Thursday, November 22, 2007

Castle, Waiting

Cold Heat #1-4
BJ, Frank Santoro

Cold Heat Special #1
Jon Vermilyea, Frank Santoro

I’m not sure how much of value I have to say about Cold Heat, a comic book series intended to run twelve issues but which was discontinued after the first four had been released. The whole thing will eventually be released as a single graphic novel in the summer of 2008, but until then we have four issues of the comic book and a newspaper format “special” to tide us over.

Cold Heat is about a teenage girl named Castle, whose life of casual drug use, ninja classes, and sleeping with the CEO of the company for which she is interning, is interrupted when she hears news that Joel Cannon, lead singer of Castle’s favorite band, Chocolate Gun, has apparently killed himself. Then, at a party held in the band’s honor, a friend of Castle’s is killed, possibly of a drug overdose, and, well, things get a lot stranger from there. The father of the dead kid is a powerful and corrupt politician who worships (and has intercourse with) some sort of demonic creature with a bull’s head, and of course Joel Cannon’s “suicide” is not what it appears to have been. The story becomes more fantastic and surreal as it progresses through these initial four chapters, encompassing alien abductions, ghostly demon-like creatures who attack Castle’s martial arts instructor, political conspiracies and the like, to the point where it’s pretty much impossible to predict where the story is going, making it all the more frustrating that the serialized installments have been discontinued.

If I’ve not made it clear by this point (and I guess I haven’t), I really enjoyed reading these comic books. BJ and Frank Santoro are credited as “storytellers," so I’m going to guess the creative partnership breaks down thusly: the two of them collaborate on the plot/script, and Santoro handles the artwork. Certainly the finished art is all Santoro, but for all I know BJ could be providing detailed layouts. In any case, it’s an absolutely gorgeous looking book. I suppose there’s a lot of comics fans who would find the art crude or amateurish, but it’s so difficult for me to wrap my head around that approach to comics art that I’m not really equipped to address such criticisms. Although the plot unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner and encompasses many of the tropes found in typical adventure/fantasy comics, it does not look anything like a mainstream comic book. Santoro’s wispy, delicate line work and frankly brilliant use of color creates an interesting and not at all unpleasant effect when coupled with such a story. Other works I’ve read by the artist, such as the excellent Incanto and Chimera, are not at all straightforward narratives, but rather more a series of images and dreamlike sequences that demand a close, slow reading, and re-reading, and I think Santoro’s drawing style suits these comics perfectly. It is interesting, then, to see that same drawing style put to such a different purpose here, in this comparatively more straightforward comic book series.

Speaking of art styles, Cold Heat Special #1 is drawn not by Santoro, but by Jon Vermilyea, who is credited with “production” on the regular Cold Heat comic book. Santoro provides plot and layouts for the special, which is printed in a black and white newspaper format. It will literally only take you a couple of minutes to read through the special, but it will be a couple of minutes well spent, and you’ll want to return to it again and again. It’s a neat little story of Castle’s battle with some of the ghost/demon things in the woods. I really enjoyed Vermilyea’s artwork, which is much more typical of the type you would expect to find in an adventure comic book, reminiscent of Jeff Smith, I thought. His rendering of the woods and the slimy creatures is absolutely first rate, and it’s a lot of fun to see another artist’s interpretation of these characters, particularly when that artist has such a different drawing style than the regular series artist. It’s ambiguous as to when the story in the special takes place in relation to the comic book series, and it functions almost as an extended trailer for Castle’s adventures, not to mention the collected book which is advertised on the final page. In a perfect world, we’d see a few more of these specials, each by a different artist, leading up to the book’s release. How about C.F. for Cold Heat Special #2?

As great as these comics are, I’m not sure how enthusiastically I want to recommend people pick them up, given that the story is unfinished and that a graphic novel, encompassing the material, will eventually be made available. I’d certainly encourage you to pick that up, and definitely get the special, too. If you decide to buy the four issues of the comic book series, you won’t be disappointed so long as you don’t expect a finished story. In fact, things really get cooking in that fourth issue. Whatever way you decide it makes sense for you to engage BJ’s and Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat, please do so. As it stands, I know what my most anticipated book of 2008 is. See you this summer, Castle!

*Buy these comics here.

*Note: Interested parties should be sure to check out the comments under my review of Brian Chippendale’s Galactikrap #2, where some valuable information concerning the elusive Galactikrap #1 is revealed.

1 comment:

Curt said...

One of the things I like best about Cold Heat is how how quickly it draws you into it's universe- the characters are fun and the story wonderfully unpredictable. Aaron Cometbus's masterful lettering was a nice surprise too- rounding out a title chock full of underground all*stars. Really great to see Cold Heat reviewed here!