Thursday Jul 23 2009
by Michael

It seems that I am not the only person who saw the possible connections between the mystery reading audience and the graphic novel. 

With the first two books ready to be released in August, DC (Detective Comics) has announced their newest imprint 'Vertigo Crime'.  What is even more impressive is that joining young well-regarded comic book writer Brian Azzarello's Filthy Rich is Ian Rankin's first venture into the field, Dark Entries.

Dark Entries

Before we get to excited about such things, I must let everyone know it is NOT A REBUS.  Instead,  Rankin is writing a different British detective long established in the comic community, occult detective John Constantine.  (You may know him from an american film adaptation starring Keanu Reeves but rest assured that Reeves' machine-gun toting, tattooed version of the character is only similar in his smoking habit.)  Constantine finds himself employed by and then placed in a reality program called 'Haunted Mansion', hired by the producer because, to his and everyone's surprise the mansion seems to actually be haunted.

What goes on from there is an atypically transparent plot for Rankin, one which becomes sadly predictable after the one big plot twist midway through the book (Furthermore, one which is telegraphed to the reader, at least of the advanced copy, by a change in page colour from white to black).  More than that however, the novel does not use Constantine to his full potential either.  It is unclear whether this is simply a question of Rankin having trouble translating his obvious writing talent to a new format, or an attempt to change styles an grow out of the shadow of his own character.

All of the writing problems could be overlooked if not for what was my major pet peeve with the book, the art.  Italian illustrator Werther Dell'edera uses a distinctly European style which doesn't appeal to me personally,  nor does it really suit the character.  Not enough is left to Rankin to illustrate with his use of language and some of the panels, particularly in the second 'black half' of the book, which seems to be at once both overly detailed and under drawn.

Rankin-ophiles may, for all the flaws this has, still want to pick up what could be a new beginning for the author, but a format that leaves little to the imagination and leaves a little too much on the page is certainly not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach.

Filthy Rich

It is more than a little ironic that the other maiden release of 'Vertigo Crime' is penned by the man who currently writes the serial John Constantine stars in 'HellBlazer'.  Instead of using an existing character, Azzarello has written a well paced and twisting noir about Richard 'Junk' Junkin, football player turned used-car salesman turned bodyguard, charged with the task of keeping his bosses' daughter out of trouble, or failing that, out of the papers in late fifties' New York. 

Perhaps it is Azzarello's experience in the genre, or the slightly more traditional, (though clearly adult) art of Spaniard Victor Santos, or the wonderfully suitable ending, which made this a much more pleasing read for me.  Whatever it was, serious noir fans could find themselves a new favourite with Azzarello, even if it comes in a whole new format.

Overall, it will be interesting to see what 'Vertigo Crime' comes up with next to follow these releases.  There is certainly no lack of possibilities.  However, if the imprint requires the name recognition of mystery stars inexperienced in the genre like Rankin over established comic writers like Azzarello to be successful, it may find that what it makes up in sales to mystery fans, it loses in comic fans. 

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