Valiant Words: Reviews of 'Rai' #1 and 'Shadowman: End Times' #1A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin , Chris Wunderlich
Shadowman: End Times #1
Elkin: Taking a look at the cover of Shadowman: End Times #1, all I can think of is Shadowman: High Times #1, amirite?
That's about all the levity you’re going to get out of me for the rest of this review, Wunderlich.
I was all aboard Milligan's Shadowman way back when – I remember being so agog about issue #13 way back in December.
But something happened in the interim. I know I've been changing, but dammit Milligan, you've been changing too. What started off with such promise seems to have embarrassingly soiled itself somewhere along the way, and now everyone is uncomfortable sitting next to it unsure whether to flee in disgust or extend a hand of assistance.
What was once taint-tightening horror has become elbow moisturizing dull. What had bubbled with a certain level of excitement now has gone flat like a Pabst left open two weeks in the sun. What crackled with the fire of artistic intent has been suppression foamed to the point of OMG that cliché is still cliché.
And I can't tell you how disappointed this has made me. It's like those menus that feature pictures of all the entrees and the photo of the Monte Cristo is so alluring and beautiful that you salivate buckets the longer you stare. Then they bring you the actual sandwich and it looks like something you find at the bottom of your former mother-in-law's sock drawer while helping her move to the dementia ward at the local rest home.
People, these things happen!
Now Milligan has done it to comics. Dialogue: Predictable. Plot: Well-worn. Characters: Wooden. My Interest: Zero.
Then there is the art. Valentine De Landro isn't Roberto de la Torre. Were it not for the work of colorist David Baron and letterer Dave Lanphear, I would have probably only given this book a single star.
Two more issues to this series? End Times is right.
Wunderlich: Believe it or not, this is the best issue of Peter Milligan’s Shadowman I’ve ever read. And yes, I’m still giving it a single star. You cleverly reminded me about those great colours and letters
At the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam, Milligan has disappointed on all fronts. With End Times we’re assured that every bit of story that had potential (the child-kidnapping loa, for example) is, or will be wasted. I was excited to learn about past iterations of Shadowman, the rogue loas and the rich lore that was built by the previous series. Despite Milligan’s many misfires, I thought eventually he might deliver on at least one of those story elements. The good news? He almost piques my interest here. We get a taste of the previous Shadowman and it’s almost entertaining. Unfortunately this book is so poorly composed—I’ve lost all hope.
Yes, the evil child-kidnapping loa was a cool concept. Milligan, however, completely underwhelms with his big showdown and any potential that character and/or story thread had is lost. Any potential this mini had is lost. Any chance to appreciate Valentine De Landro’s art, reading another issue of Shadowman or buying another Peter Milligan book anytime soon—lost.
“P.S. I just read Milligan’s All-New Doop and it was pretty great. There’s hope for him yet… but not Shadowman.”
Wunderlich: If I was going to sum up Rai nice and quickly, I’d call it a Japan-centered Blade Runner with major Akira and Elephantmen vibes. It’s a cool book with huge potential that’s written well, with simple yet effective dialogue and a plot that’s interesting from panel 1.
Your enjoyment of this book, however, will depend on two factors. First, you must enjoy the art of Clayton Crain. Personally, I’m torn. Some panels draw attention to his overly digital painted style with muddy faces, unnecessarily blurred backgrounds and sporadically rushed looking character work. Other panels are gorgeous, with deep details and rich textures, perfectly accentuating the mood of the page. It’s a hit and miss effort that leaves me wondering what future issues will look like. If rushed, this book’s look could go downhill quickly.
The second factor is a very important story element. I can usually suspend my disbelief for the sake of plot, but here we’re asked to believe that this floating, futuristic Japan has been murder-free for a thousand years. The very lifelike androids that act as companions (they’re called PTs here) get bullied, killed and whatnot but humans do not murder each other. We’re showed that civilians carry guns, get into fights and there’s a population of terrorists opposing the faceless ruler “Father”, but we’re supposed to believe (and I’m repeating this to stress how unbelievable it sounds) that no murder has occurred in a thousand years. I just couldn’t buy it.
Those two issues aside, the world Kindt and Crain build is an impressive one. It’s a familiar, rainy, futuristic cityscape that teems with great sci-fi designs—nothing all that new, but striking nonetheless. Rai is the city’s fabled protector, working under Father for the people. He’s rarely seen, so when he makes an appearance you know something big has happened. Enriching the book is the story of Spylocke, a fictional James Bond by way of Judge Dredd type character that may or may not be real. He’s a neat addition that reminds us Kindt has more than just a few good ideas in store.
If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on the “plus” edition of this book, you’ll be treated to an insert that adds wonders to the experience. Included is a large map of future, floating Japan drawn by Kindt that reminds me of Brandon Graham’s Prophet. It’s huge and awesome and makes you crave more of Kindt’s unique art style. There’s a small, rather inconsequential Spylocke story by Sean Ryan and Vincent Cinfuentes that doesn’t do much, followed by a fake Spylocke movie review by Ryan (with designs by Rian Hughes) that looks neat but is easy to skip. It’s the last bit that steals the show, though. Kindt writes a movie/commercial depicting Earth, far below floating Japan. It’s a propaganda piece with insanely awesome art by Raul Allen and a (literally) lemon-headed protagonist that I hope we see more of.
I see future issues of Rai going in any of three ways. It could stick to basic comic standards and give us the expected adventures of Rai, take-off in bizarre yet exciting directions as seen in the plus edition or straddle the line and incorporate a bit of each.
Honestly, I’d like to see Kindt go nuts, draw a more pages himself and capitalize on potential and creative energy of the insert. What say you, Elkin?
Elkin: I say that I, too, would like to see Matt Kindt throw every bit of caution to the wind and take this idea places we've never seen before. Let's explore “the seams, the cracks” of this utopian Japan. Let's see the underbelly that manifests the type of control necessary to create the type of society in which there hasn't been a murder in a thousand years.
Wouldn't it be fantastic if something unpredictable occurred in what seems to be a foot-dragging rehash of ideas mined by spelunkers who cared not for the traces they left? Kindt certainly has the talent to find new spaces to explore in the caves of our consciousness, so I have faith and will stick-to for a few more. But things better get weird quickly – I'm a restless man (especially after my run-in with Milligan's Shadowman).
The last time I read a Rai book, though, things got a little weird, but maybe not in the way I'm talking about here (http://www.comicsbulletin.com/columns/134/rai-and-the-future-force-15/).
I also echo your sentiments about Clayton Crain's art --- it's detailed and interesting, but that may be its downfall as well. I don't think I've ever complained about an artist doing too much with a panel before, but there were times when Crain seems to be trying too hard to be interesting with his art. Like you, Wunderlich, I could see this getting very muddied if schedules start to tighten.
Right now, I'm not so keyed into what's going on here, but on the strength of my faith in Matt Kindt alone, I'll tie off and follow the series for at least one more issue. If the walls narrow and the stench of guano rises, though, I'm turning back.
Especially if there ends up being a Rai-cycle.