Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.
Jason Sacks: A few weekends ago I met Janet Lee at Emerald City Comicon. Though I didn't have the presence of mind to grab my phone and record our conversation for posterity (sorry, readers!), we did get a chance to talk about her new series Lost Vegas. I got a chance to view some eye-popping original art and talk with her about her vision for the book, the fun she had creating this functional universe, and how much she loved the coloring work on this book by Chris Sotomayor.
Naturally, after a great conversation with the very excited Ms. Lee, this book immediately hit the top of my queue for this Wednesday. I expected a fun, rollicking, idea-filled sci-fi thrill ride. And Lee and writer Jim McCann didn't disappoint at all.
The first thing I took away from Lost Vegas #1 was that this issue was absolutely a first chapter. Like the best Vertigo or Image books, the first issue of Lost Vegas sets the stage for everything that will come. We get an intriguing and roguish lead character, a fascinating setting, and enough spectacular scene-setting to drive a long series of stories. There's almost an embarrassment of riches in the implied backstory here, in the complex world that's implied in nearly every background of nearly every scene, and of course in the beguiling imagination of Janet Lee.
This comic hit the jackpot for me; Nick, did Lost Vegas make you feel like you hit an inside straight or like you lost all your chips?
Nick Boisson: Frankly, Jason, I could not agree with you more. It's a shame that Lost Vegas is merely a four-issue miniseries, because the universe that Jim McCann and Janet Lee create here is one that I would love to jump in for many months and years to come.
McCann and Lee are probably best known for their Eisner-winning comic (and one of my personal favorite books), Return of the Dapper Men, but Lost Vegas is something completely different from the kaleidoscopic world of Dapper. And yet, Lost Vegas still gives off that same sense of wonder and mystery that Dapper Men gives its readers of all ages. But while Return of the Dapper Men speaks to the kid who loves the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, Lost Vegas speaks to the guy who loves heist movies and Steve McQueen flicks like The Thomas Crown Affair and The Cincinnati Kid. The main character, Roland, screams McQueen in every page that he is in (even when he looks like the uniform humanoid waitstaff of the Lost Vegas vessel.
It's hard to pin down a comparison to this book, because, while it does remind one of movies you may have seen or books you may have read, it is quite an original take on the formula. I suppose it's like The Great Escape mixed with Ocean's Eleven, but taking place on the non-Federation planets of Star Trek. As odd as that sounds, I mean to say that it is just a damn fun first issue!
Jason: But why make comparisons when you can just sit back and bask in the glory of one of the most intriguing, fun, imaginative science fiction epics to appear in comics for many years?
The thing I like the most about Lost Vegas is that it's big. It's an epic, galaxy-spanning adventure series packed with ideas and energy. Page after page is filled with scenes that practically scream of deep backstories. Pages are crammed from edge to edge with small details that are intriguing and fascinating, an embarrassment of galaxy-spanning riches that speaks of an incredibly complex, diverse and intriguing society. This isn't just a world that we want to be in. This is a world that practically grabs us by our shirts and begs us to spend time digging deeper into the world. Sit down, stare at the pages, look deeply into the backgrounds, and become fascinated by everything that can come down the line.
By the time we get to the eye-popping two-page spread that basically acts as the centerpiece for this first issue, we're so transported to this breathtaking sci-fi world that we don't want to return.
Is this really a four issue series? That's the only thing that's a shame about this book. Because if this was a full ongoing, this could be another Saga for Image. And I think we all know how great that book is.
Nick: My thoughts exactly when I head this was a mini. Though, I wholly understand since I know that Janet Lee's art takes some time (totally worth it!) and Jim McCann is busy killing it on Mind the Gap (which you should be reading, Internet).
Though, you are right to say that there can be many a story found in the world of Lost Vegas. In the short 28 pages that this first issue spans, there is far more pouring out of the pages than what you see. While we really only learn about Roland's backstory, the supporting characters — Rinny, Loria, even Ink — are given such minute details that make you feel there is much more to them than what we already know. While I compare this to a great many things, these are characters and not caricatures, which is a notable difference. In many heist films, you see the same characters show up in every flick you watch. McCann writes these characters with depth. You can tell that he has a notebook somewhere with more stories about them that we will just never get to hear. (Though, if I can say, I really do want to hear them.)
But the most interesting character in Lost Vegas is the world itself. My feeling has always been that science-fiction (or speculative-fiction, as they're calling it nowadays) cannot work if your audience doesn't buy the universe
. You'll bet the house (or even a sun) on the world of Lost Vegas from the moment you see that double-page spread. A universe where anything and everything can be bought, sold or gambled for, but at a immeasurable price if you lose. Imagine a starship where anyone with means can board and bet their lives or planets away and the staff is primarily made up of long-standing losers and cheaters who are taking your losses not just for the house, but for their slim hope of freedom. The truth is, I could see this working extremely well as an anthology series. So many stories can be told in this universe and I want to hear them all.
But enough about amazing characters, a plot that leaves us on the edge of our seats and a universe rich with stories and loaded with potential. Let's talk a bit about Janet Lee's art in this book. I have adjectives that I need to share.
Jason: Then I don't want to keep you from sharing your adjectives for too long, Nitro Nick! Suffice it to say, as I did above, that Janet Lee's art does an amazing job at transporting readers to the incredible fictional world that she's co-created. So much of the work of selling this universe comes from Lee's tremendous attention to detail, to the way that she conjures up small images that end up meaning so much. I wanted to stare at the amazing two-page spreads in the comic for a long time, and the breathtaking wraparound cover is another image that seems incredible resonant of worlds that we all desperately want to visit.
This is also an ideal book for Janet Lee's art style. As you mentioned, she made her name working on Return of the Dapper Men, which had as a central plot element mechanical, unrealistic creatures. In that book, and in Lost Vegas, she delivers her art in an odd style — sort of flat, sort of lively but in unpredictable and unusual ways. That style is ideal for this sort of science fiction — because it already feels a bit odd and different, it works very well at presenting odd and different worlds.
But am I making any sense here or wandering through unmapped stars, Nick?
Nick: No worries, Jason. I definitely get what you're trying to say here. The art seizes you into the world of Lost Vegas like the Nighthawks.
You talk of the double page spreads but my absolute favorite piece of art in this comic is the page that shows Roland using Ink to telepathically communicate with Rinny and Loria. Janet Lee's decoupage art style truly shines here. Roland's bare body on a page — divided in sections, as if he were a doll — with Ink stretched over Roland and splashed upon the page, reaching (across the ship, we assume) to Rinny and Loria.
But what I love about the page — more than the fact that it is something I want framed on my wall — is that it makes the dialogue in the scene flow perfectly. Frankly, the way I feel about that page is the way I feel about the issue. So often in comics, big, beautiful art pieces ruin the pacing of the story. But Lee's art and McCann's words conjoin and forge the best first issue I've read so far this year. There is something to be said about creative teams who work this well together; such a rarity in comics these days.
Lost Vegas #1 took me to a world that I never wish to leave, and really, that's all aces.
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.