Friday, January 11, 2013

Pull List Review: Change #2

The main characters of Change are going through a disorienting, terrifying time, and so the comicbook offers a similar experience for its readers. We know as little about the big picture of this book as W-2 and Sonia, and it makes for an unsettling and sometimes confusing narrative. There are some obvious villains, but their motives remain obscured, and their tactics vary from direct assault with handguns to secretly replacing W-2's wife with some kind of copy whose body unravels and disappears into thin air. What they want, and why this rapper and screenwriter would be such significant targets for them is still unclear, but the two leads are such powerful characters that it hardly matters. Watching them try to cope with these unthinkable, seemingly insurmountable problems is highly entertaining and rewarding on its own, even without understanding what their opponents are after. We know what Sonia wants (to escape this situation) and what W-2 wants (his wife back) and that is more than enough for now.
     Ales Kot has been doing an excellent job of developing those two characters since the opening scene of the debut issue, so it's no surprise that they continue to be my favorite part of Change #2. Here, however, Kot also introduces a new character who, while equally full, is less obviously connected to the main narrative and therefore less compelling. I'm not sure who this man is supposed to be, though there is a hint or two that he's a younger version of the still-unnamed astronaut who the book sometimes checks in on. There are also a few clues that the new character may be Kot himself, inserted into his own comicbook, though if that's the case I'm not sure why. No matter who he is, though, we definitely see him interact briefly with Sonia at the house where she and W-2 lay low for a while, and though his conversation with her feels fraught with significance, in the end it doesn't seem to really lead to anything. I enjoyed Kot's strange, run-on narration when telling this guy's story, which was mostly an exploration of what new love feels like and how it makes people behave. And though it didn't totally mesh with the more surreal tone of the rest of the issue, the scene where this young man argues with his father had some incredibly strong and realistic dialogue. So despite not fully understanding the character's role in the grand scheme of Change, I enjoyed the pages which focused on him (and there were quite a few) and have hope that how he fits into this jigsaw puzzle will be made clear down the line.
     Because the thing is, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. This is a title based on being dizzying, with words and images that wash over the reader the first time through and ask that we slow down, narrow our focus, soak up all the details. Even then, Kot is keeping a lot of secrets, making it impossible for us to suss out exactly what is going on, and it puts us in the same position as our heroes. That is the script's greatest strength here, its ability to stick us right in the thick of things, to fill us with the same horror and wonder as its stars. Kot acts as whatever evil cult or sect it is that continues to hunt Sonia and W-2 down, and his audience will need to be patient to learn the ins and outs of his larger plan.
     So the story is excellent, but not without its flaws, sometimes too surreal for its own good. Luckily, even in those places where I stumbled over the words or plot, there was always deliciously beautiful artwork from Morgan Jeske and colorist Sloane Leong. Every page is gorgeous, fluid, and bright, and the visuals are as jam-packed and attention-demanding as the words. Jeske has a sort of loose, exaggerated style that helps to underline the dreamlike quality of some scenes and at the same time more fully ground the horror of others. The artistic highlight is probably the page where one of Sonia's attackers is rammed by W-2's car, and not only because the actual moment of impact is so sudden and brutal. It is the next panel, the close-up on the man's bleeding and unconscious face that really sells it for me. The mix of pain and relaxation he displays, the bits of rubble and wreckage that surround him, every tiny piece given the same careful attention by Jeske to bring home the weight of the scene. And that's true from cover to cover.
     Jeske handles Kot's bizarre, always-shifting script expertly, allowing for as much clarity and characterization as possible. And, in turn, Leong's colors are the perfect match for Jeske's lines. His palette is made of up hues that are contradictorily brash and soothing. He uses absence of color selectively and with great skill, most notably in the nightclub scene, though my personal favorite example is the panel of Eko's face as his brain gets scrambled by the bad guys over the phone. I'm not sure, ultimately, if it is Leong or Jeske who deserves the most credit for the incredible quality of this series' artwork, but I'd say it's more likely a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Each of them brings a deliberate eye and a clear appreciation for the finer points of graphic storytelling, so the final product is full to the point of bursting.
     Change is shaping up to be pretty much what I expected, but only insofar as I have no idea what to expect of it next. And I love that feeling. So often, then endpoints of a comicbook story are too predictable. The serialized format of the monthly funny book means that things are forecast and hinted at and alluded to all along until, by the time you reach the ending, you've seen it coming for months. With Change, you can't even be sure when a given scene might abruptly end and lead to an outer space dream sequence. Trying to see the end is a futile endeavor, made doubly so by the fact that if you're too concerned about the conclusion you'll miss all the tiny, wonderful morsels Kot, Jeske, and Leong have included in the present. It's a rich book, getting richer by the page, and even with a few bumps here and there it is a more enjoyable ride than most things on the shelves today.

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