Writer: Glen Brunswick
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Klaus Janson (i)
Publisher: Image (creator-owned brand)
The final issue of John Romita Jr.’s creator-owned miniseries arrives, and with it comes a sense of indifference and disinterest which is only exaggerated by the delays to this third instalment. Don’t get me wrong, I like that Romita has tried to do something a bit different with his tale of a bad cop who gets a final chance to redeem himself in the afterlife and play a part in the events of mortals back on earth, and it’s to his credit that the series retains a classy sheen through the art, in a style which sets it apart from a lot of other books on the shelf and even the past work of Romita Jr himself. However, the script continues to be a weak trotting-out of clichés attached to a plot which seems to be made up as Romita goes along. Instead of creating a world defined by boundaries or a logic which will help the reader identify with the concepts, the “Gray Area” keeps making up its own rules to serve the needs of the story, paying little heed to whether story developments really make any sense with what has gone before, and leading up to a climax which never really materialises, going out with a whimper rather than any kind of bang.
Understandably for an artist-turned-writer, the concept of Gray Area gives Romita lots to play with in art terms, but the never-ending parade of aliens, ghosts and other supernatural beings soon becomes tiresome when we realise that they don’t really matter one jot to the main story. Whole subplots are dropped halfway through and a desperate and unclear last-page tying up of loose ends feels forced and detached from the rest of the issue – and as for the mawkish non-finale, I’d have been happier with a bittersweet ending which would have really done justice to the (in my mind) unredeemed bastard of a character that Chance continues to be. There’s been no character development since issue one beyond the superficial, and the series really suffers as a result. Even the potential face-saving prettiness of the book is drained by the dour colour palette, the purples and grays really muting the explosive potential of Romita’s pencils. Expert artist Klaus Janson’s too-thin inks also adhere too slavishly to the original art to provide any real impact, the thin lines undercutting the stature of Romita’s renderings, leaving them merely clean, consistent, soulless images which aren’t aided by the shallow scripting.
In short, the book has been a brave experiment but a real disappointment. The Gray Area isn’t any place I want to visit again soon, and the three origin issues feel padded and insubstantial when compared to many of the other dense and intelligent comics out there today. If Romita had given us the origin in a more exciting, condensed manner, he could have taken more time to explore the possibilities of storytelling in his strange world. As it is, the whole book sadly symbolises missed potential and a mishandling of an idea which could have been so much better. Romita is still a master creator – one duff book isn’t going to take away from that – but this is hardly his finest hour.
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