Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Space, MN is a graphic novel by Shawn DePasquale, who’s better known in comics circles as a letterer (he letters this book, too). It’s drawn by Bruno Oliveira and inked and colored by Chandran Ponnusamy. It’s published by Arcana and costs $14.95. It’s also “volume 1,” which is somewhat frustrating, if you ask me. I don’t mind when graphic novels are part of a series, but they take so long to put together that I wonder if we’ll ever get the rest of this story. Of course, it only matters if this is any good, right?
Well, it’s not that good, unfortunately. It has a decent if fairly standard premise – in a small Minnesota town, a mysterious corporation moves in and bad things start happening – but the creators don’t do enough with it to really make it rise above a generic horror/science fiction story. We’re introduced to the various characters, who are fine: Duncan is an older, out-of-shape cop who was once married to the mayor, Renee, whom he followed to Space from New York. His partner, Greta, is in a relationship with Liz, who’s apparently a crime scene photographer. Norman is an alcoholic, sex-addicted cop whose father was a hero on the force. Renee is married to a reporter named Ray, who is investigating the new corporation. The corporation itself is called Multi-Associated Global-International Cosmetics – M.A.G.I.C. In case you can’t figure it out, they’re the bad guys. Heck, they’re a corporation in a comic – of course they’re evil!
Once M.A.G.I.C. moves in, weird things start to happen. A cat comes back to life. A woman stabs her son – a tech guy who works with the cops – in the eye, killing him. Norman has a bizarre experience. Renee signs papers helping the corporation set up in town but then begins to have second thoughts, which is never a good thing in stories like this. Men dressed as paramedics start taking bodies, but not to the morgue. It’s all very weird. I certainly don’t want to give too much away, but DePasquale does have a good handle on the story, even if it’s not all that surprising. It moves briskly along, building on what has come before, converging fairly well as we reach the end, leading into a second volume. The story itself might not be all that good, but DePasquale does tell it well.
We also get pretty good characterization, which does count for something, after all. The characters seem fairly stock, with the pathetic cop carrying a torch for his ex-wife and the drunk cop who can’t live up to his father’s legacy, but as the book goes along, there’s a lot more of interest here than it might seem. Duncan is a good man who’s always trying to help people even when they don’t want his help. Greta and Liz are an interesting couple – yes, they’re attractive lesbians, but DePasquale makes them more than just stereotypes. They bicker and make up, and we get a good sense of how they live and why they love each other. Renee is ambitious but not stupid, much to her chagrin later on in the book, while her husband can’t turn off his reporter gene even if it gets him in trouble. Even though the characters move through a pretty bland plot, DePasquale does try to make them characters we would care about, so that their fates matter to us. He succeeds, for the most part, which isn’t a bad thing. Of course, the big problem is that the book isn’t a complete story, so it just kind of ends with a set-up for volume 2. We get a tiny bit of resolution, but it’s still frustrating to read this and realize it’s not going to finish anything DePasquale set up.
Similarly, Oliveira and Ponnusamy’s artwork could be a lot better, and the fact that parts of it are well done makes it more frustrating. There are some nice layouts in this book that make it more interesting to read, and Oliveira and Ponnusamy do some nice things with atmosphere, creating a good sense of dread when necessary. Oliveira’s figure work is much better in close-up, which seems to be the case with a lot of artists, and some of the drawings are very powerful. However, on the whole, his figure work is awkward, especially during the action scenes, and he doesn’t have a great idea of how to use space. For a town set in a small Minnesota town (Space has a population of 504), there doesn’t seem to be much of a sense of place. It feels far too big to be a town with such a small population, and despite the presence of snow on the ground, the people often wear light clothing. I hate to compare this to Fargo, but I’m going to – part of the reason for that movie’s effectiveness is that it just felt cold, and it had a real sense of place, but other than a random reference to the Timberwolves, this comic could take place anywhere. I have no idea why it’s set in Minnesota, and if that’s part of the actual title of the book, I think there ought to be a reason. Another problem with the art is one that isn’t really objective, just a personal preference, and that’s Ponnusamy’s use of digital colors, which often soften the artwork far too much. Too much of this book looks like it’s in soft focus, and it’s just something I don’t like. Again, in close-ups that works much better, but when we move out to take in an entire scene, it just doesn’t look right. You might disagree, of course, but I’m writing this sucker!
I’m always hoping that when I get something that sounds a bit odd yet also familiar, which this did, that the creators will be able to put an unusual spin on things. The idea of a weird corporation moving into town and bringing evil in their wake isn’t exactly new, but I do think it can be done right. I don’t think DePasquale and Oliveira really do that, though, and it’s too bad. As always with something, if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, I do hope you’ll check it out. It’s just not for me. Oh well.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.