[20 March 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
There’s a point when all the threads weave together to form a beautiful garment and that’s left is the finishing. In the case of Image Comic’s Blue Estate that point is issue 10–and it’s filled with celebrity Hollywood-enhanced screwball comedy, a stoned horse, danger and sex.
Blue Estate has been beautiful since the beginning, but in parts. There have been many fabrics, threads and patterns laid out on a seamstress’ table, each attractive in their qualities, waiting to be sewn together to make one garment that encompasses celebrity obsessed culture in an Elmore Leonard swatch of pulp-noir.
The metaphoric understanding of narrative being threads that come together is very apt for this miniseries. There is a massive cast of characters, each given their own traits and motivations. There is also a massive combination of plot points that blend together. Each character and each plot point is meticulously pieced together, the connections are apparent but the vision of them being separate fades from sight as they meet.
Let’s see if we have a clear view: has-been action movie star Bruce Maddox was laundering money for the Russian mob. He was killed by AA sponsor and assassin Clarence, who was fooled into the assignment by Tony Luciano, the son of Italian mafia head Don Luciano. Tony was looking to recoup on a bad real estate investment brokered by Billy Ducharme, the brother of Bruce Maddox’s widow, (and former starlet) Rachel. The Russians, wanting their laundered money back, use Rachel to set-up Tony, while Billy is trying to sell the former Maddox mansion so that he can right things with Tony. And there’s a salacious parody of Victoria and David Beckham, and two stoners, and a sexually gifted girlfriend, and inept private detective, and the LAPD, plus the actual Hoff!
It’s a complex plot to be sure, but one that is balanced by even amounts of pulp-noir, celebrity, comedy and violence, all paced with the grace of a well scripted movie.
If it has not been said, then, Blue Estate is nothing if not ambitious. The concept and visual presentation are by no means tame. They encompass an aesthetic and vision that has never wavered. The influences are clear – the novels of Elmore Leonard and the films of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino – but the actual result is something else.
Mimicry and parody are something that pays tribute to their source, while Blue Estate is in part from that area of comic fiction that barrows from other mediums, it is in and of itself its own thing. It is informed by its predecessors–if only to give readers a point of reference–and it is just as obsessed with popculture as they are, but Blue Estate takes the modern understanding of celebrity and culture to a level that graphic literature rarely sees. And it’s violent and funny.
The narrative thread metaphor for Blue Estate certainly takes a cue from the comic’s visual presentation. Since issue one, the book has used a large art team working in different pencil styles to create variances in mood, perspective and time periods. Scenes from the past and scenes involving various characters each took on a different look to portray the separate but unified vision of the story. This technique has been used by various comics over the years, but not to the degree that Blue Estate employs it. Here in issue ten the difference between artists is reduced as the various narrative points are being weaved together.
The color palette has also expanded even further. In the early issues of this series, co-creator and artistic director Viktor Kalvachev used only a few colors to keep a unified look from scene to scene. But as characters and plot points begin to merge, the colors have expanded for a fuller look. It’s been a subtle transition from issue to issue, but one that has gone very far in keeping the visual presentation on pace with the script.
Those two elements, the essentials of comic storytelling, are being weaved into quite the garment. It is well tailored with rich textures upon a solid pattern. While other comics typically stick to the mannequin, this piece invites that you try it on and wear it for a night on the town. The seamstresses of Blue Estate have crafted something that will never be mistaken for off the rack.