[9 February 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
Image’s crazy pulp series Blue Estate has come full circle in the middle of its back-half of issues. What began in the series’ initial installment as part tease and part sight gag, now wraps up the comic’s out of time sequences. It also serves to underscore the point: Blue Estate is one of the best comic series this past year.
We’re moving forward with Blue Estate issues eight and nine. Bruce Maddox is dead, his death setting up a sequence of events that leaves two of the biggest crime families jockeying for position. This also puts inept private detective Roy Devine, Jr. in a precarious and dangerous position…one he’s nearly oblivious of.
Roy was originally hired as a patsy, to snap pictures of the allegedly adulteress Rachel Maddox. Maddox seemed to be meeting her lover, but was actually meeting with Italian gangster Tony Luciano to negotiate the safe release of her brother Billy Ducharme. Billy was caught up in a poor real estate investment that Tony was none too pleased about. Realizing that Rachel is married to action star (and Russian mob mule) Bruce, Tony foolishly believed he could recoup his investment by extorting Rachel, but only after assassinating him. This brings in assassin and AA sponsor Clarence, who discovers a bag of Euros while completing the unauthorized hit.
Who’s going to be the angriest? Russian mobster Vadim Razov, who just lost a ton of laundered money.
However, there’s an uneasy truce between the Russian and Italian factions. The level head of Tony’s father, Don Luciano, pulls the two families through without more bloodshed for now. Don Luciano knows his son is a screw-up so he sends him on tedious errand to transport prized race horse, Blue Estate (Ha!), as opposed to messing up anymore family business.
This gives Rachel time to confront would-be patsy Roy, Jr., whose inexperience is on full display…along with his Star Wars obsession. The body count begins to pile up, and Rachel and Roy are right in the middle, with Roy being more to the side. Rachel is not just playing the femme fatale or reluctant protagonist. She’s moved into full-on heroine mode and her development has been surprise if not tribute to the art of subtlety. Realizing this subtlety is the real treat as the bombastic nature of Blue Estate’s narrative does not lend easily to this type of character development.
The character development, complex situation and equally complex plot gives Blue Estate a firm footing to continue its unabashed send-up and tribute to the sardonic pulp of our era. You have the sense that Guy Ritchie and Elmore Leonard would be proud of this comic, if not jealous of the book’s inspired play with the clichés and conventions of the genre.
That has as much to do with creators Viktor Kalvachev and Kosta Yanev, as it does with scripter Andrew Osborne. With so many characters and so many twists and turns, Osborne has had his work cut out for him. But with each issue, we see just how well he can take the story set out by Kalvachev and Yanev, and instill it with the dialogue beats that gives each character personality and motivation.
The task is large and challenging, however rewarding. Whether it’s two wise guys getting excited over a David Hasselhoff concert (The Hoff!) or it’s Russian and Italian mobsters meeting in a sauna to keep the peace, Osborne is creating the nuance and contributing heavily to the varying perspectives.
Much of the heavy perspective lifting comes from the five man art team Blue Estate employees. Throughout the series, Blue Estate has used a wealth of artistic talent to express changes in perspective and time. It’s no surprise to see that technique used so heavily as the book moves into its final act.
Visually, the book has always been entertaining, but here in the series back-half the panels and colors pop even more, exploding from each page with dynamic movement. The change in art style from page to page lacks that jarring nature common with this technique. It certainly helps that Kalvachev, as artistic director, has employed a unified color scheme to unite each artists’ work. The consistency of the effort has held steady throughout.
Often Kalvachev is drawing Rachel himself, even as other artists work on the other characters and backgrounds. The subtlety mentioned above applies here too. In both intangible character development and tangible visual presentation, Rachel has moved completely front and center. She was always the focal character, but now the presentation moves readers’ eyes directly to her. With so many characters, each unique, it was difficult to focus on just one or two early on. That was the point, but as the book moves toward its conclusion, the fixation should be on Rachel, and so it is.
The story of Blue Estate, though drenched in the dangers of organized crime and scheming Hollywood has-beens, is fundamentally funny. Issues eight and nine, for example, are relentlessly humorous, but in such a way that the pulp sensibilities are enhanced. Parody is one thing, send-up another, but Blue Estate is more of an exploration of the conventions of the genre that also innovates the common narrative structure. This is where the comic excels. Issue seven certainly had these elements, and directly contributed to it being one of the series’ best issues. Issues eight and nine are in the same vein, and further develop the narrative beats that have been a highlight of the comic to date.
Among adult-oriented, mature audience comics, Blue Estate is one the best in the last few years. Its style, humor, action and wit are compelling on just about every level imaginable. It works as a traditional pulp noir, as a parody of the same and as a swift analysis of the cultural prerogatives that hold E! True Hollywood Story and TMZ in the esteem of general news. There’s a paradigm forming here in these pages.