*But first.

My favorite search engine hit of the day:

"list comic artists who are satanists ashley wood"

Aw c’mon man, that’s kind of stacking the deck, isn’t it?

*And now.


This is the new book from the “Teenagers From Mars” team of Rick Spears and Rob G. It’s a 96 page original graphic novel from AiT/Planet Lar, retailing for $12.95. It was first announced back in 2002 with an anticipated 2003 release date. It’ll be out soon now, though I don't know exactly when; it was last placed at a March 16th release date, though Khepri says it's not out yet and I certainly don't recall seeing it around or reading any reviews. Soon, I'm sure. UPDATE 4/25 9:19 AM: Ok, I have been informed by those in the know that the book will be in stores this Wednesday, so that settles that.

Glancing at the back cover of this book, you’re instantly faced with a grimacing fellow, flask in hand, his head all dark with shadow, the bandages covering his face gleaming a bright pure white. You can be forgiven for thinking that this book will be wearing a certain comics influence directly on its sleeve, but I see it more as clever marketing. After all, the “Sin City” movie still looms in the minds of many Direct Market denizens; why not utilize a certain familiar image to draw folks into a separate noir-flavored comics release? Upon purchase, the writing may well leave them chilly; it’s simultaneously more grounded than Frank Miller’s work (no Batman-style flapping cape-coats or ninja hookers), yet the plotting is no less (arguably even more) haphazard. But Rob G (Goodridge that is, as the copyright notice discloses) is doing good things here. His continued development is the engine behind the book’s successful sequences; it’s not quite enough to keep the project soaring from first page to last, but it empowers some of writer Spears’ material to a certain level of grimy verse and leaves the rest of it with at least a decent sheen.

Look at the preview images linked from this page. In particular, look at the background figures on the bottom panel of the first page. Indistinct yet somehow unmistakable blobs and gashes of ink and shape, all people. A vehicle defined only by a basic frame, a rearview mirror, hubcaps. The narrator says he’s apt to fade into the background, but he’s all in red, unmistakable from the crowd to us (hell, we’re listening to him speak, after all). Look at the next page, and see how the colors of the sky shift. Red. White. Black. The only colors in the book. But Rob G doesn’t use his single hue in the way Frank Miller did, as dots and fills of standout in his ultra high-contrast world. Rob G mixes. See the backgrounds on pages 3 and 8 smearing from one color to another. See the battle scene at the top of page one washed in red, with white now used entirely as a light source. Outside of this preview, there’s a scene in a gentlemen’s club ‘lit’ in much the same way, as if floodlights are beating down on everyone’s heads, draining the blood from their faces. Page five in this preview is my favorite page in the book, especially the center panel of the bleeding night sky and the spattered ink trees and dots of red light against onyx towers. It’s attractive on a first read-through, but especially impressive upon looking closely and taking it apart.

But such review can’t quite express the good feeling I got from the book’s first sixteen or so pages, and I’ll surely need to express it to convey my ultimate disappointment with the plot, so let me explain. The story follows a fellow by the name of John Dough, whose parents plainly had an affinity for wordplay. It’s an ironic name these days, though, as Mr. Dough makes most of his money from selling his blood and standing around in police line-ups as ‘filler’, basically an incorrect choice of suspect for victims to finger. Dough has a talent for melting into crowds, for going unnoticed, and for sort of looking like someone you’ve seen, maybe someone bad. This has created something of an existential crisis for Mr. Dough, though he’s also prone to moping around the city a lot declaring it a ‘vampire’, though he spends most of his money of drugs and fast food and presumably his bills (in this way he reminds me of an awful lot of kids I grew up with outside of the city, but I suppose that such self-induced malaise is universal). The city, however, is an attractive place to be lost in here. For these opening scenes, Dough goes about his day, wandering around. We see the same line-up sequence twice (“Turn to the left.”) and lots of views of urban fauna. Some of the characters from later in the book are standing around. It’s good atmosphere, and the repetition can get lulling and hypnotic. I liked it a lot.

But the plot, once introduced, decomposes swiftly as the book moves forward: Dough meets up with a femme-fatale hooker who’s been roughed up by her pimp, and the two are quickly skipping out on restaurant checks and running around the city and kissing, and the none-too-bright Dough becomes filled with the need to ‘protect’ his new lover. This leads into a double murder, which I believe is intended to spiral out into a web of deceit and double-crosses where Nobody Can Be Trusted. Unfortunately, the book is under a hundred pages and there’s only three characters of substance, which simplifies matters drastically. And it really doesn’t help that the third character is Dough’s budding crime writer pal who knows all the plots of these sorts of stories and blubbers lines like “It’s really quite a classic plot.” and “OK… so we just need to take her story and do a little re-write, you know. Flip the script.” I realize that these sorts of mildly self-aware characters aren’t any new innovation in genre fiction of most stripes, but they never fail to irritate me when given a key role in the goings-on. To give credit where it’s due, Spears does drop cute little hints about what’s ‘really’ going on early in the book, probably only discernible on a second reading, but such measures can’t overcome the onrushing silliness of the advancing scheme.

Ultimately, the plot lurches into an absurdly overcomplicated revenge scheme requiring for its completion the following: self-mutilation, disguises, an all-out police raid, and the story’s antagonist acting in a manner unlike any human being on the face of the planet. There’s also a few pages of wrap-up, including a howler of a final twist, which only serves to throw the ridiculousness of Spears' plot into sharper relief. I’d like to say that the plot falls apart when you stop to think about it, but that’s giving it a bit too much credit. The plot falls apart quite nicely on its own, so self-evidently that it doesn’t even work on a turn-off-your-brain level; it greatly detracted from my enjoyment of Rob G’s art, which seems to flag near the end, with cars merely sketched in rather than drafted in inky glory as before. But even if the visuals kept up their highest level of quality they’d be finally overcome by the distraction of the story’s resolution. It seems kind of silly to just write a spoiler-packed review for a book that’s not out yet, but since the book’s wrap-up really does require special attention, I’ll just block off a special spoiler section for you to refer to at your leisure. Glaze your eyes and scroll down one paragraph for the non-spoiler remainder of the review.


Honestly, folks. You’re presumably the king shit of a big pimping escort business. You know that the cops are raiding the place, they’re all over. So you go back to your private quarters, open a secret safe, and stare at your Huge Pile of Money. Why? Well, I guess you’re planning to run for it. Unless you just felt like counting it or making sure it’s still there, even though the cops obviously haven’t found you yet. But since you’re leaving out in plain sight after affirming that it’s still there, I assume you’re gonna run. So you go into the kitchen and see a bloody mess. Gore everywhere. And the cops are all over the building. What do you do? Get changed and head out the window? Try to look nondescript as you waltz out the way you came in? At the absolute least run screaming to the police to try and get them to think about the scheme for a few minutes and perhaps note the trail of blood leading to the window? Well, if you’re a character in this story, apparently you pull out a sponge and a can of soap and try to clean the entire countertop while leaving the money sitting around in plain sight until the cops burst in and spot you with grue smeared all over your clothes and haul you away. Since that’s what you need to do to end the plot. While I’m at it, where did Dough get his arm treated? Does he have health insurance? He had to have gone to his pal again since he has “nowhere else to go.” But his pal doesn’t seem to have much money either. How did he pay for the treatment? I assume Dough eventually gets his hook and tropical relocation from the money from pal’s book, but doesn’t pal have to actually write the book before that? And let it gain steam and sell before he gets his royalties? What happened in all those months then? And since Dough has to know his pal's writing a book, wouldn’t he want to, you know, read it? And learn how his pal was playing him the whole time? Maybe he doesn’t care? I don’t know. None of this is in the story. After a ton of reader rationalizations (Ooh! Maybe pal is a slumming trust-fund artist and he actually has tons of money!), perhaps it’ll make more sense.


In the end, I was a bit puzzled as to why “Filler” didn’t do a bit more with its premise, of a nondescript man made the center of attention; save for the fact that he fits nicely into disguises (because nobody recognizes him anyway), there’s little here beyond a typical ‘wronged man on the run’ tale. Well, at least little plot-wise. The book does have its squalid rhapsody of an opening, and it has its three excellent colors, and its city to live in, which is the reason to look at this book, to see its sights and wander around for a while with Mr. Dough. The final page, aside from offering that final twist, notes that the plot we’ve just witnessed has become a nationwide best-selling smash, at least in the book's world. The scene is quite nude in its hope. But I’m in the line to see more Rob G, to see where he goes from here.