Axel-In-Charge: Starting "Civil War II," Ending "Darth Vader" and Introducing Grant Ward
Sigh. I wish these creators wouldn’t be so confident that they’ll get to a volume 2. Not everyone can be Bryan Lee O’Malley, you know!
Yes, it’s volume 1 of Mondo Urbano, a jam session of three Brazilian artists – Mateus Santolouco, Eduardo Medeiros, and Rafael Albuquerque. This has been “adapted” (I assume that means translated) by Ivan Brandon and Cris Peter and lettered by Michael Thomas. The fine folk at Oni Press published this, and it’s only $11.99, which is not a bad price.
I like Mondo Urbano a lot, even though it bugs me that it’s only a first volume and so feels incomplete. It could stand on its own and the second volume could simply be a different story starring some of the characters, but this book ends oddly, so I don’t love it unequivocally. But the three creators do a lot right, including the way they structure the story. The book tells a general tale of a rock star who commits suicide, but there’s more going on in the book and the focus often shifts from one character to another, usually with a corresponding shift in the art. The creators check in on three guys who attend the final concert of the rock star, the two other members of his band (which, as we learn later, isn’t even “his” band), one of the rock star’s groupies, and a few other characters. Their various arcs occasionally overlap with other characters, and the creators occasionally tell the story out of chronological order, fitting in a character’s story where it belongs in the narrative but not worrying if they have to go back in time to do so. I should point out that I love storytelling like this, and they do it quite well. It takes a bit to get your footing, but then it’s marvelous to read as a scene from earlier in the book suddenly makes sense because they expand on it or show it from another person’s point of view. When it works, this kind of storytelling is very fun.
The basic story, as noted above, is that a nobody went into a music store one day, bought a guitar, and suddenly became Rock Star Van Hudson. The owner of the music store is telling this story to a customer, and he says that the guitar was cursed and that Hudson sold his soul to the devil for musical fame and fortune. There’s also another story about a drug called Fuckdrine, which weaves through the main narrative (and appears to be the focus of the next volume, based on the short preview in the back). We get different stories about Hudson – from Ruth, the groupie who actually falls in love with him and isn’t too happy that he’s a jerk; and from Combo and Navarro, the two other members of the band, who have their own reasons for loving and hating Hudson. Navarro’s story is interesting, because he founded the band and then watched as Hudson hijacked it. Of course, we get a bunch of other stories too – a young man meets Ruth on the bus out of town, ingests some drugs she gives him, and later freaks out when he starts seeing things; one of the band’s fans is taken to a strip club and falls in love with a stipper who just happens to love Star Trek (yes, I know – the reader just has to accept it); a man overdoses and dies in a Fuckdrine dealer’s house. There’s also an interesting story about one of the band’s fans, who tells his wife that he’s going to the concert by himself. A bit later in the book, we find out why, and it’s one of the nicer (if sad) parts of the comic. The biggest problem with telling these stories this way is that some characters get lost, like in one of the earliest threads. A man goes into the same music store where Hudson bought his guitar, gets tickets to the concert that night, then hears something on his headphones that causes him to freak out and beat up some people at his work. We hear about him later in the comic, but the creators never explain what happened to him. It’s an odd lack in an otherwise well structured story. It feels too important to leave out, and if they’re planning on getting back to it in volume 2, that seems too long a wait. The ending is also very strange, as we get a weird few pages about a person who appears to be Ruth’s father (or possibly grandfather), who is much more creepy than we originally think, and then a story about a homeless man who bets on an undergod horse and wins millions. Neither story fits very well with what has come before (although we have seen the homeless man before), and it ends the volume on a very weird note. I imagine these stories will come more to the fore in volume 2, but it’s still a strange way to end it.
Art-wise, the book is excellent. The biggest problem is that Medeiros’s art is much more cartoony than the other two, so the transitions from his art to the others’ is somewhat jarring. There’s nothing bad about Medeiros’s art, but Santolouco and Albuquerque have similar styles, so the transitions between them work better. The artists don’t just split up the work from chapter to chapter, although that’s the main way they do it. Occasionally they’ll switch in the middle of a chapter or show a character in the style of one artist thinking about something in the style of another artist (it’s not as confusing as it sounds). Albuquerque is the most polished artist of the three, and you can see why he’s getting high-profile work for DC these days. His figure work is excellent and his storytelling is clear and focused. Santoluoco’s work looks better here than I’ve seen it in the past (and, to be honest, I haven’t seen too much of his work, nor do I know when he actually drew this), as he does a nice job making his characters “realistic” while still retaining a bit of a cartoonish vibe. His characters are a bit more exaggerated than Albuquerque’s, but this helps make his devil look a bit more grotesque than it probably would have it Albuquerque had drawn it. Medeiros has a much more cartoony look, and it’s interesting that he not only draws the most comedic parts of the book, but also the most emotionally devastating part. It’s an odd choice, but a good one – for some reason, I think Albuquerque and Santolouco would have made the two people in the scene too pretty, and the fact that they’re regular people having a normal conversation might have been lost. The three artists do a very good job keeping things consistent, so even when we get Medeiros’s different style, we always know which character we’re looking at. In a book with differing styles and with so many characters, that’s a pretty clever trick.
If the three creators had figured out a way to make this one volume, I probably would have liked it more. The fact that volume 2 is promised in Spring 2011 doesn’t fill me with too much confidence, as I’m still waiting for several books to finish, from those coming out in single issues (where the heck is Atomika?) to those that, like this, are published in bigger chunks (remember Last Call? I do). But even if the bigger narrative is still going on, this book is worth a look. It’s impressive storytelling, both in the way the book is structured and the way the art is presented. And it’s a chance to see three good artists that you might not have seen before (I suppose many people have seen Albuquerque by now, but maybe not!). If you go in knowing that it doesn’t end wonderfully, you should be just dandy.
Tomorrow: Sociopathic children! Yay!
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