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Pj Perez, the mad genius behind Pop! Goes the Icon, is always nice enough to send me his comics, and so it is with the latest one, Tales from Fremont Street, which features, as you can see by the cover, “six shocking stories of betrayal, desire, and murder from the heart of Sin City!” Well, the stories aren’t exactly shocking, but let’s just move past that, shall we, and ascertain whether they’re any good.
The anthology benefits “the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s support of the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival,” which is a mouthful but is a good cause, if that interests you at all. Perez, I assume, had a hand in assembling the talent, which is probably unknown to most but still solid: Ed Hawkins, Matt and Shawn Fillbach, Jarret Keene, Victor Moya, Deryl Skelton, F. Andrew Taylor, Evan Dent, and Warren Wucinich. Some of these dudes have worked on Pop! Goes the Icon comics before, and they have a nice variety of art styles that nonetheless fit into the noir mode that the comic aspires for. The comic is $5 for “48 pulse-pounding pages!” (There’s actually 46 pages of story, but that’s close enough!)
The authors tell the story of a motel and its residents in Vegas (Fremont Street, to be specific) and what happens to them. Hawkins writes the first chapter, which introduces us to Shane Cook, who is, unfortunately, dead in his motel room. Hawkins does a nice job laying on the purple prose as he takes us around the motel, introducing the city itself, then Mr. Prudeholme, the old guy with the walker; “Jenna,” who’s using a fake name and never tells Shane her real one; Daniel, the giant Hawaiian clerk who loves cats; and Mrs. Kim, who owns the antiques store across the street and is also a meth smuggler. In subsequent chapters, we check in on Mr. Prudholme, who hangs out at a strip club and is a lot tougher than he looks; Mrs. Kim, who naturally has some secrets and is haunted by her past; Daniel, who is usually gentle but very protective of things he considers sacred; and Jenna, who’s dating Shane but keeps him at arm’s length. The writers need to pack in a lot of information in their pages, and some do it better than others – Keene humorously writes advice about how senior citizens can keep active as Mr. Prudholme visits a strip club. The ultimate point of the comic is that we find out how Shane died, but the writers have fun going off on various tangents to show us the seediness of the neighborhood and the inhabitants, as well as their tough survival instincts. As usual with fiction, the answer to Shane’s death isn’t that amazing, but getting there is fairly interesting, and each writer contributes a bit to that.
The art varies in quality, of course, but overall it’s not bad. The Fillbachs are very good artists, and they do a good job packing small panels with fascinating details and using blackness extremely well. Moya’s figure work is precise and well done, but he has some problems with perspective within the panels. He gets some of the book’s action, which is actually pretty good, even though the characters appear as if they’re flat (I know they are, but Moya doesn’t succeed in putting them on different planes, so they look even flatter). Skelton is another very good artist, and his chapter on Mrs. Kim is filled with nice details from Vietnam in the 1970s and Las Vegas in the present, plus he does a nice job with shading to distinguish between the past and the present. Taylor writes and draws the story of Daniel, the clerk, and his rough, clunky line work (I don’t mean that negatively, by the way) is suited for the story of the big dude. Dent’s work, unfortunately, is the only misstep in the book, and as the chapter he draws gives us most of the answers in the book, it’s too bad. His figures are stiff and lifeless, and his action panels don’t flow very well. It’s a fairly powerful chapter that isn’t served well by the art. Finally, Wucinich’s epilogue is nicely done – more cartoonish than the other chapters, but hearkening back to the Fillbachs’ installment with good use of blacks and interesting character designs.
It’s too bad the most important chapter is, artistically, the weakest, but overall, this is a good read. Perez and his collaborators don’t break any new ground, plot-wise, but it’s always interesting to see these kinds of stories, where characters have secrets, interact with each other almost randomly, and come together for an event that changes their lives. This is a solid, noir comic with some good artists working on it. Plus, it’s for a good cause! Yay, good causes! If you’re at all interested in buying this, I’m sure Mr. Perez would be happy to sell it to you, so you might as well drop him a line.
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