Where did it all go so wrong?
Recently I bought two books that I was sure had promise. One was a time travel story that promised alternate histories and at Quantum Leap approach to making things right. The other was a detective story with a potentially supernatural twist. Both of those set-ups are like candy to me. Unfortunately, both of these comics left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
|So much potential…squandered|
Ripped (Arcana Studios, $14.95) tells the story of Adam Fitzpatrick, a lazy slacker in his early 20’s who has not figured out how to be successful in any aspect of his life. While having lunch with his friends in the mall, Adam is “ripped” from the present by a mysterious man named Chen who seems very familiar with Adam’s life. Together they travel back in time to stop a mysterious woman who is disrupting the time stream.
While it is an excellent premise, the execution is terrible on every level. Jay Busbee (writer/co-creator) and Jason Flowers (artist/co-creator), who don’t even rate getting their names on the cover (front or back), create a train wreck that I kept hoping would improve. Unfortunately it just got worse with every page.
Time travel stories are difficult. They require strong attention to detail and an internal logic that is coherent and reasonable to the reader. However, throughout Ripped, the time stream is constantly being altered, yet there are no downstream effects. It makes it impossible for the reader to feel like there are any real consequences in the book. Why bother trying to head off the antagonist when, no matter what she does, the future looks the same? What could have been a fun romp through an ever-shifting time stream, or an intense thriller across alternate realities, is instead a bore of a book that never engages or satisfies.
If possible, the art is even worse than the writing. From panel to panel, there is no consistency in faces or bodies. When we see Helen of Troy for the first time, she is presented as a striking beauty. However, on the next two pages, her facial features shift in every panel. Were it not for the color scheme and the fact that she is the only female in the scene, there would be no way that those faces could be believed as belonging to the same woman. In addition, her body goes from shapely to anorexic to frumpy in the same two pages.
It is not just the female form that vexes Flowers. All the characters seem stiff and flat. There is no sense of movement in any of his figures. There is no body language or expression in the bodies. And, given that the facial features are not rendered well, it is often times difficult to tell if the characters are as bored as I was. If I had to guess, I would say they were.
Shuddertown (Image Shadowline, $19.99) is, according to the back cover, “One of the year’s most critically acclaimed and talked-about crime stories…” With praise like that, I had to give it a shot. This year has seen some notable crime stories (Stumptown, and Criminal come to mind), so if this was in their league, I should have be pleased. Unfortunately this was not even close.
Writer Nick Spencer and artist Adam Geen (who do manage to get their names on the cover) put together a book that is so confusing and jarring that Columbo himself would have difficulties making heads or tails of it. From clunky writing, disjointed storytelling, and ridiculously rendered photoshop “art”, nothing about Shuddertown works.
Shuddertown centers around “troubled homicide detective Isaac Hernandez,” a pill-popping detective who seems to straddle the line between right and wrong. He is working on a string of murders who appear to have been perpetrated by people who are already dead themselves. This could have been a great set-up and could have worked brilliantly if Spencer and Geen were able to craft a suitable mystery to go along with it. Unfortunately, there was more smoke and mirrors than real mystery.
Spencer’s script jumps the reader from place to place in both time and space, without any rhyme or reason. Strange flashbacks are inserted in random locations without any advancing the story. Instead, they jar the reader and leave one scratching their head. This makes an already confusing story even more difficult to follow.
When I say “confusing” I don’t mean it in the complicated or complex way that can make for an interesting mystery. I mean it in the way that comes from mindless meandering around without any real revelations or explanations. By the end of the story, the reader is left without any more of a clue as to who is committing the string of murders than in the beginning. There is some big “reveal” at the end of the book, but it is so oblique no one I showed it to was able to make heads or tails of it. While mysteries are supposed to be challenging for the reader, in the end they are supposed to make sense. At no time did anything in Shuddertown make sense.
Not even the characters made any sense. From detective Hernandez to his best “friend” Sam, characters act in such a disjointed manner, that it is impossible to tell what anyone is doing or why. I’m sure that is intentional on Spencer’s part, trying to keep the reader from figuring out anyone’s true motivations. Unfortunately, motivations are never revealed, so the characters are never any deeper or more interesting than when they are introduced.
|Is this an episode of The Sopranos?|
Adding to the confusion and incoherent storytelling is the over-rendered photoshopped art. While, at first blush it may sound good to take “real” people and make them the stars of a book, the reality of the situation is that rendering these faces as comic book characters takes all control away from the artist. Instead of being able to craft characters to fit the scene, or create facial expressions that match the mood, the artist is a slave to the photos he is rendering. Suddertown is a collection of stock images (a strange mashup of James Gandolfini and Brian Michael Bendis plays the role of Sam throughout the book) that are superimposed on backgrounds that look like they were stolen from Alex Maleev or David Mack’s drafting tables.
In a book where the storytelling is so disjointed and confusing, the art has to pull through. Unfortunately, the art only muddies the waters more. In one scene, Hernandez is involved in a minor car wreck. The impact is enough that it dazes him. However, his car, which is damaged in one panel, is not damaged at all for the rest of the book. Is that intentional? Or were there just not any pictures on google images of damaged front quarter panels? In another scene, someone is held under water. When he is held under water, it appears that he has a handlebar moustache. However, later on, it turns out that it was Sam who was being held under water. No explanation given as to why he was the one being held under water. Nor any indication where the handlebar moustache came from (or where it went, for that matter).
|Geen’s take on page 1|
|The original pitch page 1|
This could have been a better story had the artist cared enough to create his own characters. As if to prove this point, the original story pitch is included in the back of the book. This pitch is illustrated by a different artist and is far more coherent and interesting than the final product. I have to question why this artist was dropped in favor of Geen.
Never have I seen so much go so wrong so quickly. Both Ripped and Shuddertown fail to deliver compelling or coherent stories. The art in both drags the story even lower. Do yourself a favor and avoid these at all costs.