Thursday, 15 January 2015

Mind the Gap, Volume 1: Intimate Strangers Review (Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo)

Elle is a beautiful young woman from a wealthy family who is suddenly struck down on the subway and is now in a coma – whodunit and why?

For some reason the mystery genre and comics don’t seem to gel. Take Nick Spencer’s Morning Glories for example. Spencer believes piling on one puzzling scene after another is enough for a mystery story. So in the first Morning Glories book you get deathtraps, patrolling murderous death squads, ghosts, cults, doppelgangers and more supernatural ephemera, the idea being you’re interested in finding out what it all means to keep reading. We’ll call it “the Lost phenomenon”, but really it’s just bad mystery. There’s no plot and the reader has no clue what’s going on so there’s nothing to make the reader invested in anything that’s happening. In fact the only real mystery behind the series is why it’s popular at all! 

Contrast this with a great (non-comics) mystery story: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. What makes it great? Simplicity. It isn’t one non-sequitur after another ad nauseam, it’s a handful of people trapped in an isolated location being killed off one by one – and one of the group is the murderer. You understand the situation and the story, you know the parameters of the mystery and it’s fun seeing the puzzle work itself out. 

And so we come to Mind the Gap, Volume 1 which isn’t as bad as Morning Glories – Jim McCann is more restrained than Spencer and a story does begin to emerge by the end - but is definitely a good example of a bad mystery. Why? The mystery itself is boring, static and, besides not really knowing what’s happening, I also didn’t care to find out. 

Elle is knocked unconscious and put into a coma. Is there a threat to anyone else in the cast for the same thing to happen to another character? There doesn’t seem to be. There goes the tension! More importantly, what is the story – find out how Elle was put in a coma, right? So who are we following – who’s actively trying to figure this out? No one! 

What are the characters doing and why should we care? There’s Dr Geller who’s got a rivalry with Dr Hammond. Ok. Dead end there! What about Dane, Elle’s artist boyfriend? He’s not doing anything besides fighting with Elle’s bestie who’s sleeping a lot. She wakes up one time when Elle is able to talk to her from the spirit world but that’s it. 

Is Elle our main character? She’s in Purgatory talking to ghosts trying to figure out a way back to her body. For some reason she can inhabit other peoples’ bodies but not her own – not quite sure why. Because if she could then that’d be the end of the series? 

So here’s the situation: Elle’s spirit is bumbling around in Purgatory while the rest of the cast stand around pointing fingers. The paper-thin plot barely advances and, besides some shadowy guy in a hoodie calling people on a cell phone, nothing much happens. This is such a frustratingly boring comic! Then the story emerges towards the end and it’s a cliché. Brilliant. 

The saving grace is Rodin Esquejo’s artwork which is far too good for Jim McCann’s crap script. This pairing is the comic book equivalent of Simon and Garfunkel. Esquejo’s artwork isn’t just gorgeous – the Breakfast Club tribute cover and the image of Elle as Bee Girl from that Blind Melon album are just two memorable pages – but is also incredibly evocative. I could actually feel the characters’ emotions through the imagery, it’s so convincing and real, and you see the script through the art. That’s how good the artwork is and it’s so rare to come across in comics! 

The magnificent Adrian Alphona (current artist on Ms Marvel) draws most of the final chapter which explores Dane’s troubled past with his deadbeat dad and his relationship with Elle. Fantastic artwork again but also outstanding layouts. Alphona packs in so much story into his pages that sit so perfectly alongside each other, especially the pages without panels. Mind the Gap would’ve been a total loss if not for Alphona and Esquejo’s art keeping me engaged. 

I get the title – “Mind the Gap” – could be a reference to the warning you see in subways, tying in to where Elle was found, as well as an instruction to the reader to “mind the gaps” in the storytelling because it’s a mystery. But there’s really nothing here story-wise that I liked enough to want to pursue or recommend to others to pick up. I think I’ll steer clear of anything else by Jim McCann. The only positive I got out of this was another artist’s name to look out for: Rodin Esquejo.

Mind the Gap, Volume 1: Intimate Strangers

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