Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bye-Bye, Harvey: A Gun Theory Short Story

Bye-Bye, Harvey: A Gun Theory Short Story, July 2006, Bad Press
writer: Daniel Way
artists: Jon Proctor & Ken Knudson

I made the mistake of judging this comic book by its cover. The silhouetted man holding a gun over a bloody, freshly slain body told me I should expect a pulpy murder mystery. Even the title, Bye-Bye, Harvey, implied a sense of the melodramatic, the self-depreciating introspection characteristic of a gumshoe whose best friends are his sidearm, his latest case, and the bottle of whiskey stashed in his desk. What else does the cast shadow of drawn blinds behind a backlit, gun-wielding mystery man elicit in the mind?

Instead, Bye-Bye, Harvey is merely its creators’ chance to indulge their adolescent, violent fantasies, a makeshift role-play rife with unlikely stereotypes and confusing, derivative visuals. Harvey is a hard-traveling nobody that has piggybacked the escapist whims of a hot bartender from his hometown, and although the motivations behind their getaway may be interesting enough, these details are simply a set-up for the ensuing ten pages of “suspense,” as some barfly gropes Harvey’s girl, meets the raw end of his fist, and pulls a gun before Harv can finish the job. I assume the gunslinger’s supervillain-like rant is meant to impress the reader with its reckless abandon, with its wanton, casual conveyance of unnecessary violence, but in the end, its pointless page-filler leading up to an unfortunately predictable conclusion. See, the comic begins with Harvey recounting this tale, so despite the issue’s title, we know he isn’t shot. Instead, the gunslinger slips on a spilled drink, shoots himself in the gut, and when Harvey picks up his gun, takes another fatal slug in the head. The real twist is when Harvey shoots his meal ticket, that bartender, too, now well on his way to, as he puts it, “becomin’ a ghost.” I don’t sympathize with Harvey, nor do I really like him, and my dislike of him isn’t compelling enough to get me to want to know anything more about him. Daniel Way, acclaimed writer of Wolverine: Origins and Ghost Rider, lost me.

Now, to his credit, Jon Proctor’s cover drew me to this issue in the first place, but as I explained, its unique imagery clashed with his imitative style inside. The first few pages, heavy on the black-and-white contrast, were reminiscent of Tony Harris, although the parallels undoubtedly weren’t as deliberate as the final few pages, which were so similar to Eduardo Risso’s style they were darn near plagiaristic. The style wasn’t out of place, as the everyman-with-a-gun concept is what gave Risso his well-earned fame in the DC/Vertigo series 100 Bullets, but “homage” certainly isn’t the word for this rip-off. I’m curious if Proctor has a style all his own, or if he merely mimics the ways of artists that have produced similar work, with similar subject matter. I hope he does; the way he lays out a page shows promise. His floating heads gave this tale the pulp it needed to remain readable.

The real interest of this issue was the ten-page preview of another comic book series, Heavier Than God, about a rock star that is murdered, goes to Heaven, and is met by his idol, a Mick Jagger-like guide that destroys the Queen’s English and our perceptions of what the afterlife might really be like. I mean, the guys hop in a car and pull up to a service station, implying that death may be a lot like life, if that’s how our mind can comprehend it. Although this preview stuttered in its pacing from time to time, Daniel Way shows off more impressive chops with this effort, potentially creating a new subgenre by combining religious overtones with a rock ‘n roll subtext. I’m reminded of Phil Hester’s wrestling superhero The Holy Terror, and its successful synthesis of two genres to create an entertaining product. Knudtsen’s art needs work; again, the image on the back cover drew me in, but his inks weren’t nearly solid enough to do his composition justice. He has potential – thusly, this excerpt was a potential preview of things to come in more ways than one.

So, in anticipation of a pulpy mystery, I instead digest a light sampler platter, mere tastes of main courses that I don’t think jive with my palette anyway. It was the covers, man. Bad Press knew what they were doing when they topped off their liver and onions with a dollop of whipped cream, you know? By the time you get past that short supply of sweetness, you’re already committed. Now I know what those self-pitying gumshoes feel like.

Not to mix metaphors.

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