Monday, March 15, 2010

Zuda Review Night at the Western/ When a nameless narrator doesn't set the mood

Night at the Western is a March Zuda competitor done by lancebailey, CesarSebastian, and fonografiks. Here is the synopsis: California, winter, the late 1980s: lost on their way to bigger things in Los Angeles, a small-time conman and a thief reluctantly stop over for the night at the run-down Western Motel, in the agricultural hinterland. What should be just a short rest on their way to the big city becomes a wrong turn toward death itself. It is a detour one of them will not survive, and the other will never forget. Nick, the greedy conman, is drawn into what seems like an easy $10,000 scheme by Laura, the pretty night manager of the motel. He figures one quick score on the way to Los Angeles won’t hurt. Our nameless narrator, tired of a thieving life and hoping this will be his last job, follows reluctantly along. As the tension comes to a boiling point, the pair find themselves dragged into a plot that neither of them understands, unwitting players in a high-stakes game with opponents far more desperate than they. Nothing at the Western Motel is as it seems. Before sunrise, more than one person will be dead, and the lives of everyone will be turned upside down by a collision of lust, greed, jealousy and desperation. The plot twists, and twists again. With a full cast of honorable thieves, desperate criminals, disturbed relatives, and a femme fatale whose depths nobody understands, Night at the Western is a crime tale that pays homage to noir classics such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Detour and Blood Simple..

You have some nice text box narration in this comic starting out, and some nicely design screens in the art. The beginning screen has some sepia-tone 'picture' panels which show the Western back in it's halcyon days of glory along with a modern day (for the story) sign having some busted lights, a nice set-up to seeing just how run down the place is on screen 2. There are some nice uses of shadow throughout the story, and lighting a character by the lights of a vending machine. Letters are all readable, the colors fit the story. It's not all good. This comic goes for too much text box narration to invoke the noir feel and fails to avoid the standard pitfalls of the genre.

For me the biggest deciding factor in whether or not a noir style comic works is how it handles the inner monologue of the lead character. With movie voice-overs and comic text boxes you can't do too much repetitious, or non-sequitur thoughts. Even what -mostly- worked for Frank Miller in Sin City comics got to be too damn much for a movie. It's not prose with pictures (moving or not) you don't need to rely on text box narration to describe a character when readers can just see the character for ourselves. You have something you want readers to know? Show it in the art, or tell it in the words, but don't do both in the same panel. This happens more than once in this comic with the narration description of people readers can see in the comic what they look like. it's not like the various descriptions added any particular insight, for example: Nick's general shiftiness/ reaction to Laura is well established by the art and character dialogue. It's not a bad thing 8 screens into a story to let readers imagine for themselves just how much of a bastard somebody is.  Screen 7 has the text box narration describing a kids crazy laugh as: It was the laugh of a lobotomy case, meaningless and loud, and as he laughed, his head nodded up and down like a jack-o-lantern on a stick. It also included some Sfx: HuhhuhhuhHuhHuh HUHHAHAHA! I liked the background didn't change for these three panels and the passage of time was shown by the dancers movements towards then away from the little boy. All that thoughtful descriptive laugh commentary was needless and detracted from the story. Have the letter go crazy with putting that laugh sound effect on the page, with even more/bigger font  than what was actually done. Comic fans see a character laughing crazier than the Creeper they can figure out for themselves the kid has problems. It's a comic ease up on the noir tribute speak and play up those kooky cool sound effects. The comic ends with the nameless narrator getting all reflective about his little brother Frankie who was abused by the other kids because of his disabilities. 'Nameless' tracked them down so now they leave Frankie along. It wasn't much of a insight to character, and unless Frankie is going to show up in this comic just more unneeded narration. I get the kid brother 'identify with' tie-in with the crazy laugh kid, but it wasn't much to end on.

Having a nameless narrator doesn't do much for the atmosphere here. The Continental Op had a title, and Clint Eastwood in the 'man with no name' Dollars trilogy had a variety of monikers. If a character has a name (at least a title) that stands out I can identify with the character better. The more I can do that, the more likely you are to get my vote on Zuda because I'll want to see what happens next.

Once again this is a comic that is synopsis snake bit. The synopsis actually did a good job of setting up the mystery, it's a pity the comic didn't hew closer to it. "It is a detour one of them will not survive, and the other will never forget" is a good line that had me wondering while I was reading who was going to get killed. Maybe Nick was going to die, or maybe the creators were going to pull a switch and have the narrator killed off and Nick take over narration duties? My looking forward to being surprised was over by screen 4 when it's revealed Nick dies. You can have suspense where readers wonder who killed one of the main characters. You can have suspense where readers wonder which main character gets killed, and who killed him. Zuda readers which would you find more suspenseful as the story goes along?

Night at the Western isn't a bad comic, it just tried too hard to establish noir cred. Less narration, more leaving things up to readers interpretation of the art, and I'd like to see these creators back again.

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