Sunday, 10 August 2014

100% by Paul Pope Review

Paul Pope’s 100% is made up of three love stories, interweaving with one another, against an ominous backdrop of a futuristic New York. 

Daisy/Dollar Bill is a gastro dancer where she dances in clubs that project her insides as giant 3D holograms for punters to get off on with busboy John as her star-crossed lover. Strel and her estranged gastro-boxing husband Haitous slowly rekindle their relationship while Strel’s friend Kim falls for Eloy, a performance artist, whose work consists of collecting 100 kettles all tuned in C going off at once to create 100% harmony. 

As peculiar as Pope’s vision of 2038 America is, love and tragedy are still one and the same. 

I really liked Paul Pope’s previous book, Battling Boy, and, to a lesser extent, Batman: Year 100, so I went into 100% hoping for the best; but, while his artwork is still stunning, the stories were a bit of a let-down. 

The book starts out with the death of a stripper in an alley dumpster, and you’d think this would be meaningful in some way - but it isn’t. It’s basically a MacGuffin. About halfway through the book it’s resolved without any of the characters having done anything and with a simple, throwaway sentence. 

Then we get the three stories, of which I’d say only one was kind of interesting and well developed - the other two were barely more than an outline. Daisy and John’s story was by far the only interesting one. Young, star-crossed lovers, living paycheck to paycheck, working crap jobs, finding snippets of romance amidst the chaos and turmoil of their lives - it was cool, I suppose. 

Strel and Haitous’ story was really underwritten with Strel’s character changing at a crucial moment for no reason besides the fact that there’d be no story if she turned away. And Kim and Eloy’s relationship is so underdeveloped and unremarkable that it’s almost a surprise when they pop up again in the book. 

What’s worse though is how little I cared for any of the characters or their goals. Daisy and John were both vaguely written characters with vague motivations - they were just all about love so they had no story, they just met, fell for each other, and we spend the rest of the book watching them swoon at one another. Strel and Haitous’ story felt exactly like what it was: forced melodrama. And Eloy’s dream of getting paid a fortune to get 100 kettles all go off at the same time, in the same key? I’m supposed to care about this lame performance artist?! Give me a break!

It’s partly because I’m not a romance comics kinda guy but, despite the 240 page count, 100% is really, really light on story. Characters fall in love, smooch, break up, reunite, yadda yadda yadda. I’ve seen it before, you’ve seen it before, it’s all been done before. That it’s against this sci-fi backdrop makes it only slightly different. 

I like how Pope didn’t bother explaining why things were the way they were - this messed-up sci-fi world is just the way it is, and it’s neither impressing itself upon the reader or the story too heavily; this futuristic world is given to us in a very light and matter-of-fact way. 

But making the point that the way the world is with tastes becoming more and more extreme that one day people will want to see the insides of a stripper rather than what she looks like under her clothes? I’m not buying it, and as satire it’s not convincing either. 

In the end, 100% is a weak collection of romance stories that happen to have a sci-fi flavour to them. Pope’s art is gorgeous, with a fluidity and pace to it that’s totally unique, blending eastern and western styles into something extraordinary. But I wouldn’t recommend it on the art alone when the narrative accompanying it is so lacking, underwritten and unengaging. 

If you want to see Paul Pope on full throttle with both writing and art, check out Battling Boy.


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