[14 July 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
Through three issues, Image Comics’ Blue Estate has not failed to impress. It’s plot, characters and aesthetic call to mind the films of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie and the novels of Elmore Leonard. It’s underlying postmodern and ironic trappings, drawing from what we read about on TMZ and watch on E! True Hollywood Story, dwells in the richly sadistic and dark absurdity of celebrity seediness all too familiar to our popculture lives. Could issue four continue the success? Could it show yet more layers of its stylized narrative? Do mobsters like guns?
Issue three left us with something of a cliffhanger. The opening panels address it immediately with a revelation that is both telling of how the issue will play out and how the series has linked itself to a generation of modern pulp fans. While the motivations of criminals and mobsters drive the action, the book is firmly a reflection on celebrity and the degrees to which some will go to maintain a semblance of that lifestyle. This is part of the joy of the series.
For nothing else, Blue Estate is hardly predictable. The plot twists come fast and furious, adding yet more layers to its already remarkable depth. Even for an issue that slows things down, giving readers pause to soak up all of the delightful pulp noir, the creators exceed every expectation for issue four by conducting strong character development and surprising plot reveals. The fate of one character in particular, coked-up king of the jungle Alyosha, will leave readers distraught…and that’s a good thing, as the creators demonstrate that nothing and no one is sacred.
Everything is connected – in the narrative sense and in the relationship sense. The characters’ interpersonal relationships and the relation of their actions to the rest of the story are a source of strength. It’s an involved plot, told non-sequentially, that could leave readers scratching their heads. But it doesn’t. With each issue there is a careful breakdown of the players and their motives.
In interviews, co-creator and artistic director Viktor Kalvachev and script writer Andrew Osborne have said that the series was written as one continuous story. We certainly get that sense from Blue Estate’s cinematic nature. But what is remarkable is how the issue breaks were carefully inserted as to heighten the drama and keep readers anticipating the next issues’ developments.
The developments in issue four are shocking and mundanely fun. Kalvachev et al obviously had a good time playing with Russian and Eastern European immigrant stereotypes, as well as the clichés of modern Hollywood. These characters, many of which we are meeting for the first time, jump off the page. They have an air of familiarity that is striking and relevant to our overall enjoyment. It’s a sense of popculture familiarity and it helps us identify and immediately relate to their actions and circumstances…no matter how absurd and unusual they may be.
The artwork of Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox and (now) Paul Maybury continues to impress. The team’s use of different styles to portray different perspectives, time periods and moods has been a hallmark of the series. The pencil lines from panel to panel loosen and tighten as the tones switch from comedic to dramatic to mysterious to comedic again. But the unifying force for the artwork since issue one has been the colors by Kalvachev.
In the first two issues, the color palette was dominating as to instill consistency as the different pencilers went about their tasks. In issue three the colors loosened up, allowing for a wider array of colors to pour from the pages. With issue four, the colors become even looser, adding more to the palette, but still maintaining that consistency so that readers are not thrown off by the changes in pencils as the scenes change. It’s the mark of a strong and steady vision. The tone and aesthetic do not waver, yet the talents of each artist are allowed to shine, heightening the visual pleasure of the comic.
Blue Estate is certainly visually pleasing, and adding its enjoyable plot and characters, only goes to further cement the book as one of the best new series in recent memory. Issue four is meant to be a rest for the reader, setting the stage for the thrills to come. But what the creators have done with the chapter is not leave the issue to its own devices. They have instead infused it with the type of tone and swagger the entire series has been built on.
It’s an issue that takes the dynamic development of the last three and shows where the creators can go in neutral…and in neutral they can go further than other comics can in fifth gear. Blue Estate continues to impress, and with any luck the remaining eight issues will do the same.