Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
It’s more from Archaia!
The fine people at Archaia send me almost everything they publish, and that’s cool because I like a lot of what they publish. I don’t review absolutely everything – some of it just isn’t my thing – but I review almost everything, good or bad. That’s just how I roll! Such is the case with Starkweather: Immortal, which I had no interest in reading back when it was being offered and now that I’ve read the nice hardcover trade, I still don’t have much interest. I’ll get to that in a second. First, boilerplate: It’s written by David A. Rodriguez, drawn by Patrick McEvoy, and lettered by Charles Pritchett. There’s also a prose story in the back written by Piers Anthony, which is an odd duck (I won’t mention it again; apparently Anthony and Rodriguez collaborated on it and then Rodriguez used it in the comic, so it’s almost the same as part of the actual comic). It costs $24.95 for the hardcover, and I don’t know if a softcover version exists.
Starkweather: Immortal tells the story of Alexander Starkweather, a slacker 20-year-old (with, frankly, a terrible haircut and dumb-looking soul patch) who, on his birthday, wakes up by destroying appliances spontaneously. He gets a cool leather jacket from his grandmother and a plain package from the hot girl who lives next door, and then he finds out his girlfriend at the diner where he works is giving blow jobs to the manager. This sets him off a bit, and he magically destroys the restaurant. What the heck is a-going on ’round here?
Well, it turns out that Alex is a witch. In the prologue, we saw him as a toddler, and his mother is trying to protect him from “Templars” who work for the Inquisition. Something happens in Alexander’s brain and he snaps, killing everyone (including his mother). As it turns out, other witches (including his father) did something to his brain to keep his power from working until he was old enough to handle it, but various stresses are breaking those blocks down, and he’s becoming powerful ahead of schedule. We discover that there are 12 witches’ houses (for a good reason), all trying to fight against the Catholic Church and the Inquisition, and they believe Alex is some kind of savior. He’s trained by the soldier who stabbed Jesus while he was hanging on the cross, who is cursed with immortality. Meanwhile, the rulers of the houses plot over what to do with Alex. Alex himself is struggling against the part of him that his father locked away, the wild part of him that uses magic effortlessly but can’t control himself. Of course, that part of him does get out, and this becomes a power struggle within Alex that mirrors the power struggle inside the witches’ houses and their fight against the Inquisitors.
Rodriguez doesn’t do a lot with the characters, but he does a few interesting things. Alex himself is well done, because he’s a wildly immature punk at the beginning and pretty much remains one throughout, but we understand why he’s acting the way he does and how his father screwed him up so badly. Instead of changing his personality completely (he’s less of a punk at the end, to be sure, but he’s still obnoxious), Rodriguez does a nice job showing us why he’s such a jerk. By the end, the emotional payoff is pretty decent, and Rodriguez does a good job making Alex’s struggles with himself the focus of the book rather than just turning it into a battle between good witches and bad priests. That, frankly, would have been boring. Rodriguez also goes into a long aside with Cartaphilus Longinus, the soldier who stabbed Jesus, and his first encounter with Leyla, a witch who recruits him to their cause. We get Longinus’s entire life story in between sex with Leyla, and it seems to go on rather long (why it does on so long seems to do with the purpose of this book, which is as a “prequel” to the first series). But it’s part of Rodriguez’s plan to make the entire world of witchcraft come alive rather than just Alex’s part in it, and in that much, he succeeds.
McEvoy’s art is unfortunately of the over-colored, over-airbrushed, over-sheened school, and it doesn’t do anything to help the book at all. What bugs me most about this kind of art is that on his blog, McEvoy gives a brief tutorial about how he creates it, and there’s a lot of filtering and digital painting, but his original sketches look soooo much better than the finished art and it bothers me that he overworks it like this. He actually writes about taking out all the heavy lines and making it “softer,” which robs it of any personality, in my humble, non-art-critic opinion. There’s a plasticity to the book, and when you’re dealing with earthy characters like Leyla (who is, of course, a hottie, but seems too much like a Playboy model for a rough dude like Cartaphilus), the sheen just looks really off. McEvoy’s pencil sketches are perfectly fine, and it’s frustrating that running them through Adobe and Photoshop and digital painting them makes the art so weak. I understand that it’s quicker than doing it “by hand,” and I guess if it gets McEvoy work I can’t argue with it, but the book would look a lot better if he kept it lo-tech.
I don’t love Starkweather: Immortal, but I don’t hate it either. There is another mini-series that came out earlier than this one and featured Alex and the other characters as more mature and in charge of themselves, I guess (from what I’ve read on the Internets about it). This is a “prequel” showing Alex’s origin and casting some of the other characters in different lights (Cartaphilus was the villain of the first series, from what Rodriguez said in interviews when this was coming out). I don’t know if the original series had less character development, but that’s the best part of this book by far. The plot kind of meanders around, ending somewhat unsatisfactorily (because, presumably, it leads into the plot of the original series). There’s some neat stuff in the book, but it’s also fairly predictable and the art doesn’t help it at all. I appreciate that Archaia sent it to me, but it’s really not my thing.
Tomorrow: 9/11? How can that play into this book?
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