Friday, October 16, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #16: Purgatory Pub

Gabriel Dunston's Purgatory Pub (Book 1) is a clear labor of love, as it depicts an unusual friendship between two supernatural beings whose jobs are at odds: one is an angel charged with guiding his charges (or "marks", as they're called in the book) to goodness, and the other a demon whose task is to tempt his mark. This is a book about contrasts, relationships and perceptions, as the two navigate their friendship despite living in completely different circumstances. There's a great scene early in the book where the angel and the demon are walking "uptown" toward heaven to pick up some cigars. The angel perceives that there is no gate keeping him out and St. Peter is a jovial sort, whereas the demon sees a huge gate and St. Peter wears shades and is intent on seeing if his name is in his book. It's the sort of clever contrast that's made throughout the book, depicting the richness of a relationship that thrives against all odds.

The book centers around the two supernatural workers meeting at the titular pub, getting drinks and smoking cigars. They take a trip "downtown" because the angel wants to see a death metal show, a kind of music the demon despises. There are also lengthy interludes with Lucifer, aka Samael, for whom the demon wrote his latest speech. Upon meeting the "boss", the demon notes this, only to have Samael deny this. The scenes in hell are hilarious, as they are not unlike living in the worst parts of New York City, with a shitty roommate, terrible bartenders and surly convenience store proprietors. Dunston does a great job getting at each character's underlying sadness: the demon just wants his work recognized, while the angel is angry with religion in general. Dunston does an especially impressive job with getting to the root of Lucifer's sadness by way of both flashbacks and the final scene in the book. It emphasizes that this book is really about love that's been betrayed, and Dunston indicates that because Michael (the eventual warrior angel who would best Lucifer) didn't have a purpose before Lucifer's betrayal, he knew all along that Lucifer would betray him. It's an awful trick, even as one can sense that God was not happy to have to do this while still completely emphasizing with Lucifer that he was being replaced. The book also emphasizes the public self and the private self, and how those two frequently don't line up.

The problem with the book is Dunston's art. The slick style that's similar to much webcomic-style genre art looks flat-out ugly in the greyscaled black-and-white art. Compare that to the cover's vivid colors that fully inhabit the thick, rubbery line. On the page itself, the characters simply don't have the same life. While I'm not crazy about this sort of computer-drawn art in the first place, it seems obvious that this style needs color to be effective. Hopefully, a future edition of the book will be able to correct this.

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