Digital Ash 2/5/2015: Reservoir Dogs

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks

Digital Ash

Moth City: The Reservoir

(Tim Gibson)

3.5 stars

Tim Gibson has been doing some amazing and inventive things with his Moth City series. He's been at the forefront of the digital possibilities of comics, as well as putting a unique twist on some rather standard comic genres like war and horror and action. Now he's taking a step back to provide context and characterization to his larger series.

With his new one-shot, Moth City: The Reservoir, Gibson adds “The Western” to his stable of genre explorations, and, through this choice, takes the standard black and white morality inherent in it and adds hues of gray. Gibson's Moth City has always been about the difficult choices we are forced to make in the intersection between circumstances and our own moral compass. How Gibson's characters respond defines who they are, as much as how others perceive them. They live in a morally relativistic world where what is clearly right for one is horrific to others, and where disease can quickly undermine all sense of human endeavor and control.

Gibson tells the “origin story” (if you will) of McCaw, one of the main characters from his larger Moth City series. He does it by eschewing dialogue, allowing his artwork to tell his story, and frames it with a series of didactic panels in which he pushes his singular tale into the realm of the universal – making McCaw's story that of the pioneer, the individual who creates through his own volition, the prototype and archetype one in the same. It also becomes a story of family, a theme central to Moth City, and how that concept defines, imprisons, and propels us.

Of The Reservoir, Gibson has said that he “wanted to take the classic Western themes and internalize them in the characters rather than the landscape.” While his intent is both admirable and artistically interesting, I'm not so sure he pulls it off entirely. His aphoristic narrative is almost too esoteric or pedantic at times. Aphorisms work well in the regular Moth City series because they compliment Gibson's dialogue. Here, as the only narration, they weigh too heavily, feel smug and self-important at times, and distract from the emotional center of the story.

Still, it is great to see a creator willing to take the kind of risks that Gibson is taking. He is full of the pioneer spirit that his story examines, and he is pushing the boundaries of our very conception of what comics are. The Reservoir is an experiment for Gibson. Parts of it stumble, while others are immensely successful. It's this kind of bravado and the wisdom that follows it that ensures a bright future for the medium as a whole.

- Daniel Elkin

The Reservoir is available on Comixology.

Novelty Song #1

(Bee Tee Dee)

3.5 stars

Dave Tobin is a loser, kicked out of his own former small time bar band when he moved out of town. Back in town after being laid off, with anger management issues to deal with and more than a small dose of jealousy, Dave stumbles over a strange discovery that could cause music to change forever, and for him to become a real star.

Novelty Song

This rather awesome new digital, written and illustrated by the mysterious Bee Tee Dee, is a type of slacker stoner question delivered in comics form, an imaginative look at the way that music rocks and rolls lives, not to mention the iconic and original place that music holds in our lives. The central conceit of Novelty Song, about cover songs that literally destroy the originals, is extremely clever and oddly spooky, a wily idea engine that grabs your attention and sits there; as the writer says, "it's like some idea you neglect to write down that seems like some lost treasure once you've forgotten what it actually was."

Novelty Song #1

The art here is kind of a smart fit for the story as well. Drawn in a loose but smartly designed style that presents a surprisingly specific world, the people here are both realistic and exaggerated, with the same loose specificity that Bee Tee Dee brings to the rest of the storyline that he creates. There's a lot of scenes of people just sitting around and talking, which could have been a bit dull in less skilled hands but which works here because the characters are so wonderfully broad. I giggled a few times just at the faces of some of these flaky folks while still being caught up in the ingenious storyline.

Novelty Song #1

I'm not sure what the title Novelty Song has to do with this story, and the plot engine is only loosely explained, but the fun characters and very cool major idea work together to deliver an awesomely fun comic. Bring on more stories of "the day the music died," please!

- Jason Sacks

Novelty Song is available on Comixology.

Henchmen #1

(Jamison Raymond / Ryan Howe)

4 stars

Let's face it, it would suck to be a henchman, to be stuck following the random and bizarre edicts of a strangely dressed eccentric with strange skills and unknown motivations, especially if he has an enemy who has the opposite powers and abilities and is ready for a fight at a moment's notice. Most henchmen fall in line with the job description, at least in this digital comic that's written by Jamison Raymond and illustrated by Ryan Howe, but one man is a rebel. And as a rebel, he stands out, emerges as a leader and even grows as a person – no matter that his boss is ridiculous and is sent to jail by his more-ridiculous nemesis.

Henchmen #1

What makes Henchmen work is that it has heart. Gary, our lead character, is a loser – a guy laid off from his crap job on the same day that his wife revels that she's leaving him. In response, Gary tries to overdose on Tylenol, nearly killing himself and triggering a smartly realistic take on his illness, especially from the wife who's completely apathetic about his cry for help. Anybody who's ever suffered from depression or has felt like a pathetic slacker can relate to Gary's story, recognizing him as an example of "there but for the grace of God."

Henchmen #1

Because Gary's fall is so realistically portrayed, his more absurd resulting rise has more power. Desperate for cash, he answers a blind want ad and joins that absurd group of baddies that you see along with this review. Who would do such a thing? Only either a desperate man or an idiot; Gary's desperate but he's hardly an idiot. In the midst of blindly foolish compatriots, Gary leads the way to escape at the claws of the do-gooder and the police; for his efforts he becomes a sort of a folk hero to his fellow henchmen.

Part of what really sells this comic is its small touches of reality. Gary has a soul; at heart he's a nice guy who's just a bit of a fuck-up. Given the chance to be cruel to guards, Gary instead shows pictures of kids to them; he feels self-conscious screaming standard henchman clichés; the cops actually do spot clichés of their own. It's a wonderful combination of comfortable tropes, shrewdly inverted.

Henchmen #1

The art by Ryan Howe is a great fit for the story. It has a professional, compelling style that looks like it comes from mainstream comics, which helps to create the world in a full and fulfilling way. He stages scenes well and has a keen eye for character design, which serve this dramedy very well.

Henchmen could easily have fallen into the same tropes that it satirizes, but instead delivers something more satisfying: a character study of a person rising above his own sad life – oh yeah, and with a laugh or two included as well.

- Jason Sacks

Henchmen is available on Comixology.

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