Best Shots Advance Reviews: THE PRIVATE EYE, CHIN MUSIC

Credit: Panel Syndicate

The Private Eye #2
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente
Published by Panel Syndicate
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After showing off their high concept with the first issue, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin take a decidedly more conservative approach with the second issue of The Private Eye. Focusing more on classic noir tropes rather than fleshing out this weird new world of masks, secret identities and a murderous Fourth Estate, this comic sails primarily based on its execution rather than its ideas.

Last issue, in many ways, was the perfect setup. Not only did we meet Patrick Immelman — the series' titular Private Eye — but were immersed in his world, as Vaughan and Martin choreographed a daring escape and introduced Taj, a girl with secrets she'd pay dearly to be kept that way. But in this sophomore installment, we've found that things never go the way there were supposed to, not when there's a dame involved — even if that dame has a penchant for holographic tiger masks. This issue is all about the fallout, and its a common enough trope in the detective noir genre: Patrick is going to be wrongfully accused, a man on the run, a wise guy who's going to have to get wiser to figure out who did his client in.

Yet if we've seen this all before, what's the point? I'll say it again: the point is the execution. Patrick reads very much like a quintessential BKV hero — he's got a crotchety, anxious streak that makes his dialogue read very loose, very sharp, very relatable. Just like Yorick Brown and Marko before him, there's a little bit of a screw-up underneath Patrick's black holographic domino mask, a man with a camouflage jacket who also doesn't have a driver's license. The plotting of this story, while far from revolutionary, is easy to read, and one of the benefits of leaning on some of the clichés of the genre is that audiences can put two and two together with a minimum of exposition. 

But in many ways, it's up to Marcos Martin to keep us interested. And interest he does, as his visual storytelling remains some of the cleanest on the stands (or in this case, the digital bookshelf). Martin really thrives with the letterbox format of The Private Eye, which is an understated victory because it's so user-friendly for digital platforms (particularly that Holy Grail known as the iPhone). While occasionally the lettering for this comic might read a little small, it's a small price to pay, as the expressive characters often make the dialogue seem, well, like window dressing. Choreography like Raveena jumping Patrick with a baseball bat and a psychedelic mask look great, as do the boots of the gunmen looking to dig this Private Eye a shallow grave.

On the one hand, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed that the implications of this bizarre, privacy-obsessed world weren't more developed in this second issue, that might be a gambit on Vaughan's part — tantalizing us with his high concept last issue might pay off big if he keeps teasing us like this. But for now, he's set up his premise, and now he's setting up his plot — the chase is on, and The Private Eye has to look for answers. It's a tried-and-true formula, but it's clear to anyone who looks at this book that it works.

Credit: Image Comics

Chin Music #1
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Tony Harris
Lettering by Bill Tortolini
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Some comics are all about the premise. Some are all about the character. And then some are all about the art.

Judging by the first issue, Chin Music is one of those latter books. Tony Harris is one of those artists who is regularly praised, often imitated but never duplicated, and it's his visual signature that energizes this teaser of an introduction.

Of course, that might mean that this book isn't for everyone. Steve Niles takes a surprisingly hands-off approach to this first issue, leaving the first five pages completely without dialogue — only sound effects. It's a nice riff that allows the atmosphere to grow, as Harris conjures up shadows and eerie designs that make you wonder — what is this cop doing in a candlelit room with a bullet that's engraved with ancient sigils?

That question isn't exactly answered — or at least, it's far from spelled out. This comic jumps between the supernatural and gangster-era Chicago, but you'd be forgiven not to catch the different time periods because there's little explanation here. In many ways, Niles writes his script as though we're fresh off the streets, and while it's disorienting, it also evokes a readers' attention nicely. Why is Elliot Ness in the picture? Who is this immortal, charred-up skeleton man? Who is friend and who is foe? And what are these two men going to teach each other?

The lack of answers also plays to Harris's strengths. Because Niles remains surprisingly silent, you look to the artwork for some sort of direction. Well, Harris ain't telling, but when he produces pictures that are so visceral, so moody, well, what's there to complain about? From his horrific immolation of the unnamed skeleton man to the build-up of the Chicago cops who will cross paths with him, Harris's photorealistic images are haunting and expressive. Harris's use of color is fairly simple, with lots of reds and blues, but they really keep the energy of this comic high.

So what is Chin Music? Well, right now it's a maddeningly vague start that also happens to look fantastic. It's not a book — at least not right now — that's meant for people who want to have a clear grasp on what they're reading. That might draw just fans of Niles and Harris — granted, that's a decent-sized demographic. But if you're looking for a strong visual showcase, well, Chin Music is definitely singing your song.

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