There’s a style and grace about good crime fiction that isn’t easily duplicated. Though it can be copied without much effort, but to be truly successful the characters must be just so intriguing, the plot must be just so enticing and the aesthetic must be striking and seductive. Image’s newest neo-noir/pulp comic Blue Estate has these elements…in spades.
Over a decade ago our pop culture was drowned in the type of crime fiction Blue Estate portrays. Riding the high of Pulp Fiction, Hollywood began to crank out similar fare that went down the quirky and violent road of offbeat crime stories. Soon enough the works of Elmore Leonard became the rage and Get Shorty became a widely assessable film based on the clever novel. This is where Blue Estate resides, somewhere in our post Get Shorty world (certainly not counting Be Cool). The underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was also a member of this ilk. This is not to say that Blue Estate isn’t wholly its own, but rather that it enjoys some great company.
Like these tent poles of the neo-noir/pulp genre, Blue Estate features a varied cast that is more than they appear to be on the surface. They are enigmas, wrapped in the post-modern and ironic trappings of our age. None of these characters are by any means perfect. They are hapless and conniving; heartless and troublesome; relatable and foreign. They exist as themselves and as parody of the dark Hollywood underbelly we read about on TMZ and watch on E! True Hollywood Story.
From the opening panels, with homage to the Law & Order franchise, we know this is not your typical crime procedural, nor is it your typical noir story – though it certainly has the trappings of such stories.
The tale begins with tabloid darlings Rachel and Bruce Maddox deep in shady dealings with Russian and Italian mobs, and it doesn’t take long for ruthless big shots and sloppy bit players to enter the scene and muck up the whole thing. Roy Devine, Jr. is a private dick and our narrator…he’s the classic PI mixed with Jonah Hill and given a serving of Seth Rogan on the side (for the irony factor). He’s somehow involved with the drug addicted starlet Rachel, wife of Bruce, a has-been action movie star turned Russian mafia mule. Each of them and the supporting characters has the potential for excessive violence and comedy…all within the same scene.
With so many characters, most of which need to be introduced in this opening chapter, the potential for a clogged and bogged down narrative is very high. But, Blue Estate moves quickly, pairing character introduction and plot so that the narrative is hardly interrupted. The authors take their time yet never let the action slow, allowing for the panels and pages to establish characters, plot points and the books aesthetic. These are not simple panels. They are complex and layered, each working on one level of plot movement while also serving to allow the tone and feel to gel with the reader.
The art team is nearly a basketball starting lineup, and while that amount of creative contributors could easily throw off any comic – like having too many cooks in the kitchen (to mix metaphors) – Blue Estate uses each effort to change perspectives, and show shifts in time and mood.
Viktor Kalvachev is the main force behind this creation. He has his hand in the story, pencils, colors and overall art direction. It’s a team effort, but Kalvachev is the driver, demonstrated in the comic’s striking color work. Stark, varied yet unified, the color tones are playful and expressive. Sometimes the pencil work is what gives a comic its aesthetic, but when a book is using different styles to convey multiple perspectives, the colors then must bring the story together. It is not a stretch to say without this strong color work, Blue Estate would be a bumbling mess.
Opening chapters are often deceptive as to how a series as a whole will turn out. When great first issues debut, sometimes the follow-ups are half the potential of the beginning. Sometimes bad first issues lead to great successive issues. With Blue Estate the feeling is that we are in for a wild ride, one that will lead to praise after each issue of this 12 set miniseries. The story, characters and tone are all present and accounted for. When all is said and done, it would be shocking and scandalous if this wasn’t one of the best miniseries in recent memory.