A review a day: <i>Shadrach Stone</i>

Who names their kid "Shadrach"? I mean, honestly.

Shadrach Stone (subtitled "A Tale of the 21st Century") is a recent graphic novel published by the cool people at Penny Farthing Press. Stuart Moore writes it, Jon Proctor draws, inks some of it, and colors it, Jeff Dabu inks some of it, and Jason Levine letters it. You pay $19.95 (or less on those disreputable Internet sites like Amazon) for it, and all is well in the world! Or is it?

Moore isn't a great writer, but his weird indy stuff is far more interesting than his mainstream stuff, so whenever he shows up with something like this, I like to give it a look.

Proctor is also an odd artist - I shouldn't like his stuff, because it's heavily photo-referenced, but he also makes it work pretty well. So this book has the potential to be really good, and while it's not great, it's a solid story with some very weird twists in it (which don't always work). It's also "book one," which means we may or may not ever see more of it. I hope we do, but I never hold my breath with stuff like this.

This is a solid first volume that goes in a very weird direction halfway through or so. I know WHY Moore did it, and I don't have too much of a problem with it, but it also feels like the first half of the book is more interesting than the second half. To recap: Shadrach Stone is a literary agent who makes a living by lying. He's good at it, too - the first scene shows him as a kid, telling basically his first lie. A shopkeeper claims he stole stuff from him, and he calls the cops. Shadrach's father shows up as well, and they all berate Shadrach for a while. But the shopkeeper has no proof that Shadrach is the thief, and Shadrach claims he saw the person who actually stole the stuff, so the cops let him go. His dad tells him that lies have consequences, but Shadrach doesn't see them at that moment and, as he grows up, he obviously never realizes that. So now that he's a grown-up, he's trying to get an author he represents a good deal, so he lies to a publisher, he lies to the author, he lies to the hot model he's fucking. Soon enough though, he happens to look up and see planes flying into the World Trade Center. Yes, the book takes place in 2001. Inexplicably, he runs into the burning building and opens a door, where he is confronted by strange visions. Then he blacks out.

When he wakes up, he's out on the street, safe, but he quickly realizes that he's "allergic" to lies. He can't tell lies and he can't listen to them - they make him almost physically ill. He's still having some weird visions, and he has to lock himself in his apartment so he can't hear anything. He ventures onto the street and calls his model girlfriend, Vida, who we already know is far more than she seems.

He keeps hearing lies, though, and he passes out. When he wakes up, Vida has taken him to a weird headquarters with other members of her team. They're all a bit odd, and their leader, Grid (who has a grid on his face), tells Shadrach that they're a group called "Force Majeure" and they defend reality. Grid tells him that they track alternate realities, which are created whenever someone lies. Recently, the fabric of reality has been more and more disturbed, and it's obvious that someone is manipulating events from behind the scenes. Shadrach is an "expert in lies," and the fact that he now seems unable to lie makes him someone they can trust to help. He and Vida visit an alternate reality that was created from Shadrach's lies to Vida about their relationship so Shadrach can see what happens when he lies, and then there's a big ol' twist at the end to set up volume 2. I don't know how many volumes Moore and Proctor have planned, but there's definitely a second one planned, at least!

I'm not sure how I feel about the second part of the story. Moore starts off with a rather fascinating portrait of a man who lives by lying but suddenly can't. Yes, he sees visions and such, but it's kind of a weird little story. I understand that to make this a bit more marketable, Moore turns this into a more action/adventure story, with weird alternate realities and bad guys and such, but while the book remains pretty good, it gets a little less interesting after Force Majeure shows up. For a continuing series, it probably needs what Moore does in the second half of the book, but I think it would have been better if it had been one volume and stayed within the confines of "normal" life. Maybe Shadrach can see visions, but other than that, it would have been neat to see Shadrach deal with his new "problem" by himself. I still won't say the second half of the book is bad, but I found myself yearning for something a bit more.

Perhaps it has to do with Proctor, as well (he's co-creator). Proctor's art here is a lot better than on The Black Diamond, the last time I saw his art, and it was pretty good there. Proctor obviously uses live models and photo referencing, but he's gotten pretty good at fitting them all into a panel well and integrating everything into one scene.

Plus, he's gotten a lot better at laying out the pages - he uses some very nice designs in this comic, with panel borders that aren't always simply straight and horizontal/vertical - there are jagged edges, rounded borders, and all sorts of panels intruding on other panels. When Shadrach and Vida enter the alternate reality, Proctor does a wonderful job showing what happens when the reality breaks down - Proctor shows faces elongating and skin breaking down and all sorts of weird shit going on. It's a nice way to show what might happen if reality breaks down. While I never love it when an artist uses so many live models and photo references, a good artist - and I think Proctor qualifies! - can make it work well for him. Plus, his coloring is magnificent - he does a very nice job contrasting the more muted tones of Shadrach's real life with the more lurid coloring of the "superhero" stuff, and the visions are even more wild. Proctor's color choices are kind of odd, but they work really well.

I remain convinced that if Moore had left Force Majeure out of this book and taken Shadrach in a more realistic direction the book would have been stronger, but I certainly don't mind that he went a bit wild with it, depending on how he pulls it off. The best part of the second half is when Shadrach is confronted by the reality he created, because that's kind of what he would have had to deal with if Force Majeure hadn't shown up. But I can still recommend the comic, because it's a pretty interesting start. I do hope Moore and Proctor will be able to keep up with the story even though they have to make money elsewhere (I assume they're not going to make a ton of coin from this). I'll be interested to see where they go with the comic.

Tomorrow: Plastic surgery gone wild!!!!

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