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Kabuki: The Alchemy #1

Posted: Friday, July 23, 2004
By: Shaun Manning



Story/Art: David Mack
Publisher: Marvel/Icon

David Mack is a very good writer and a phenomenal artist, but in past volumes of Kabuki these skills would often interfere with rather than complement each other. Treating the text as a component of the visual artwork would create stunning effects but tended to make the story impenetrable. Here, in the first issue of Alchemy, Mack manages to employ his old tricks while avoiding headache-inducing text patterns. Creative use of the word-as-visual is still pleasant, but is more at harmony with the collages of scrap paper and painted art.

ďAll you need to know is that there is a scar on my face, Iím starting a new life, and I have a friend who is helping me.Ē This quote, from the inside front cover and repeated in the story, sums up the six volumes of Kabuki published by Image. Helpful little narrator, isnít she? Truthfully, though, this information is enough, as Alchemy begins a new journey for the Kabuki, and every character in fiction has a past that might never fully come to light.

The first issue finds our heroine exploring the mysteries of life through the grammar of shapes, and doing better than most could hope for. She explains that she has died, and come back, and is in transition. A note folded into a dragonfly is a map to a new identity, if she can decipher its pattern. Esoteric stuff, but not so difficult to follow in the midst. The story reads (and the art looks) like stream of consciousness, but itís all very directed, setting up the larger picture and providing context for what is to come.

Looking at the art, oneís first thought is to frame it. Most pages stand on their own as tableaux, and would provide a satisfying conversation piece hanging on a wall. A lot is going on in each panel (when ďpanelĒ is the appropriate word), and as with previous iterations of Kabuki itís a good idea to spend a good amount of time with the book to take it all in.

Alchemy is not an easy read; it requires the reader to make an active effort to see whatís going on. That said, itís very straightforward to those willing to put forth the effort. David Mack is not Grant Morrison, making an effort to line every word and image with skull-shattering subtext and fever-dream paranoia. There are layers of allegory to Kabuki, but they are optional. Most importantly, Kabuki is rewarding. Itís a beautiful book, with a touching story based in a fascinating culture. With a brand new beginning in The Alchemy, this is a perfect opportunity for new readers to experience a truly unique comic.



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