Robert Kirkman’s “Mission Statement” has been a topic of discussion around the internet over the past week, and although Kirkman had absolutely nothing to do with this comic, something he said reminded me of “Young Liars.” It wasn’t the part about writers and artists doing creator-owned stuff; it was the part where he said that no one aspires only to make “Pulp Fiction 2.” I remember a heck of a lot of movies in the 90s that tried very hard to be “Pulp Fiction 2” and more than a few filmmakers who seemed to aspire to be little more than Quentin Tarantino, Junior. Joe Carnahan launched his career that way, and he seems to have returned to his Tarantino-esque roots with his recent work. My point is that the onslaught of “Pulp Fiction 2” wannabes gave us dozens of movies that captured the surface details — the pop culture riffs, the shocking violence, the sleazy cool, the fractured timelines — of Tarantino, without the complex irony or originality.
“Young Liars” reminds me of those kinds of Tarantino-lite products from a decade ago, except in comic book form.
But “Young Liars” is better than that, luckily, because what saves it from the “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag” zone is the way David Lapham takes the surface Tarantino qualities and stirs them up in a David Lynch cauldron. What we get is a compelling comic, full of twists and oddball characters. For all of its oppressive complexity, though, it feels manufactured to be a Tarantino meets Lynch comic. And the problem with both Tarantino and Lynch (and I’m not even talking about their imitators here) is that they can both be too precious. They can get caught up in their own clever ideas, visuals, and references at the expense of story — at the expense of substance (see “Death Proof” and “Wild at Heart,” for example). That’s the trap that Lapham falls into here.
Here we have a comic in which each character has a clearly established quirk and probably one or more dark secrets. See the self-loathing anorexic, see the drug-addled transvestite, see the trust-fund thief, see the girl with the bullet in her brain, see the lover who put it there. And so on. Lapham takes the Lynchian (incest, clowns, Pinkertons) and the Tarantino-esque (non-linear narrative, pop culture arguments, axes to the skull) and throws them all together with these deeply flawed characters.
It’s not dull. It’s not like any other Vertigo comic. But it also feels a bit hollow.
Issue #6 moves the plot forward — a plot that’s driven by a Fifty Million Dollar painting heist, a.k.a. a MacGuffin — and provides more context for the central Danny/Sadie relationship (the one that involves a bullet to the brain), but Lapham seems more interested in layering the weirdness. And all the layering and all the weirdness don’t hide the fact that there’s still not much at the core of this comic.
I’m not giving up on this series yet. Even if it is nothing more than a sum of its influences, it’s still a comic that feels like nothing else in the Vertigo line — or any other line, to be sure. If Lapham can move the story away from the Tarantino and the Lynch, and into Lapham-esque territory, then the comic might be really worth reading.