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Strange Detective Tales: Dead Love- The Goon meets Sin City, but better!

by  in Comic News Comment
Strange Detective Tales: Dead Love- The Goon meets Sin City, but better!

I fully expect that to be a pull quote if there’s ever a trade of this, by the way. So, before I realize how odd it is for me to be reviewing an indie/small press comic that isn’t by a Canadian who enjoys video game references and freak out, lets get down to it. 

Strange Detective Tales 1-3- I got this mini in the mail; its been so long that I forgot whether the creators, Jesse Bausch, James Callahan, and Patrick Godfrey, or the publisher, Oddgod Press, sent them.

Thanks to whoever did, at any rate, because this was a really fun story. Really, all you need to know is that Mike Mignola provided an approving pull quote on the cover of the first issue, but I’m nothing if not redundant, so I’ll let you know what I think of it instead of just typing that out and moving on to something else.

As you could probably ascertain from the title, SDT (transpose a couple letters there and you would have the same unfortunate acronym as the English Honors Society I was a member of) is a genre hybrid comic. Or, in other words, a supernatural noir/crime/P.I. story.

Set in “a Hollywood that never was,” as Mike Friggin’ Mignola put it in his pull quote, the story follows private dicks Reinfield (yes, that Reinfield) and Vorlic (an Igor-esque Mad Scientist’s apprentice) on a case that winds all over a ghoul and goblin infested version of the Hollywood’s Golden Age. Since I’m not a film buff and am allergic to research (well, that and Bausch doesn’t bother to give us an exact date, not that it really matters), I have no idea when exactly this is supposed to be set, but Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner are mentioned and Howard Hughes (who looks nothing like Leonardo DiCaprio here) winds up being a major figure in the plot. Come to think of it, that was sort of a spoiler, even if its foreshadowed pretty well before he shows up. So just forget about that.

There are a lot of noir/detective story tropes here; the down on their luck P.Is, a detective who cant get over his lost love, manipulative clients who screw over our hero; and those are just the ones that I can identify with my rudimentary knowledge of the genre gleamed from watching Chinatown one time and reading the previous entry in this review. Except, you know, it has monsters and aliens and shit.

That might seemed tacked on (the whole “if you wanted to write a noir story, just do it!” kind of thing) but Bausch’s writing walks the line between doing a straight detective story and mixing in the horror and sci-fi elements. It reminds me a lot of the Goon, but not quite so much for laughs. All of the elements of the story fit together well, and there’s at least enough of a feeling that the monsters who populate the city are a community that it helps the story roll along. I was a little disappointed that the final plot twist seemed to be at least partially cribbed from a South Park episode and that Bausch inserted some pretty anachronistic social commentary at the end, but I can let it slide, because I liked the rest of the story and to be fair, it’s not like the idea was that revelatory when it was on South Park in the first place. Also, the scene revealing it involves an alien saying the word twat, and that amused the hell out of me.

The art comes from Jim Callahan. In his text piece in the back of the first issue, Bausch opens with “Jim Callahan kicks ass.” I’m inclined to agree with him, as he provides some very impressive black and white artwork over the course of three issues, handling the grotesquerie inherent in the design of the horror elements and the panel to panel storytelling with aplomb. The characters are suitably expressive when they need to be without mugging for the nonexistent camera, and as a whole, it gives me a Quitely vibe, even if his panel composition is completely different; I think it’s the line work. His people don’t have Frank’s, er, distinctive look about them, but there’s something slightly similar there.

Each issue contains a back up story and pin ups (one of which comes from Becky Cloonan) which, along with the very nice production values (each issue has a cardstock cover, and the pages are high quality; if it had a spine, it would be the closest thing I’ve seen to a DC prestige format book from a small press publisher), helps to make the $3.95 price tag seem reasonable. Well, that and the fact that all of Marvel and DC’s comics cost a dollar less and offer far less content, and they’re still my standard for singles at this point. The backups are all of the O. Henry (or, more appropriate to the genre, Twilight Zone or EC Comics) twist ending variety. Onion Jack creator and reason to love comics Joel Priddy provides the best one in the first issue, and Justin Alicea provides some really attractive art (and by that, I’m not just talking about the well endowed heroine of the story he illustrates) in the third, but they’re all enjoyable to some degree and really, I’ve never been one to thumb my nose at extra content.

I’d definitely recommend this to fans of the Goon, Bellboy, or other horror hybrid stories. I’m not sure how much crime aficionados would enjoy it, but if you can handle a few little green men, bug eating literary vampires, and Cyclopean pimps with you noir, you might enjoy it, too. The only problem I have with recommending this story is that it’s not collected and, from what I could gather trying to navigate Oddgod’s site before I got a headache and gave up, they only have the first two issues in stock in their online store. While I wouldn’t kill myself scouring the net for it (of course, I’m the guy who got tired of trying to get a full set of Flex Mentallo), I do think it’s worth reading and would definitely recommend you pick up a collected edition if it sounds like your sort of thing. According to that first issue text page, Bausch planned other minis using these characters, and I’d really like to see those, so here’s hoping that the huge delay between the second and third issue of this thing (the second came out in the fall of 2005 and the third came out this summer) doesn’t mean that we won’t be seeing those stories or that damn collection I want to recommend at some point.

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