Friday, July 2, 2010

Review - Sin City: The Hard Goodbye

Sin City: The Hard Goodbye
by Frank Miller
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album: Modern Reprint
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Penciller/Inker: Black and White Publication
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist

Frank Miller has become something of a joke in comic circles lately and not without reason. It's become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a Frank Miller comic and a parody of a Frank Miller comic. Sin City is often considered to be part of that descent into self-parody. It's Miller's attempt to make a story so hard boiled you could use it crack skulls. He wasn't always successful at it but with the first storyline, The Hard Goodbye, he created something interesting to read.

Marv's a tough guy with a scarred face and on medication to keep his hallucinations in check. One night he meets a woman named Goldie, they have sex, and he falls asleep right afterward. When Marv wakes up she has been murdered in bed next to him and the police are on their way. Goldie was kind to him so Marv feels a need to avenge her and to do it he'll cut a bloody path through the underworld, the police, and the halls of power.

The Hard Goodbye was initially printed in short chapters in the anthology comic Dark Horse Presents and that had a major impact on the pacing. Miller has to get through the plot point for the chapter and end on a cliffhanger so things move at a breakneck pace. It's an hyperactive story but Miller never loses track of the focus; there are no side plots that derail the story for a few chapters. It makes the book exciting and tense.

Marv as a character is simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. He comes from the tradition of hard boiled protagonists who are tough as nails, charge through obstacles, and loyal to a fault. He's also capable of gruesome violence and relishes in it. He takes far too much enjoyment in hurting people. Marv is as bad or worse than the people he's killing and he only keeps the reader's sympathy by being the focus of the story.

Miller's artwork for Sin City is distinctive. It's a black and white book and instead of simply being black lines providing outlines of white space he applies that black ink with a roller. White space tends to provide shape to the heavy shadows without actually being enclosed in order to make an outline. It's a book done almost entirely in silhouette or negative images and it looks terrific due to that.

I'm not fond of all of Sin City but it's hard to find a reason to not recommend The Hard Goodbye. If you hate depictions of extreme violence then this is not a book for you (though the most gruesome of actions generally happen off panel). This is a brutal, violent book and while I think Miller handled those themes well (I'd never want to be anywhere near Marv) it's also a situation where it could easily repel some readers. On the other hand if you like that kind of pulp detective, action story then The Hard Goodbye is a great one.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review - A Small Killing

A Small Killing
by Alan Moore; Art by Oscar Zarate
1994 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album: New

I have been thinking about how my reaction to the Eisner winners has been generally positive and why that is. When it came to Hugos, Nebulas, and the World Fantasy Award my reactions to the winners was a lot more varied. Am I letting flaws pass in Eisner winners more than the others? Perhaps a bit thanks to some forgiveness of genre conventions, though I do try to point out when that's the case. Could it be that the panel that decides the Eisner winners is less politicized than the groups that select the other awards? I doubt that's a major factor though there seems to be less of a tendency to select a winner based on their career instead of the nominated work when it comes to the Eisners.

So I was worried that I might be too kind hearted to a medium that I have some affinity for when I read A Small Killing and it helped alleviated those fears. I disliked it. I didn't hate it; it isn't something that worked me up into a frothing rage. I just through that the story wasn't told well, the characters weren't interesting, and the art was flat.

There is a yuppie who has risen to the top of the advertising industry. As he prepares to leave to handle the biggest contract his firm has ever had this yuppie is being stalked by a child in schoolboy's uniform. The child who only turns up when no one else is around (and winds up being exactly who you'd think it would be from this brief descriptions) is trying to kill the yuppie. As the yuppie goes home he thinks back through his life and the changes it went through.

This story is as subtle as an elephant in a wading pool. The story of a man who had once been a good person but was corrupted by the world is common enough but this exact situation wasn't fresh or new when A Small Killing was published. He's an advertising man which has been used a storytelling shortcut over and over to tie someone to consumerist society. The "good" people in the story are the ones who make handcrafted art; again lazy shorthand that's been done many times in these stories. You know that the yuppie was once a good person because when he was in college he wrote a play about Che Guevara. That one isn't a common shorthand mainly because being that clumsy with your characterization could never gain much traction.

Moore tries to tell the story of the small compromises that people make through their lives but he fails to actually show this except by sloppy implication. "Oh, he used to make anti-apartheid posters," the reader is supposed to say. "He must have been a better person then before falling to that ugly thing." Of course this precludes the possibility that he continued making anti-apartheid posters. The main character getting a job at an advertising agency doesn't equal "selling out" unless you hold intractable views on that. Without showing clear transitions between periods of his life it falls apart.

Zarate's artwork was a mixed bag for me. A Small Killing is a painted book and I liked how he used some garish colors to make certain scenes stand out. But his use of perspective made every scene seem flat as a pancake. I'm sure it was an intentional choice but that doesn't make it pleasant to look at.

The only thing that I took away from A Small Killing is Alan Moore hates yuppies. Hating yuppies as a concept was stale in 1993 and hasn't aged well. This is a book that I think can only really be enjoyed if you'd read it nodding your head to Moore beat and I'm just not part of the choir he's preaching to.

Monday, June 28, 2010

James Jean's Eisner Winning Covers in 2004

Not to get ahead of myself but since 2004 only one person has won the Eisner for best cover artist: James Jean. His painted covers for Fables have been impressive and I've enjoyed how well they integrate with the story in the issue.