Monday, June 10, 2013

Minis: Kenan Rubenstein, Drew Beckmeyer

Everything Unseen, Parts 6 & 7, by Drew Beckmeyer. Beckmeyer's story about an apocalypse brought on by a proliferation of doppelgangers enters into the beginning of the end here in this deranged, loopy epic. Printed straight from Beckmeyer's pencils, there's a frenetic quality to his art and lettering, as though his life depended on doing this story as quickly as possible. This installment is part road trip/buddy story and part existential journey into self-discovery. In Beckmeyer's world where multiple copies of one's self exist as doppelgangers as part of a caste system, those two stories are really one and the same. Though much of the story is absolutely crazy-sounding when describing it (there's an extended section on how bouillon cubes are manufactured to be a delicacy with sweets), there's an ironclad internal logic at work here and a seriousness of purpose that makes the comic relief all the more effective.

In the first part of the story, the lead doppelganger ("Charles Grodin") encounters the highest-caste version of himself after escaping his role as a war god for a group of tribal savages. The Angel of Death (who had been guiding him toward rebellion all along) sacrifices himself to save Charles, leaving his mask to him. Charles has to deal with a new and far less friendly Angel who wants the mask and wants to kill him, attempting to sow doubt in his mind any way he can. The second part of the book sees Charles, Jim and Jim (the higher and lower caste doppelgangers) on a raft (shades of Huck Finn, no doubt) so that Charles can find Level 1. Upon descending, he finds out where babies are created and judged ahead of time as to what caste they will belong to by a triumvirate. Charles learns that there's a "Level 0" that is self-determining and that all other levels are just "practice". This infuriates him into committing a shocking act of violence that ends the issue, as Beckmeyer really gets at the heart of matters here: are we creatures of free will or predestination? If man is simply a machine perfected over time as part of a process, how can free will defeat that mechanistic process? Does action and agency overcome the inherent flaws of being an inferior being? I can't wait to see how Beckmeyer resolves these questions in this funny, thoughtful, and surprisingly violent saga.

Last Train to Old Town, Chapter 1, by Kenan Rubenstein. The story aside, the design and execution of this mini is beautiful. Landscaped cardboard stock with an image of a train glued on, and then page after page of two-tone color. The color is used quite deliberately: as we meet our protagonist "Two-Shoes", your prototypical, borderline Asperger's nerd. The swarm of students around him is done in light green and uninked, whereas he's inked and seen in a darker green. The effect is repeated throughout the comic and makes the characters pop off the page, emphasizing the actions of the main characters while still keeping them in the larger context of the school. The figures themselves are simple and sketchy, with enough information to clearly and quickly differentiate them. Two-Shoes is harassed by a weird assortment of kids: a goth guy (Stone), a metalhead and a punk rock girl. All give him grief about reading for fun and having no life, but there are a few things that are a bit odd in their school. Two-Shoes doesn't associate with the D&D nerds, scoffing at how anachronistic their scenario is. When Stone and his pals conspire to get Two-Shoes out of school and out to the train station, the reader expects the worst. Is this a high school bullying story? What do these kids (whose identities seem fragile in some respects) want with him? When Stone tells him that they're not going to the city but to Old Town, Two-Shoes says it's dangerous there. At the very end, Rubenstein pulls off an audacious twist as he starts to show us just what kind of people are going to Old Town and then a final page reveal of just how old Old Town actually is. It's an incredibly clever maneuver that flips around the entire nature of the comic. I'm eager to see future chapters.

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