Monday, May 28, 2007

Kane, by Paul Grist:
Step aside Frank Miller, this is the best crime book around...

By Paul Grist

In Kane, Paul Grist has created one of the best crime dramas ever seen in comic form. But to many commentators Kane is seen as a cheap Frank Miller/ Sin City imitation. I have always thought that’s a completely wrong view: Paul Grist’s storytelling, in my humble opinion, is far, far better than anything Frank Miller has managed in Sin City. The similarities are often mentioned; the Noir setting, the stark black and white artwork, the multi-layered storylines. But this ignores the real genius of Paul Grist’s Kane; it’s simply not as two dimensional as Miller’s Sin City where everything is simple black and white, heroes are flawed, dark, unrelentingly and serious to the point of boredom. Grist’s Kane has fun and humour in amongst the darkness of the plot. And that raises it above Miller’s Sin City. It is simply the greatest crime comic I’ve ever read.
With six collections available; Greetings from New Eden, Rabbit Hunt, History, 39th, Rico Costas and the latest volume, Partners, you’ve plenty of chance to enjoy this work.

Kane himself is a flawed police detective, hated within his department for his role in shooting and killing his (corrupt) ex-partner. In the first volume, as Kane returns to duty following a six month suspension, his fellow cops show their appreciation in a welcome back gift: a couple of bullets with his name engraved on them. It’s testament to Grist’s abilities as a writer that his initial story hook; Kane the outsider, a pariah in his own precinct for the killing of his partner is still unresolved, still referenced and yet still grabs the reader’s interest.
Throughout the next 5 volumes we meet the extensive supporting cast; Kane’s new partner Kate Felix, his fellow cops, the comic relief that is the Mayor and Mr Flopssie Whopssie (Rabbit for Hire) and Oscar Darke; New Eden’s crime lord with a hand in almost everything that goes on in New Eden. Each character is fully realised and fleshed out throughout the series and the book is perfectly capable of sustaining several episodes where Kane himself is nowhere to be seen.

Kane reads spectacularly well in book form. The subtle nuances in Grist’s art and writing have room to develop slowly in this form. It’s little things that make the difference; flashbacks are detailed with a subtle change in the panel compositions, a top to bottom thin background behind the panels tell you you’re reliving past events. And these flashbacks are extensively used throughout the book, adding much to the intricate and complex story yet never detracting from the main plot.
Grist’s artwork is a perfect blend of cartooning and experimentation. His use of the page and the white space is masterful. He seems to perfectly understand how to utilise the page and layout to dazzle the reader whilst never losing control of the story. And he’s constantly playing with the way he tells a story. There’s a whole chapter taking the point of view from the back of a squad car on a night’s patrol for example. Or, in Partners; a whole chapter told as a fly on the wall documentary, taken as point of view shots through the camera lens. Genius.
(interior panel artwork on Kane by Paul Grist)
The latest volume, Partners, is a fantastic example of how intricate and involving Paul Grist makes these Kane stories. Each plot thread weaves through the book, subtle points dropped early on come back to have increasingly important relevance and the ripples each event causes have far reaching effects.
Partners is a series of stories revolving around the theme of cooperation and partnership in all its forms. Obviously, the spectre of Kane’s dead partner looms large through all of this. But it’s the menace of Oscar Darke and the various deals, arrangements and partnerships he forms as he extends his criminal network throughout New Eden that make up most of the book.
Paul Grist’s Kane really is the perfect package with blisteringly good writing (think of this as NYPD Blue, the Sopranos or Hill Street Blues for comics) and breathtakingly beautiful simple clean line artwork, masterful use of a page and black space. It’s criminal that this isn’t more successful than it is.

And the most incredible thing about Paul Grist? His other ongoing series: Jack Staff is every bit as good as Kane. Completely different, but just as good. Jack Staff is a nostalgic look at British superheroing. Again, well worth picking up. And one to review at a later stage.

(Originally published on the PROPAGANDA at the FPI weblog here.)

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