things seem to go about business.  Whatever.

Here's the thing, and as things go, it's pretty important.  Nether World has more style in its vest pocket than most titles have in their whole wardrobe, and that's a scientific fact.  Style is not everything, but in a comics landscape that feels awfully rote, pre-ordained, and pointless - Nether World pops on every page, and that counts for a lot.

Once upon a time I used to watch Oksana Baiul skate, any chance I got.*  This was before she started drinking vodka like Warren Sapp would drink gatorade, back when she was crafting better twizzles instead of practicing one car accidents.  I don't know a damn thing about skating, but I don't think Oksana Baiul was a technical prodigy.  I do know that she had grace heads above any other girl on the ice, and even an idiot like myself could spot it from leagues away.  Nether World is sort of the Oksana Baiul of comics, except it's jamming you with punchy dialogue instead of mesmerizing you with Napolean Dynamite arm flutters.

So.  The art.  I'm still not qualified to judge these things.  From my caveman perspective, it's hit and miss.  Some of the action looks really dynamic to me, but sometimes the figures look awkwardly and obviously posed.  I don't think that Alexis looks like the same character from panel to panel, but she'll say stuff about leaving Parker the bottle, and who says stuff like that anymore?  And then I don't care that she doesn't really look like that in the next panel, because she still looks pretty hot, and I just want her to keep saying stuff.  And then she does.

The script is credited to Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin.  Not sure how the duties are distributed.  Maybe they both whip up a plot and one scripts?  Whoever is doing the dialogue is my hero.  The plot isn't bad, mind you.  I've every confidence that it's going to be fine, but it's early to tell if the plot is going to pay off yet or not.  Ray Parker (who you gonna call?) is in over his head on this case with the mysterious girl, it's all going end in tears, as these things inevitably do.

There's a twist at the end of the issue that takes the mystery of the thing and kicks it up a notch or three, and it legitimately took me by surprise.  But even that particular turn has been made many times before, and recently.  And that twist, good as it is, is not the primary draw for me.  It's not the beast per se, the magic is watching the way the beast moves. Every time somebody opens their mouth in this book, something exceptionally cool I wish I had thought of comes out.

The key to this book isn't reinventing the wheel, but putting an indelible shine on some really stylish rims.  And as long as Hill and Levin are at the wheel, I think I'm along for the ride.

- Ryan

*Yes, I watch women's figure skating.  The usual ridiculous criticism I endure over this fact is that it makes me a Giant Fag.  My response to this critique is two fold.  Firstly, I should be so lucky as to someday be cool enough to be a Giant Fag.  Secondly, I point out the irony of the attack, since it generally comes from supposedly heterosexual males who think my time would be better spent watching men in tight pants tackle and roll around the ground with other men in tight pants, rather than watch nubile young women in very short skirts bend into impossible positions in the most provocative manner possible.  But that's America, folks, land of irony.

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