Friday, June 9, 2017

Will Eisner's The Spirit: The Corpse Makers #3 Review and *Spoilers*

A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

Written and art by: Francesco Francavilla
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: May 17, 2017

Another issue of Francesco Francavilla’s wonderful take on Will Eisner’s most famous creation, another classic hardboiled crime quote for the opening page. This one’s from Dashiell Hammett. “I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” Well, it’s that word ‘reasonable’ that’s the kicker, isn’t it? A ‘reasonable’ amount of trouble is trouble you can handle, trouble you can, with a little effort, take care of. How fitting or ironic this quotation is when applied to the situations The Spirit finds himself in this issue is up to you, but I’m going with irony, I think. Let me tell you why.

This issue starts off with some recap. This is necessary, I suppose, and it’s done in a fairly economical way. And a pretty dramatic way, too. Francavilla presents us with police cars arriving at the abandoned factory that was the setting for last issue’s takedown of the thieves who had robbed a bank in the first issue. Francavilla’s storytelling is cinematic and clever. The first page eschews conventional panel divisions (something that Francavilla’s been doing on and off throughout the series, to be fair), blurring one frame into the next in a way that suggests a sort of breathless quality to the action. This in turn is entirely appropriate as, in this case, the focus is on the police cars speeding towards the scene and, more importantly, a discarded newspaper past which their wheels are racing, its front page declaring that the mysterious ‘crimson coal’ which has been lurking in the background of the narrative throughout the story so far is “not a safe option”. As a way of stylishly combining plot and sub-plot, the page really is rather impressive.

Our viewpoint character initially is the Commissioner who has been told by Eb where to find the captured hoods. His question about The Spirit’s whereabouts segues into a dramatic (that word again!) double page title spread with The Spirit sprinting through a rain-drenched shadow-shrouded alley across the top of the two pages, while his name is picked out in huge letters on the puddle-strewn ground below. He ends up following the same sinister crematorium van we’ve seen in previous issues and this leads him to the mysterious bad guys’ base of operations.

We next see Lisa Marlowe entering her offices and bandaging herself up after her brush with the aforementioned bad guys. This confrontation is told in flashback that is mostly presented without either dialogue or narration. Again, Francavilla uses the double page here to create a sense of excitement as the chase between the motorbike-riding Marlowe and the crematorium van gets underway. What follows is a masterclass in visual storytelling, page design and panel layout.

I could describe the approach as cinematic – and it is, to an extent – but to do so would be to gloss over the fact that in one or two pages Francavilla is doing things that actually can only really be done in comics. It’s not just a matter of having panels follow one another sequentially to suggest movement or the fast cutting of a camera. There’s something much more interesting going on, for example, in the page in which, as the van closes on Marlowe’s bike (which is heading towards the water), the three panels providing close-ups of Marlowe’s face, the van’s passenger firing at her and the van hitting a trash can, are divided up by the very streets down which Marlowe and the van are travelling. Add in a crazy angle and you have an impressively original and effective way of presenting a chase scene.

The story ends with The Spirit’s exploration of the bad guys’ base of operations, his confrontation with them and his shocking discovery on the final page. Arguably this is where the tension slackens a bit. There are just a little too many panels of The Spirit lurking in shadows, although, when he does finally get spotted by the bad guys, the action picks up appreciably, leading to an ending that is unexpected and disturbing in more or less equal measure. It also suggests that, yes, the trouble The Spirit is about to encounter is decidedly unreasonable.

Bits and Pieces:

If you’ve read my other two reviews of this title, you’ll probably know what to expect. I am an unashamed Francavilla fan. I think he’s one of the modern masters of the comic art form and his talents are particularly suited to this tale which combines hardboiled mystery and gothic horror in such an interesting way. His pacing is mostly spot on, and his artwork is simply phenomenal. This is incredibly decompressed storytelling and it will not take you very long to read at all. It is, however, a thrilling, involving and thoroughly entertaining experience. Highly recommended.


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