Tuesday, March 18, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #18: Dave Kelly & Lara Antal

Dave Kelly and Lara Antal's Tales of the Night Watchman is a clever hybrid of super-heroics, horror and slice-of-life storytelling. Its structure allows for an episodic quality to the stories as well as a larger overall storyline, as it follows a man named Charlie who happens to be possessed by a mystical, protective force called the Night Watchman. Essentially, in terms of design and concept, he's kind of a hybrid between The Spirit and The Spectre. Antal's drawing at times is crude, but it's always clear and particularly well-suited to the many quiet and funny character moments. Indeed, this comic is as much about life working as a barista as it is about fighting the forces of the supernatural.

Charlie winds up going to an apartment he had lived in sixty years earlier, only to find it occupied by Nora. In a manner as yet unexplained in the series, she agreed to help him by letting him stay there in exchange for him working at the coffee shop. Nora is a political blogger following the progressive political actions of a particular councilman everyone hoped would run for mayor. Kelly sort of telegraphed from the start that this man wasn't what he seemed but quickly takes that notion way over the top and into the land of the supernatural. The best aspect of the book is the chemistry between Nora and Charlie that is nonetheless platonic. Indeed, that chemistry has more to do with their mutual curiosity about the unknown. The one-shot "The Night Collector" (drawn by Molly Ostertag) is similarly slightly crude in its attempts at naturalism, but crude always beats slick when it comes to horror. This is a clever, unsettling story about romantic betrayals and vampires that takes some interesting twists and turns. The ending is actually quite surprising, as even though the chief vampire is slain, it's not exactly a happy ending. I like the way in which vampires are treated as almost like feral animals, as well as the ways in which this story revolves around sex but isn't the least bit titillating. These are solid and well-told comics, and while there are plenty of rough edges in every aspect of the storytelling, there's also a sincerity and belief in these characters that comes through on every page.

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