Posted by: Joe McCulloch on August 1, 2008
Narcopolis #4 (of 4)
This cover gets a lot more amusing if you take the nosebleed in the manga sense. Rarely has the struggle between liberty and ruinous desire been so aptly rendered!
And you sort of have to work to make a Jamie Delano comic even less subtle, don’t you? It’s one of his endearing traits as a writer, I think – not every book is going to be outstanding, but you can generally count on a uniquely loud experience. It’s not white noise either – Delano frequently mixes similar tones into distinctly linked compositions, heavy things, ringing with dim portent. Frequent listeners will recognize many of this project’s particular clangs and booms, as if Delano’s first work-of-the-form in five years had to recollect echoes of what went before, so as to solidify the old intent once again.
You’ve got the garish, satirical sci-fi setting of 2020 Visions. A vision of tentacles as sustenance and prison, right out of The Territory. Terror-enlightenment as to all the world’s suffering, a la The Horrorist. It all works pretty well together, like an index. I especially enjoyed the clash between ‘bad’ drugs, state-sponsored downers all, and “empathogens” that form naturally in caves, look like snot, and produce hallucinogenic truth sessions with the whole of screaming, exploited humanity. The moral is one all of us can support: grow yer own.
But setting aside its value as authorial stock-taking, Narcopolis unfortunately ends more or less as it began – a very adorned means of telling a simplistic, repetitive story, one dotted with character types that either shrug around under roles obvious from first sight or travel in arcs so plain they seem predestined. Our Hero is Gray Neighbor, a former bombmaker for EradiCare turned promising agent of T.R.U.S.T. (Together in Responsibility for Universal Security and Truth), who’s been planning to “shoot hot into MamaDream’s suckHole” (wreak havoc with the Big Government/Big Corporation/Big Church/Big Media drug outlet that runs the nation-city) since issue #1.
That’s more or less what he does here, after having gone through a few dozen pages of children being mindwiped for playing the wrong games in the schoolyard, extraterritorial subHumans (“with black staring eyes“) being hauled into camps en mass as obvious terrorists, citizens being complacent about the war on BadEvil as their rights are stripped away, and almost certainly a few too many personal flubs to believably rank as a top agent. I mean, I know Narcopolis is both a dangerous world superpower and mired in inefficiency, but don’t they run tests for illegal drugs? Or assign a cadet at least a part-time supervisor he isn’t sleeping with? It a type of satire that allows for endless retreat – any breach of plausibility is just one more sign of how fucked up this fallen world is.
Yet while it goes without saying that Narcopolis provokes its own enemies so as to spook its citizenry into a shell of consumerist complacency — isolation breeding distrust toward anything beyond the borders — at least the texture of the noise remains pleasing. Delano was always one of the more ‘writerly’ of the British Invasion comics scribes, and here he’s crafted a neat little dialect of slogans, brands and buzzwords for his characters to use, with Jeremy Rock and Greg Waller (on colors) ably rendering an urban architecture of casino lights and vulgar literalism; why should a grand Cathedral try to hide the spiritual pornography within, when it can decorate the windows with hardcore action and shape the microphones like cocks?
Maybe I’m the one getting dazzled by surface appeal. This is a series so enchanted with its own metaphors that it has characters discuss a few of them, as metaphors, in-story, before launching into a finale that postulates deadly terrorism as the enlightened citizen’s protest while simultaneously scampering away from having its hero kill too many people or anything really nasty like that. I guess I just respond to its qualities as a gathering of its writer’s voice into dictating a thesis statement for a renewed comics effort, its citations accumulated over years of work. I’ll call that EH as a whole experience, but you might hear it howling from farther down the BigStinkHole.