Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review - The Originals

The Originals
by Dave Gibbons
2005 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album (New)

Poor Dave Gibbons doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's the other half of the team that created Watchmen and the visual design of that book matched his partner's writing. Even with that partner's infamous obsessively detailed scripts Gibbon's sense of design helped create that unique world. That sense of design is on full display in The Originals and Gibbons demonstrates that he isn't exactly a slouch when it comes to writing either.

The story itself is an old one. Two punks grow up wanting to join what they see as the coolest street gang around. They get their opportunity and enjoy the high life of wild parties, great drugs, and action. Before long things go wrong and they have to face the consequences of their lifestyle.

To call this plot well-worn is an understatement. The Grand Canyon is "well-worn"; this is one of the more overused story lines out there. And Gibbons brings absolutely nothing new to the table with it. It's so weak that for a while I thought I'd come away from The Originals hating it. It's one cliche after another as the plot progresses. What Gibbons lacked in plotting he made for it with his actual writing.

Much of the story is accompanied by narration which is laid out more like a picture book than a comic. This could have been an annoying crutch however I found the voice of the book was engaging. These are foul, self-destructive people and Gibbons still presents their lifestyle as an attractive one. I hated the characters and at the same time I was interested in what was going to happen to them. He gives them moments of glory in revelry before bringing it down with ugly violence behind it.

The visual style of the book is terrific on every level. Besides Gibbons setting the panels so that the narration accompanies the pictures rather than acting as part of them. He creates a world that's a mix of nostalgia for the past and a run down dystopia. The gang fashions are essentially mods and greasers and the book is printed in a silvery tone. As things in the story progress the decay of the environment progresses with it.

The Originals has is a story that's been told with every possible setting and style but Gibbons did it reasonably well. I can't call it brilliant because even when he's doing good work in the pages it's all exactly what you'd expect. Even the gut punching conclusion is something that's been done dozens of times before. Still it isn't bad. It isn't going to stick with me but I don't feel bad about reading it. I'd hesitantly recommend it to those who would like a crime story with an SF spin; just don't expect anything new from it.