guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

January 2008

Gary Brunswick, Frank Espinosa, Toby Cypress, Killing Girl (Image, 2007),  5-issue miniseries; $2.99; John Sheridan, Kit Wallis, Breathe (Marikosia, 2007), 4-issue miniseries; $2.99.

by Jared Gardner

The plotting of Killing Girl is pretty straightforward neo-noir stuff, and, at first, it seems to do it fairly well. And there are enough twists to keep it interesting, at least for a while. But like so many comics these days, the promises of the premise are not fulfilled by what follows. The first issue delivers more believable complications than most other titles manage in five, and then all of a sudden the book runs out of steam and imagination. The problems come into focus quickly with issue #2, where the writing starts pulling apart at the seams: long-lost sister found, gun accidentally goes off, long-lost sister dead (resulting in the following emotionally dead and logically incoherent piece of dialogue from dead sister’s fiancé: “She shot her! Keep the fuck away!”). And then everything goes to hell, as the whole thing increasingly feels like it was scripted by a 12-year old with a good story idea and a really, really short attention span and a bad case of writer’s cramp. Frank Espinosa (Rocketo) does his best to bring his unique visual energy and painterly sensibility to the art, desperately trying to cover as best he can some pretty egregious gaps and fissures in the writing. But ultimately it is too much of a mess for even someone of his prodigious talents.

Still, at least for the two issues Espinosa is at the drawing board, it is worth every agonizing clinker from Brunswick’s word processor (here’s another good one: “I read something about happiness not being about what material shit you have, but whether or not you’re in the flow.”). I love Espinosa’s work on Rocketo, with its lively Caribbean palette, dynamic lines and unique composition. With Killing Girl, Espinosa seems to be experimenting with an even more expressionistic and minimalist style, and it works just right for the story, such as it is. It would have worked even better had there been more of a story to express. Still, I can’t help but admire the hell out of Espinosa’s bravado here. We are used to our mafia/assassin-girl stories in black-leather and neon—the rehashed Aeon Flux/Femme Nikita teenaged fantasies (the same hash Brunswick is feverishly refrying here). So for Espinosa to bring to the subject his unique energy and visual humor was surprising and made all other sins almost forgivable. But Espinosa left after issue 2, and there are myriad sins in his wake to account for.
When Toby Cypress takes over in issue 3 he tries to continue Espinosa’s approach, but it doesn’t work in his hands. At all. It feels derivative, immature and unfinished. And there is sooooo much more work to do. Brunswick writes like someone who gives and takes script pitches for a living in Hollywood. The first issue was a good pitch, but like a lot of Hollywood types, there is no follow-through. By issue #4 we have the sweet granny with the sub-machine gun, the gangster getting the bad news and calling on his best assassins to finish the job, the Big Boss and the hints of a larger “conspiracy”—all of it patched together with the finesse and subtlety of your average piece of fan fiction. I can’t blame Espinosa for bailing on the book (in fact, I can’t help but admire him), but in doing so he took away the only reason to hang around for the final issue, where our heroine/killer will kill the bad guys (for whom she worked twenty seconds ago), save her dead sister’s fiancé, and then either die or ride off into the sunset. (Since beginning this review, issue #5 has come out, and it all comes to pass precisely as I had imagined, only, which I could not have imagined, even lamer). Like so many of these self-contained mini-series popping up all over our comicbook store shelves, we cannot help but ask, “Why?”

Things only get more dire with Breathe. Every now and then something so awful, so unforgivable is put on the comics shelves that it cannot be ignored. Like the foulest of sins, its name must be spoken aloud and then banished from the face of the earth. In the case of Breathe, this is especially urgent, as its writer and creator, John Sheridan, has obviously been told by one of satan’s minions that he has talents and should plan on writing other new projects. And were this to happen I fear very sincerely that all goodness and beauty might be blotted from the universe.

Normally I avoid such hyperbole (well, sometimes I do, anyway), but this is the language of
Breathe, a world where revenge is a dish best served on the tongue of a dragon’s spawn—or something like that. There is nothing in this story to recommend it to anyone: it is Orientalist fantasy set in 18th-century “China” (you can tell it’s China because the comic tells you so), in which a girl’s family is killed and she spends four torturous issues discovering that the killer is in fact precisely who it obviously was from the very first issue. And then she dies. Along the way we meet a range of underdeveloped characters and cardboard stereotypes, and many tears are shed. And some other people die, too.

The art offers only a tad more to recommend it. Kit Wallis’s delicate line work is well suited to the gossamer plotting, and he does the Americanime with a certain degree of individual style. And the coloring works off a subdued, (highly computerized) watercolor palette that keeps the book for the most part visually interesting (despite some very heavy-handed arthouse framing). But really, this book along with
Killing Girl (which is only marginally better), points to something rotten in the heart of comics these days, something I hope we can work together to purge from the system. After Breathe and Killing Girl, it is time to finally declare what we have needed for some time: a moratorium on all mini-series. They are increasingly lazy, rapacious in their Hollywood fantasies, and decidedly untrue to the comics form. If you don’t have enough story to imagine doing it for 100 issues, write up a 100 page script and shop it around Hollywood. But in the name of all that is holy, leave the comics out of it.