Eli Katz reviews the second issue of this crime comic set in New Orleans.
Credits & Solicit Info:
SWEETS #2 (of 5) story, art & cover
32 PAGES, FC, $2.99
A psychotic spree killer continues to terrorize New Orleans, but Detective Curt Delatte has already picked up his scent. To end the slaughter, Delatte must revisit a world he’d rather forget — a dark world filled with pimps, hookers, snitches and bums.
RETAILER WARNING: MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES
In my review of SWEETS #1, I complained that the book relied too much on crime story clichés, such as the burned-out cop, the faithful partner, the nameless serial killer, and so on. I was ready to drop the book after issue 1, but vowed to reserve final judgment until I'd read the second issue to see if the story took any unexpected turns. Unfortunately, after reading SWEETS #2, I have absolutely no hesitation in dropping the book now. The second installment is as hackneyed as the first. Maybe even more hackneyed.
Writer-artist Kody Chamberlain piles up clichés in issue 2 as quickly as his serial killer piles up bodies. Three victims are discovered this time. One is a headless lawyer. Another is a strangled prostitute. And the third is a guy left bloodied but alive and unable to speak. Witnesses are interviewed. Nobody knows anything. And the police bosses, growing increasingly nervous, call in FBI profilers and a local psychic to assist Detectives Curt Delatte and Jeff Matthews in their investigation.
Each of these plot points is as old as the crime genre itself. After AMERICAN PSYCHO, HANNIBAL RISING, and a hundred different slasher films, we don't need to see another serial killer with a penchant for decapitation. And the disposable sex worker has been so overused in TV and movies that it is now the subject of parody (see, for example, the film DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK). As for the victim too injured to speak, please, that's a device used in the worst episodes of LAW & ORDER. Usually the victim wakes up just in time to identify the killer.
Even the bit about the FBI profilers is handled predictably in SWEETS. When Det. Matthews learns that the feds will be assisting them, he launches into the obligatory "these stuffed shirts have no business jumping into our jurisdiction" speech. "Fucking FBI criminologist," he says. "Assholes is what they are. These profiles are total bullshit." For once, I would love to see a story where the local cops actually take the FBI's advice seriously and welcome the extra help.
Beyond the multiple clichés, the problem with this book is that it lacks suspense. Perhaps I wouldn't dwell on the stock characters and the unoriginal scenes if SWEETS had a fast-paced story that encouraged me to turn the page and focus on what happens next. But there is absolutely no sense of danger in this book. The two main detectives are never under threat as they continue their weary pilgrimage through New Orleans, interviewing possible witnesses and stopping for coffee. They go from one historical site to the next, learning tidbits about the city's past from eccentric locals. At times, SWEETS reads more like a travel guide for NOLA than it does a murder mystery. While these scenes add some atmosphere and authenticity to the book, they also slow down an already catatonic plot.
Worst of all, Chamberlain doesn't bother to include a compelling cliffhanger at the end of this book. After two issues of little intrigue, what exactly is supposed to lure the reader back next month? Nearly half the story has already been told, and there has not been one moment of surprise. Not one shock. Not one delight. The job of the storyteller, to quote novelist Tim O’Brien, is "to vividly imagine and to vividly render extraordinary human events." Chamberlain has not done his job here. In fact, to be blunt, he has failed to be imaginative at every possible step.
Although I have little praise for Chamberlain's story, I continue to be impressed by his illustrations. Issue 2 is filled with even more stunning images than issue 1. The backgrounds are rich and detailed, and the characters all have distinctive looks. Like most crime comics, SWEETS #2 features many scenes with conversations between ordinary-looking characters. To make these scenes visually dynamic without making them melodramatic is a real challenge. But Chamberlain is able to draw the most mundane actions – a guy pouring hot sauce on his food or a man and a woman holding hands briefly – and make them look both realistic and interesting. He is a very talented artist, with a style that is ideal for gritty crime stories. His work is similar to Jock's phenomenal work in THE LOSERS. Chamberlain is even able to draw cars with the same style and attention to detail as Jock. If I were an editor at Vertigo, I would definitely hire Chamberlain to illustrate a new ongoing series or the next VERTIGO CRIME book. But I certainly wouldn't let him write it.
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