Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It's like that time you trained up to be a super assassin...

Matteo Strukul “The Ballad of Mila” (Exhibit A, 2014)

This is Italian pulp.  It’s based as much on cinematic pulp as much as literary.  I suppose that’s natural given translation issues with the written word. 

Mila is a young woman who was abused by the mob.  Her family was killed.  So she did what you do, trained herself into a super assassin, and now is looking for revenge.  There’s a bit of a mob war going on right now, so she’s able to jump right in the middle.

The setup then is sort of like Red Harvest with a backstory.  Mila herself is more of a Tarantino character without the dialogue.  In fact it feels like Strukul is using Tarantino as an influence, combined with one of the 70s Italian exploitation directors.

It can be difficult to really critique translated works.  The language and character building are less complex than what I would prefer.  Is that a function of the writing or the translator?  There are certainly genre limits as well – there’s a history of tight lipped noir characters to draw from.  But what we are left with feels like Elmore Leonard without the comedy.  The mobsters are inept, but still manage to wreak havoc and not make you laugh.

Additionally, I found the handling of the Chinese characters problematic.  Once again, I’m not sure how to evaluate this fairly.  Obviously there are different standards in Italy and the US.  I really don’t know where I come down in this case.  I’m not saying that the author used racist portrayals.  But I am saying that I found it problematic.

Hey Aren't You the Guy From that Band?

Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips “Fatale Book 4:  Pray For Rain” (Image, 2014)

Volume Four is primarily told in flashback:  it’s Seattle in 1995.  The band Amsterdam is on the down side of their rock & roll story.  The hits have dried up and their enigmatic genius is increasingly erratic and sliding into mental illness. The lead singer decides to fund the band by robbing bands.  Maybe this step from the world of rock narratives into a crime story is what causes their downfall.  But he finds HER on the side of the road and brings HER home.  This time she calls herself “Jane” (as in “Jane Doe”).  At first it’s rather idyllic.  Jane buoys the group.   Her presence seems to stabilize them.  They start writing songs again.  But we know HER story in a general sense if not in the details.  Soon enough things go wildly out of control.  These rock guys were not cut out to be in HER story, and it’s too late to get back into their own narrative.

In the larger sense, this fourth volume doesn’t do anything to illuminate any of the overall storylines or portions of the mythos (see what I did there?).  If you aren’t familiar with the story you will be lost at this point.  But for those will some familiarity to the story, this is another exciting and captivating chapter in this oddly compelling series. 

Spoiler: Sherlock's Not Dead!

Sylvain Cordurie & Laci “Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London” (Dark Horse Comics, 2014)

Is it just me or is a rush to mention Moriarty a sign of a bad to mediocre Sherlock Holmes story?

Our story here begins after Sherlock’s “death” at Reichenbach Falls.  Apparently he’s staged his death so that he can vacation.  Unfortunately, he gets a call from work and his vacation is cut short.  Watson & his wife are used as leverage to get Sherlock to investigate a case.  There’s a vampire killing members of the English royal family and the Vampire Lord of London needs Sherlock to catch him.  At this point I feel like I should note that apparently the World’s Greatest Detective (it’s true, Batman, get over it!) has never noticed these vampires while actually living in London.  And apparently Sherlock is the only person who can catch this rogue vampire, even though the vampires all have super strength, speed,etc..

So the premise of this whole thing is absurd.  But of course that was fairly obvious from the title alone, right?  And just because it’s absurd doesn’t mean that it can’t be a barrel of fun.  Ultimately Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London fails because of characterization.  Sherlock is just not believable as the World’s Greatest Detective.  He’s good, but not great.  And the Vampire Lord is generic without chewing enough scenery.  If you’re going to just insert a trope, you have to make it interesting.  Give me a crazier more evil Vampire Lord!

Ultimately I’m not sure who the target audience for this actually is.  Perhaps a steampunk fan who isn’t very familiar with the Holmes mythos?