It’s no secret, but we are huge fans of crime infused superhero stories. Whether it is mainstream books like Powers and the Long Halloween or more indie centric stories like Red Rocket Comet and Gateway City. As such we were intrigued when we caught news of a new book from Dan Christensen (Archer Coe) and knew this would be well worth investigating!
Publisher: Black Eye Books
Writer: Dan Christensen
Artist: Dan Christensen
Price: C$28.99 from the Black Eye Books webstore
Paranormal is set in a world where those with powers are branded ‘paranormals’ and how they choose to use those powers is up to the individual. For some this means putting on a cape and becoming a hero, for others it means a life of crime and for some it just means hiding your powers in order to live something close to a normal life. The story begins when a drug deal goes wrong and a young police officer is killed by paranormal gangster Rat Face. It is up to the authorities to find the killer, which begins a two pronged race involving federal agent Olivares and detective Jim Avery. In the middle of this is reformed super villain Henry Wade aka Ogre, who was previously part of gang with Ratface and has been recruited as an agent by the police to find him or else his estranged wife and daughter will be killed. All of which makes for the kind of super-powered, crime noir hybrid which we love.
With Paranormal, Christensen manages to balance classic superhero visuals and concepts from the Golden and Silver Age with a contemporary crime thriller story. This means it is packed full of over the top character like Doc Bubonic and the Seven Sentinels, as well as the type of twisty-turny crime shenanigans we love. This is all told in the same dense and meticulous style from Christensen that we saw in Archer Coe, and as with that book it makes for a comic which is both visually stunning and narratively challenging in equal measure.
Let’s start with the positives – the visuals and depth of story telling in Paranormal are superb. Christensen uses tightly packed panels to tell his story in minute, methodical detail. With every nuanced moment meticulously realised. His artwork has the genre-mashing originality of Michael Oeming in Powers, mixed with the stylish edge and detailing of Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke. It has the nuance of an indie comic (reminding us a bit of Luke Healy’s work), but the polish of a mainstream book. There is a cleanness to the line, and a real sense of design (especially in things like the Ogre’s costume) that makes it feel both visually spectacular but also highly controlled. It never leans on either genre too heavily and creates this perfect hybrid of crime and superheroes that make the most of both genres without it ever getting too camp or silly. It reminded us a lot of the wonderful Batman Animated Series in this manner mixed with some of the darker elements of the Mignola-verse, and that is high praise indeed!
However because of this meticulous approach to story telling it can be a bit of a heavy and confusing read – especially if you are used to something with more bombast! The story itself, while meticulously told, is actually a relatively simple one in terms of crime thrillers and if told by another artist could probably be condensed down considerably. As such, it is difficult to know where the focus of the story is, especially at the beginning which is quite long winded, and we don’t meet Ogre until quite a way in. As such our introduction to the characters and world lacks that dynamic debut we would expect in a book like this.
However, this feels very much like the style of story Christensen wants to tell. This is no Mark Millar style explosion of action and deconstructed story-telling, this is much more considered and thoughtful read. While this creates a story with its own unique voice, for us personally it does feel a bit like It definitely could do with some more punctuation points. The slightly monotone nature of the story meant major moments felt lost within the minutiae, and the action scenes especially get diluted in amongst the pages and pages of dialogue.
We often talk on here about how comics need to find their voice to stand out from the crowd and Paranormal definitely does that. Its mix of familiar concepts with new characters and a very high class finish makes for a really gritty and engaging crime comic that would be perfect for fans of the books we have mentioned above. However it comes with a caveat, as the story is not told in a way you might expect. While the high quality of the overall production will bring people in, it may be a challenging read for those expecting a book with more pace. However, if you like your crime comics densely designed and meticulously worked out, then this is still a book which is well worth checking out.