The overall picture is a lot clearer in Steve Niles’ and Tony Harris’ “Chin Music” #2, as this Untouchables-meets-the-occult mash-up moves away from the world-spanning events of last issue and settles into its prohibition-era Chicago setting. The focus here is on the fallout from the surprising and potentially history-altering ending of the first issue, and this chapter benefits from settling down and allowing the story to unfold in a more linear and straightforward manner.
Niles is no stranger to either hard-boiled crime or horror comics, so this amalgamation of two seemingly disparate genres comes together more naturally than one might expect. Genre-splicing is a popular hook these days but not every writer can pull it off like Niles can; the mysterious occultist Shaw fits right in masquerading as a private detective, for example, and the real-life government agent Eliot Ness seems very comfortable investigating a crime with supernatural overtones. There’s nothing contrived or forced into place here; Niles’ skill as a writer is plenty enough to make it work.
Artistically, the issue doesn’t function as well. It’s very stylish; Harris’ thick black outlines and shadowy scenery giving the issue the kind of nourish look that it needs. But along with it comes some confusing imagery, such the face of the federal agent on the first page that’s marked up with enough thick, squiggly lines that readers might be tempted to look for Jack Kirby or Mike Royer’s name in the credits. Maybe the character is supposed to be a grizzled old fed, but with the suit and hat, he can easily be initially mistaken for Shaw, and while the confusion is put to rest quickly enough, it’s not a good impression to leave on the very first page of the story. Because of all the heavy outlines, it’s sometimes difficult to discern exactly what’s being shown in some of the smaller panels. But that’s not to say Harris doesn’t do far better in other areas; the double page spread immediately after the first page is nicely laid out and more typical of his talents, and his ornate panel borders further augment the story’s early 20th century feel.
Collectively, though, Niles and Harris gel for a pretty satisfying issue. Despite some of Harris’ shortcomings, he knows how to bring to life the kind of dark, unsettling vibe that’s typical of Niles’ stories. And “Chin Music” is the kind of story that seems better suited for Harris than some of the superhero work he’s done, so in retrospect it’s kind of surprising that the two haven’t found a project to collaborate on before this.
“Chin Music” #2 overall is a well-constructed, nicely-executed and much more even effort than the previous issue, and with this issue the series seems to have found its footing.