John Higgins Razorjack suffers from a condition popularly termed Magnetic Fields syndrome. A farily common demonstration of the subjectivity of taste, Magnetic Fields syndrome is characterized by a great many people whose opinions and intellect you respect tell you how great some cultural artifact is, and you just don’t see what they’re talking about. Razorjack, collected by indie publisher Com.X for the first time, is blurbed by some of my favorite comics writers – no less luminaries than Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Mike Carey and Mark Millar all rave about the book on it’s back cover. Which is why it’s surprising that Razorjack seems to miss a beat.
It is obvious that creator/writer/penciller/colorist (as he’s credited on the jacket) John Higgins wanted to do a lot with Razorjack. He wanted to craft an epic story blending elements from science fiction, horror and hard-boiled cop tales. He wanted to weave storylines from multiple planets and dimensions together, often nestling them within the same scene. He wanted to do all of this in a fairly brief graphic novel. And he wanted to do it all by himself. At least one of these decisions was a creative miscue.
Razorjack aspires to be a sci-fi flavored horror story set in multiple planes of existence, with thousands of years of back story. But there’s simply not enough room to build the story that Higgins wants to tell in just a couple of issues. Readers are given just enough background, but invariably find themselves flailing. And without any real introduction to the book’s protagonists, it is hard to care about or relate to any of them. Also the story of Razorjack occurs simultaneously on several planes of existence. Which is a neat notion if you can pull it off – unfortunately, Higgins does not. The story ends up a long slog through muddied waters. It operates according to its own unique set of narrative rules. Leaping from plot thread to plot thread seemingly without exposition.
The writing in Razorjack suffers badly as a result of trying to do too much too fast. But more damning is the tin ear that Higgins demonstrates for dialogue and dialect. The poor handling of dialogue makes the book seem less than fluid, weighing down on the reader’s ear. Characters deliver flat one-liners at the least appropriate of moments, and speak in aggravating dialects. The moon-eyed youngster who’s every line reads like an episode of Hee Haw gives a clear example of the project is weakened in this way.
There are bright spots. The “killer Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” duo of assassins, who more closely remember the sinister pairing of Goldberg and McCann from Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party rings out. While Higgins is not the finest writer in the world, he has a worthy artistic hand for the grim backgrounds and violent exchanges that dominate Razorjack. But each laudable creative decision seems unbalanced by something going awry. And considering the core of the story is not without promise, there is a genuine sense of loss to that trend. Had Higgins chosen to enlist a couple of worthy collaborators on the project, the book might have met its promise. Instead, in an attempt to do too much in not enough space, Razorjack falls short.