Monday, August 11, 2014

Justice Does Not Pay: Crime World

David King's Crime World comics at first glance are a dramatic tonal shift from his other material. They're hyper-violent, visceral and focus on genre concerns. Of course, they do share the same kind of melancholy air that borders on nihilism of his other comics. In Crime World, crime not only does pay, but it's also almost completely indistinguishable from justice. There are few cartoonists whose line I admire more than King's. He works in the tradition of Tom Hart and Charles Schulz in terms of the simply-designed scrawl of his character design. There's even a touch of Matt Feazell stick-figure simplicity in some of his characters' faces: a circle, a line, a triangle and a couple of dots. Thematically, King draws from film noir and the kind of violent, pulpy crime comics that were popular before the initiation of the Comics Code, as well as the violent and stylized work of Chester Gould.

In the first issue, King touches on classic tough guy/Jimmy Cagney tropes and dialog in a story about a contract killer whose words contradict everything he does. As a killer, everything he says is a lie, as he creates the same "shitty", violent world that he decries after he's murdered someone. At the same time, he's a family man who regrets telling his girlfriend to get an abortion but is happy that she didn't. The scenes at his "office" where he awaits an envelope giving him his instructions (grotesquely "birthing" through an oily slot in the ceiling) are visceral and fascinating, as King drops in cryptic details that are nonetheless ignored by his protagonist, who is simply interested in a paycheck and an assignment.

The second issue features a freed prisoner who immediately starts killing people out of revenge and also for no really good reason. While he is loathsome, he's not much less unpleasant than the cops we meet in the story. The third issue features a crazy story about city-wide blackouts and a food shortage that ensues. We meet a thug walking the streets looking for a meal, as well as an eccentric millionaire who doesn't understand why the power is out and why he's run out of food. Their inevitable meeting is both grim and funny, as neither man can comprehend the other in any meaningful way. This proves to be a volatile mix, as the poor man kills the rich man in a twist worthy of an EC comic. King extracts a remarkable amount of facial expressiveness for an artist whose work uses such a minimalist approach.

The fourth issue features a more complex narrative and in many ways is the most nihilistic of King's stories. We meet "Cop Lopez", a young police officer who's told to drive while Hoolihan, a hilariously and capriciously vicious squad commander, is tracking down a killer. Hoolihan commands Lopez to kill the killer in cold blood after they track him down and then tries to pin it on him afterwards in a speech that is so blithely disingenuous that it's practically a warped comedy routine. Lopez reacts by storming out, acting much like the Russell Crowe character in L.A. Confidential. The casual corruption and racism of that film pervades this story, but King's work is far more satirical in nature. That can be seen in an ad for Crime World in this very issue, which features more casual police brutality that will never be addressed in this setting. In King's Crime World, the cheap value of human life is played in an absurdist manner, drawing the darkest of laughs by giving violence a slapstick quality while never allowing the reader to forget that the violence is horrible and senseless. That's true of whether a dangerous criminal or a police officer is committing it, because King depicts their rationalizations (if they even have one) as being equally flimsy.

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