Axel-In-Charge: Bringing "Dead No More" to FCBD, the Original "Civil War's" Legacy
A few years ago, I reviewed Ken Krekeler’s The Colodin Project, which turned out to be a pretty neat comic book (and which Krekeler is still working on, or at least he was last year – I don’t know if he’s just put it on the shelf for a while or abandoned it completely). Krekeler was cool enough to send me his latest comic, Dry Spell, which is offered in this month’s slab o’ Previews (it’s on page 320 under Tool Publications, the distributor) and it costs $14.95. But should you pre-order it, is the question.
Well, I liked it, for what that’s worth. Krekeler begins the story with a superhero, Apollo, whose exploits are the stuff of tabloid sensationalism – but Apollo isn’t the focus of the story, Tom Ferris is. Tom is a regular joe working as a production artist for some big company, and he’s less than impressed with Apollo. Tom is ridiculously normal – he and his girlfriend have a somewhat stale but not toxic relationship, and every night Tom goes into his garage and stares at a blank canvas that he bought but on which he has never painted. Then, one day, Wally, one of the Human Resources people from his company, asks him into a meeting and reveals that he knows who Tom is … an ex-supervillain. He knows this partially because Wally used to be one too and he really admires Tom. In fact, he invites him to a club where some of the old gang often gets together. Well, that can’t be good.
At this point, you might be excused for thinking this sounds a lot like Incognito, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Marvel book about a supervillain who began the series in the Witness Protection Program. And, as the book moves along, you realize that Krekeler is also deconstructing supervillains a bit, which has gotten a bit old. But, as I always say, it’s not the plot, it’s what the creator does with it, and Krekeler does a very nice job with Tom and his issues. Tom discovers how much he misses the supervillain lifestyle, of course, and he, Wally, an old lover named Nightingale, and two psychically linked twins plan a bank robbery that, naturally, goes horribly wrong, leading to a confrontation with Apollo, who’s an old foe of Tom’s (or the Black Baron, as he calls himself). Krekeler takes his time with the plot – Tom always said his power was greatest when he was on drugs, so Wally slips him some acid when they get together and it all comes rushing back. He tries to deny it, but he’s barely controlling his horrible dark side and he can’t keep it down for long.
Krekeler frames this story as a battle between conformity and individuality, between art and commerce, and between active and passive, and it gives the book a nice edge and lends it a fairly interesting parodic aspect. He begins and ends the story with epigraphs about art and the artist (one quote is by Alan Moore, a clever choice), and of course, we have the symbolism of the empty canvas sitting in Tom’s garage. The Black Baron (whose caption boxes are in black with white letters), narrates some of the book, and Krekeler does a nice job constrasting his thoughts with Tom’s, blurring the line between artistic expression and insanity. Krekeler also brings up the not-original-but-not-bad idea of art as destruction/creation, as the Black Baron wants Tom to work on bigger canvases, meaning humanity itself. In a creepy moment, Stacy goes into Tom’s garage and is about to look under the now-covered canvas, but Tom intercepts her and we never see what he’s painting. Soon, of course, he’s moved beyond it.
The parody is interesting, because Krekeler never backs down from it. Tom becomes a better person initially when he allows the Black Baron persona back into his life – he’s a more attentive and exciting boyfriend, but it doesn’t last. He stands up for himself at work and gets a raise, which is soon meaningless. There’s elements of Wanted in this book, too, but whereas Millar ultimately failed to back up his convictions, Krekeler sees it through. He contrasts Tom with the others in his gang, whose villainy is far more pragmatic than Tom’s – they want material riches, while Tom wants more abstract things, and he lets no one stand in his way. Finally, the confrontation with Apollo comes, and Krekeler parodies superheroes as well – Apollo gives the absolute best reason for being a superhero that I think I’ve ever read, and it cuts right to the bone. Krekeler manages to show Tom as a monster even as he never rescinds his message. It’s an interesting tightrope walk, and it gives the comic its wicked edge.
Krekeler’s art is in the same vein as Alex Maleev’s – he uses models, takes photographs, and then goes to work on the computer. He does a nice job with it, too – his figures aren’t stiff, and while the action scenes aren’t the most fluid, because he’s doing superpowered humans “realistically,” the people look suitably rumpled and lo-tech, even someone like Nightingale, who’s wearing latex a lot. The clothes look like real clothing, and even the bad guys’ costumes are designed mostly with some thought to their practicality. Krekeler does a good job translating emotion to the page, which can sometimes be a problem with photo-referenced work. He also does a nice job laying out the pages – when Tom is first dosed at the club, Krekeler turns the page into a smear of images as he struggles to clear his head, and the dinner party he attends with some fellow workers (Wally and Melissa – Nightingale – know who he is, while Stacy and the rest don’t) is set against a black background with some images bleeding through and chunks of disembodied dialogue marching across the page. It’s an interesting way to get a lot of dialogue onto a page without resorting to Bendisian extremes. The violence is extremely gruesome, as it should be, and Krekeler does a nice job showing the horrific destruction that Tom causes. Meanwhile, the coloring on the book is superb. Krekeler turns the club where Tom is drugged into a lurid and eerie dream atmosphere, the bank robbery into a sickly green, and Tom’s fight with Apollo a harsh, violent red, befitting the destruction around them. He contrasts these more primary colors with the “blander” hues of the “real” world – it’s interesting that when Wally reveals to Tom that he knows who he is, Krekeler begins to color him in brighter colors, setting him outside the tawdry, neon-lit world of the cube farm. The coloring on the book is astonishing, and it helps Krekeler make his artistic points very well.
Dry Spell is a fascinating, mature book about superpowered beings, and Krekeler once again shows that he knows a thing or two about creating a comic. The comic works both as a straightforward supervillain book and a solid parody of the same, and Krekeler raises very good points about “being yourself” (You can see “Be Yourself” on the cover up there) that are uncomfortable because the person expressing them is a monster. This is a far more interesting comic than it might seem at first glance, and I encourage you to ask your retailer to order it for you or check out Krekeler’s web site for the comic to see how you can pick it up. It’s a nasty, twisted tale with a lot on its mind that looks great. Yay, comics!
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