- Posted by Johanna on June 23, 2006 at 4:12 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Paul Grist
- PUBLISHER: Image Comics; $11.95 US
Kane is a British take on American cop stories. The series uses the genre of the police procedural to comment on crime, advertising, media, and a general love of public attention in a distinctively simple and direct graphic style.
Greetings From New Eden introduces us to Kane, a rogue cop who doesn’t get along with his superiors or coworkers, as he confronts a kidnapper holding a baby hostage in a church. The rest of his squad demonstrates their dislike for him by playing practical jokes that could get him killed. Their hate comes from an event in his past, when he had to kill his crooked partner.
The rest of the book establishes the other recurring characters: His current partner, Kate Felix, is a cop’s daughter who’s grown up with the force. Organized crime boss Oscar Darke is Kane’s equivalent on the other side. And Mister Floppsie Whoppsie is a street performer in a bunny suit who’s gone crazy. “I’m a creative individual — an artist,” he cries, but all people see is a Bugs Bunny ripoff.
What immediately struck me about this series is Grist’s amazing use of black and white. There’s incredible beauty in the simplicity of his work; as time goes on, the art becomes more complex and detailed, but the dramatic use of contrast remains. Objects exist in stark relief, causing certain features to stand out. For example, Detective Felix wears a black jacket with white stars on the sleeves. When she’s standing in a dark room, the jacket blends into the shadows, so the effect is that of an aura as the stars float around her. We don’t know how far the background extends or what it contains (in more ways than one).
There’s a similar shot of Kane where he’s portrayed as a trenchcoat surrounding black space. At the time, all we know of the character is the surface costume. Figures are often simplified to their essence, as seen with the beat cop and the adorable baby. These characters exist to represent qualities, and they do it well; they’re solid and real.
Beyond the art as interplay of shadows and light, it also points out a key theme of the book, again through contrast. Unlike the lack of color in the art, events in the story aren’t always black and white or easy to figure out. This underlying message is especially well-developed as we learn more about Oscar Darke, Kane’s antithesis. Frequent flashbacks fill in both character’s backgrounds and the forces that shaped them.
Grist clearly has confidence in his storytelling skills; some stories are mostly wordless, relying on the art. He also considers the full page as his layout; often the book lacks a traditional panel structure. I should point out that pages with a black strip down the middle and wide margins on each side of the page are flashbacks. Although this is recognizable if the reader pays attention to the subtle differences between the older and younger Kane, it can be confusing at first.
As I mentioned above, contrast is used frequently but not obviously. Within the first three pages, we’ve seen contrast between the reasons the country’s settlers built a church (to thank God for protecting them) and the way the church is currently treated by everyone else, as the site of an armed standoff. As well, the grieving mother of the kidnapped child is revealed as a media manipulator the second the cameras are off of her. There are also more subtle daily contradications we don’t often think about, as when the captain, speaking to Kane, follows up “my door’s always open” with “close the door behind you.” Or more humorous ones, with a wacky guy in a bunny suit threatening the mayor’s life.
One of the most dangerous contrasts throughout the series is that of the cops as caring protectors vs. uncaring killers. It doesn’t matter much to the others whether Kane gets killed or not, or whether their treatment of him interferes with a case. We can’t tell the good guys from bad — not a surprise when the good guys are the ones hurt or killed and the bad are protected by corrupt cops.
The series continues in Rabbit Hunt (in which Mister Floppsie Whoppsie, who’s become a drunken bum and a police informant, is being chased by Fwankie, a hulking bounty hunter with a lisp, an overactive temper, and pretentious narration) and Histories (the life story of Oscar Darke). A five-page introductory story, “Shots”, is available online from this terrific Kane fansite.