When I was in high school in the 1980s, my English class took a field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare festival, a very highly-regarded festival famous for putting new spins on Shakespeare’s plays. One of the plays we saw was one of Shakespeare’s historical plays. I honestly don’t remember which one we saw anymore. The play was presented as a political parable for the ’80s revolutionary period in Central America. The king in the play was turned into a dictator, and his battles against rebels naturally turned into battles against his insurgents. Shakespeare’s play retained all of its original language, but in its portrayal of a former banana republic ready to fall to rebels, the play gained additional power. By being moved from its comfortable place as part of history, Shakespeare’s 500-year-old creation felt as fresh as that day’s headlines. It felt remarkable to me, that Shakespeare should feel so fresh.
Ruule: Kiss and Tell is the Shakespeare play analogy transferred to the Biblical tale of Samson and Delilah. Instead of Samson, we meet Sam Swede. Sam’s a man’s man, who likes his time with the ladies but who is pure in every other way. Unfortunately, Sam’s not too bright, and when he gets mixed up with the beautiful Dahlia, a woman with a killer body and the mind to match, he ends up making a mistake that robs him of his powers. But in the end, Sam’s revenge, against all the odds, is oh so sweet. The story is set against a film noir backdrop, where the men are bad and the women even worse. In doing so, Amano breathes new life into one of the most classic of all Bible stories.
I have to confess that I am not up on the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. I’m vaguely aware that Samson was powerful due to not drinking alcohol and never cutting his hair, until he met the beautiful Delilah, who bewitched Samson with her beauty and got him to give up on his vows. But beyond that I’m a bit clueless, which leads to my grade above. Amano offers some notes in the back of the book, guiding the reader to the proper Biblical and film noir references to make sense of this book. Unfortunately, those references refer to page numbers that don’t actually appear in the book, but that’s a small complaint.
My real complaint is that I felt lost as one who didn’t know the background of the story. Many of the actions of the main characters feel odd and inexplicable as the story progresses. I understand that one of the underpinnings of film noir is the double-cross, and this story has plenty of interesting double-crosses. But in other places the analogy breaks down. Why is Sam blinded instead of killed by the bad guys, for instance? It’s an extremely dramatic scene, and sets up an even more dramatic conclusion, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the setting.
I also thought the art by Craig Rousseau, while well-draw and interesting, wasn’t the perfect fit for this story. Rousseau’s art just felt too cartoony for the intense drama of the story that Amano presents. His portrayal of Sam lacks some of the necessary subtlety to draw the reader deeply into the story. As well, something about Rousseau’s cartoony style keeps the story from seeming a serious as I think Amano intends it to be. There is one very striking scene that Rousseau depicts, though: Sam has been confronted by a man who wants to do him wrong. Looking around to assess his attackers, Sam sees someone. The reader sees just someone standing in a pair of red spike-heeled shoes. Immediately, even without the reveal on the next page, we know it’s Dahlia, moved over to the wrong side. That’s terrific storytelling.
Like the Shakespeare play I saw 20 years ago, the juxtaposition of Samson to a film noir setting adds life to the story. Unfortunately, the analogy isn’t as perfect as it could be, and it adds some awkward moments to the story. Amano is an ambitious creator, and he’s taken on a very difficult project with this book. He tries admirably but, at least for me, he falls short of fulfilling his ambitions.