[26 September 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
When we last left Image’s Blue Estate, the slow build of characters and plot was starting to pay dividends. The cliffhanger ending of issue five featured all the conventions of very good pulp comics – action, sex appeal and grittiness. The creators behind it have held nothing back each issue, consistently delivering inspired artwork and a captivating story. Could issue six live up to the high expectations?
It’s been stated before, but Viktor Kalvachev and his team of creators have produced one of the best limited series of the year. Blue Estate is an unabashed send up of crime fiction with a cinematic eye that stretches the conventions of comic book storytelling. It’s an adult comic written for a generation that has grown up with the films of Guy Ritchie, the novels of Elmore Leonard, but owes a great debt to the pulp masters of yesteryear.
The book is heavily influenced by the clichés and conventions of the genre, yet it doesn’t muddle around with its hang ups. It pushes forward, delivering on the premise that good crime comics can innovate while also paying homage to its predecessors.
The point is to tell good stories in an entertaining and memorable manner. While complex, the plot is certainly memorable, involving Hollywood has-beens, Russian and Italian mobsters, hitmen, dope fiend slackers, private eyes and the LAPD. But what stands out is the artwork directed by Kalvachev. He’s used several artists, Toby Cypress and Nathan Fox among them, to convey changes in time and perspective. It’s been done before, but it’s rare to find at this consistent level. The change in art style from page to page lacks that jarring nature common with this technique. It certainly helps that Kalvachev has employed a unified color scheme to unite each artist’s work.
The opening pages to issue six presents some of the series’ strongest panels to date. The strengths and weakness of each character are on full display, as starlet Rachel negotiates with chump mobster Tony for the release of her in-over-his-head brother Billy. Bad real estate deals have a way of putting hotheads on edge. Rachel, using all of her acting skills, calms the situation and sets in motion what she hopes will be her freedom from her tool of a husband Bruce.
The plotlines that seemed loosely connected have coiled around each other. Keeping it all straight can be a challenge. But that’s another point – challenge readers, don’t spoon feed them. The benefits far outweigh the risks.
If there is any criticism for Blue Estate’s sixth issue it’s that the artwork in the second quarter of the book could have used a bit more refinement. There’s a point to it, in the sense of character perspective, and while its scale is very good, the nuance of those panels lose a little of the issue’s shine.
What makes up for it is the seeming payoff this sixth issue sets up. We know it’s a false payoff – there are still six more issues before Blue Estate comes to an end – but the cliffhanger it presents, like the previous cliffhangers, is captivating and ripe with the dread of a bloody outcome.
As the issue’s title suggests, this is the point of no return. There is no looking back. Plot details are starting to influence other plot details, inspiring a circling effect that will bring the series to a conclusion over the next half a dozen chapters. The creators have to be on top of their game, connecting in short order the plot threads and character arcs so that each payoff (and there are several) culminates in reader satisfaction.
Blue Estate is a complexly weaved story and is certainly visually pleasing, adding its enjoyable characters only goes to further cement the book as one of the best series in recent memory. That the book at its midway point shows no sign of truly slowing down, speaks to its stamina as a pulp artifact in the post-modern era. While not flawless, its status as being nearly perfect (as most of the issues have been) also speaks to a level of consistency that Kalvachev has achieved as art director.
The story he created along with Kosta Yanev, strengthened by the scripting of Andrew Osborne, is a full assault on what it means to be a compelling series in this era. While this is their point of no return, it would seem they passed the make it or break it point long ago. They’ve made it…and we are not done yet.