CSI: Dying in the Gutters #5

CSI: Dying in the Gutters

I haven’t seen anyone talk about the comic book convention mystery CSI: Dying in the Gutters, and after they worked so hard to draw direct market attention to it, too. Maybe everyone’s waiting for the trade (due next month)?

Here’s the premise: at a Las Vegas comic convention, internet gossip Rich Johnston is killed, electrocuted when he touches a rigged microphone while standing in salt water. So many creators have reason to kill him that the CSI team has trouble sorting them all out, not to mention the work they have to do to determine whether Rich was the intended victim. He grabbed the mike away from Joe Quesada, who had just as many people displeased with him.

Artistically, the series pointed out just how many similar-looking white guys there are in comics. Certainly, the writer was restricted by how many people would grant permission to be involved in the story, and I’m sure they wanted to focus on a certain kind of big name to make things plausible, but Gail Simone was the only woman and Phil Jimenez the only non-white guy.

CSI: Dying in the Gutters

The artist is not great with the likenesses, either. If I know what someone already looks like, I can see the resemblance in the art, but I thought the faces were overly stiff and strangely unattractive (not something I usually say about the CSI cast). There’s a lot of shadowing used. If one assumes fewer lines indicates more confidence in the work, Mooney might have felt restrained by the requirements of a licensed property.

Readers familiar with the comic scene will find some of the jibes old-school: comic freelancers are all disgruntled, everyone at a con acts strangely, that kind of thing. I don’t envy Grant, having to write to both those who know the scene and those, presumably, attracted by the CSI name and having no detailed familiarity with comic fandom. There are, of course, a lot of costumes on display, as though most attendees at conventions dress up. (They don’t.) The designs resemble aliens and non-comic movie characters more than one usually sees at such things, again probably because of licensing restraints. (For example, a mis-colored Spider-Man, to avoid ticking off Marvel.)

I want to talk about the solution to the mystery, so there will be SPOILERS from this point on.

At first, I thought they might go for something clever. Everyone did it, for instance, or Rich did it himself by accident trying to get someone else. Nope. This murder only had one killer, and it turned out to be Greg Rucka. He was trying to kill Quesada because Quesada signed Ed Brubaker to a Marvel exclusive, which caused the death of their title Gotham Central (only it’s not named by title in this story). Here’s his breakdown monologue (every good killer has one):

Nothing but damn superheroes… Remember when we worked together? That was a great book… a great crime comic … We were starting a revolution… We were so close… We could have put crime comics on the map!

This panel, by the way, is a closeup of Rucka, hands raised, with daisies and rainbows behind him. It looks like it wandered in from a shôjo manga by mistake. And how ironic, that he’s bemoaning the lack of crime comics in one! He continues talking to Brubaker,

I don’t blame you. You were seduced away by quicker money, more exposure. I can understand that.

Then he pulls a gun on Quesada:

You couldn’t wait to announce you’d signed Ed. If I’d had time, I could have saved that book, even without him. But no, you put out the word, and sales just plunged.

Brubaker points out that he’s still doing crime comics (dropping in a plug for Criminal), to which Rucka responds:

But I’m not! They won’t let me — and someone has to pay for that.

Bravo to Rucka for having the self-confidence to allow himself to be portrayed as someone under the thumb of his corporate masters, someone who’s incapable of working on what he really wants to, a weakling jealous of those who still do creator-owned comics in other genres.

I find it interesting that his character blames low sales on someone else releasing news too early. That’s a complaint often raised about Rich, that he’s irresponsible in letting out information that can affect books and creators’ lives, and apparently, at least in the CSI universe, it’s true.

For comparison, here’s a recent interview with Brubaker (link no longer available) in which he talks about how Gotham Central should have been more successful than it was.

I just thought that DC didn’t know how to handle the book, because it wasn’t a DC proper book and it wasn’t a Vertigo book and because of that I felt no-one knew how to deal with it. I’d have people within the company telling me it was their favourite book and I’m like ‘well then why don’t you promote it? Why are we waiting for trade paperbacks?’ to the point where by the time the third trade paperback came out the book was done, and that trade should have come out two months after the story ended.

So maybe there’s a grain of truth in the suggestion that the death of that title was a big disappointment to its writers?

Before I quit, a couple of other funny lines from the CSI comic:

Brubaker to Rucka: “It always comes down to a gun with you.”

Grissom to Quesada, offering his card: “Here, for your new Ant-Man comic, I’d be happy to consult. I’m something of an expert.”
Quesada: “On Ant-Man?”
Grissom: “On ants.”

And the final word, courtesy Grissom:

People keep telling me comics fans are geeks, how strange they are, how skewed their perspective is, but deep down inside, they really are just like everybody else.

So what do you think? Is that a sufficient reason for a comic book-related killing? Who would you have liked to see named as the murderer?

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