Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cranky Book Review: Terminal City

Cover to The Compleat Terminal City

So, I've gotten 200 pages into this beast, and just have no desire to finish it. Usually I can tell within the first chapter if something isn't going to click with me. Here, the basic idea and artwork kept me going for a while, but the story constantly feels as if nothing is happening.

panel from Terminal City showing man crashing through a window
Shades of Soderbergh's Kafka?

And things do happen, there is a lot of death and mayhem, but Michael Lark does such a good job at portraying this stagnant city of progress that the artwork outshines the obvious and flat neo-noir writing. The characters are either "types" from 1930s pop culture or bad riffs on puns. or both.

panel from Terminal City featuring Basil Fawlty robot
Somehow, a 1930s robot based on John Cleese's Basil Fawlty just isn't funny.

This would seem to be a gold mine of ideas and commentary, portraying the inhabitants of a retro-future city whose founding ideals have deteriorated over time. But nothing gets past that flat, four-color surface. You'd think that having the story's only African-American, a washed-up boxer, fight a literal series of "missing links" would turn out to be a commentary on racism and social darwinism. But no, it's just another thing that happens, with a sort of  "wink wink, isn't that clever" feel to it.

panel from Terminal City
and yes, the cavemen are based on the Three Stooges

This may have worked better in short, comic-book sized installments; but as a 350 page graphic novel this is just an endless parade of punny jokes, incompetent gangsters and mysterious deaths. You may want to dig out the original Vertigo issues from the dollar boxes to enjoy the luscious line art and coloring, but I can't recommend this as something to sit down and read.

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