Ancillary Characters Podcast (thanks to you guys)! We've welcomed a new member into the fold here at ancillarycharacters.com in the form of our good friend Dan, or as you might know him, @penooch on Twitter. (Check out his new column "Brand New Feature," it's a fantastic read.) And finally, we've recently been welcomed by a handful of publishers to review advanced copies of books that they are publishing, from Action Lab Comics to Dark Horse, and we couldn't be more humbled or excited for these exciting opportunities. Things are really taking off for the Ancillary Characters, and we owe it all to you guys. Thanks.
And in honor of these new opportunities, I'm bringing you another one of Paul's Picks, in the form of an advanced review of...
R.I.P.D.: City of the Damned (Dark Horse Comics) with writing by Jeremy Barlow and Peter Lenkov, art by Tony Parker, and colors by Michelle Madsen.
For this pick, I'll follow my usual three-point review format. In other words, here are three reasons that you should go out and pick up this book:
1. Men-In-Black meets Hellblazer. Now I don't want to stereotype or categorize this book to its detriment, but in my opinion that is about as good of a comparison that one could make. This book takes the buddy-cop feel that we have come to know and love from properties like Lethal Weapon with the over-the-top , genre material that we find in the science fiction of Men in Black. The dynamic set up between Nick and Roy in the first and final pages of this volume show what kind of comedy back-and-forth that they can expect going forward. Of course, this story is not science fiction. Instead it takes a turn for the mystical, exploring spirits and demons with a twinge of religion in the same way that something like Hellblazer has throughout the years with John Constantine. The protagonists find themselves facing off against foes of unbelievable power, facing stakes as high as the end of the world, and always without the recognition and thanks that superheroes often receive from the world. It plays on themes that we've grown the love over the years, with a charm and charisma that stands all its own.
In fact, this story takes us down a particularly twisted and unexpected road. Nick and Roy are pitted against an insurmountable enemy at the start. However, the reader soon learns that Roy has faced this same foe before, and we travel into the deep past with Roy to discover how he came to be an officer of the R.I.P.D.. The story takes us on a twisted path of deception, corruption, and religion. Roy is placed with his first partner, a puritan cleric named Crispin Mather, who is on a holy mission to rid the world of the great evil that is offsetting the balance between life and death on the earth. They face demons, evil spirits, and a nameless evil who's endgame is reserved until the final pages. And boy, is it a doozy!
2. It's all about the timing. Whenever you pick up a new book to read, the chemistry of the artist and the writer will immediately become apparent, or noticeably absent. From the first chapter of this trade, it is clear that Parker and Barlow have something special going here. Due to the visual presentation of the material, timing of key moments is particularly important. This is particularly true for this book, since it balances comedy with seriousness so well. Parker's art is reminiscent of the semi-realism of Jerome Opeña, with a kinetic energy like unto Frank Quitely's wavy pencils. The style is perfect for Barlow's scripting, and every funny moment lands with perfection. It's great how the responsibility for landing an important moment bounces back and forth between the artist and the writer. Sometimes a joke is landed through well written dialogue, other times it lands solely through the look on Roy's face. This puts the level of appeal high enough that anyone could enjoy this book, comic fan or no.
The team also works together seamlessly in building anticipation and mystery for the climax. The stakes really hit a high at the end, and the final reveal back in the present is all kinds of bittersweet. This is once again a compliment for the creative team, who hold back the urge to show their hand too early and ruin the punch of the ending. This book weaves a masterful climax to a clever mystery, challenging the reader to quit trying to figure everything out and allow the creators to take them on the journey that they set out for us.
3. It really goes there. When it comes to reading comics, I don't want to read something that gets too "preachy." You all know what I mean. It's that book that, instead of tackling themes, grabs an idea or opinion that the writer has and shoves it in the face of the reader repeatedly until he or she chokes on it. The key to incorporating larger themes and topics into your work is to do so in a way that feels natural. The objective should be to get the reader thinking, not to plant the writer's personal thoughts into our heads. One might not expect to find deeper themes or food for thought in a book that is based on such extravagant and over-the-top materials as can be found in R.I.P.D., but by the time you get to the end of this tale, you'll find some yourself thinking and pondering along with the characters themselves. This book challenges us to consider our mortality, and more specifically the unknown that waits us. Hidden behind all of the action and bravado is a man thinking about what waits on the other side of the veil. And it couldn't be more natural.
I hope that these spoiler-free comments can get you to see just why you should go out and grab this book. The trade is set to release next week on May 15th, 2013. (For more information, visit Dark Horse's preview page here.) Go check this out, and get yourself prepped for the upcoming movie, which comes out on July 19, 2013. If you are interested in other genre properties like Men in Black, Beetlejuice, or Lethal Weapon, trust me: this is just for you.
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