Friday, January 04, 2008

Spellgame #1

Spellgame #1, September 2005, Speakeasy Comics
writer: Dan Mishkin
artist: Ramon Perez
letterer: Marshall Dillon
editor: Chris Stone
cover artist: Darwyn Cooke

Everybody remembers their first time. No, I'm not talking about "becoming a man," though that may play some part in it -- I'm talking about one's first trip to Las Vegas. Whether you're vacationing for business or unadulterated pleasure, Las Vegas is truly an adult Disneyland that inspires a completely different but equally compelling part of one's imagination. I first visited "the strip" with my old friends Nathan and Nick, and one night, while we were waiting for the bus to take us from one end to the other, two pretty girls pulled up and asked if we wanted a ride. Thinking we'd hit the proverbial jackpot, we joined them for drinks and, in our naivete, didn't realize until at least an hour into our conversation that drinks weren't all they wanted us to pay for. We learned that lesson the hilarious way; what happens in Vegas usually puts you in way over your head.

John Dodge knows what I mean. In Spellgame #1, Dodge, a Vegas con man, discovers his strange connection to a coming age of magic when the cards he deals come to life! Writer Dan Mishkin takes the audience on a virtual rollercoaster ride of underground gambling and underworld mysticism, introducing his Dodge and his sidekick Harry via a typical pick-a-card con, then suddenly throwing magic in the mix when the Jack of spades leaps from the deck, dons a suit, and takes some ladies to town. The fantastic scene is well executed by artist Ramon Perez, but when Dodge's victim realizes he's been had, the strange occurrence is seemingly dismissed as Dodge and Harry run from the cops. Later, Dodge chases a goblin through traffic and some goth punks capture and inexplicably attack him, until John commandeers their magic to fight back. Again, Perez does a very admirable job of blending this seemingly seamless blend of fantasy and reality, but Mishkin avoids addressing its weight with significant dialogue, other than Dodge's obligatory skepticism even in the face of the obviously supernatural. Still, the premise is promising, if only to explore that dark magic that must hold a city like Las Vegas together.

I'd be remiss not to mention Darwyn Cooke's fantastic cover, which actually sparked my interested in Spellgame a few years ago when I saw it as an ad in Chuck Satterlee and Norm Breyfogle's Of Bitter Souls. Interestingly, Of Bitter Souls also addressed the supernatural context of a prominent American tourist attraction, New Orleans, and perhaps this context inspired such a direction for Spellgame. Unfortunately, despite the involvement of Cooke, Breyfogle, and other top notch talent, Speakeasy Comics closed its doors in 2006; I wonder if the company would have achieved more success if its titles concocted this kind of thematic continuity, much in the same way as Dark Horse has cornered the goth spook market (i.e. Hellboy, The Goon, and its recent hit The Umbrella Academy).

Either way, like any trip to Vegas, a winning streak just can't last forever. If this first issue inspired me to follow up on anything, its finding more work by Ramon Perez. (A quick Google search uncovered his Calavera Studios site, which reminded me that I have seen his work in Butternut Squash #1. Thought it looked familiar . . .) See, Spellgame #1 proves it, that rolling the dice and taking a chance on a title based on its ad can be a good gamble.

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