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Life Among The Billboards: Blue Estate #2 taps the frenzied media machine of paparazzi-culture as a skillful metaphor of an evolving crime story.
cover art

Blue Estate #2

(Image; US: May 2011)

Advanced Review

Most second issue comics go about cementing the plot. Like a good mixtape, you want to start off with a bang. The next track has to turn up the heat even more, and the third track needs to cool it off. What better way to bring the heat then turning up the action with hot plot points? You’ve established your characters in the first issue, save the third issue for character development. Image’s Blue Estate doesn’t do that to the formulaic degree as described. With a cast as wide and varied as the comic has, there are more people to meet. This would seem to be a mistake, but the creators behind Blue Estate take a risk that pays off: they establish more characters and advance the plot, all the while further cementing their aesthetic.


Aesthetic is what drives Blue Estate. It’s a world that is foreign yet familiar, especially if you’re a celebrity scandal junky and have trouble prying yourself from episodes of E! True Hollywood Story. It’s celebrity obsessed culture to a fanatic and troublesome degree.


But this is the age we live in, an age where drug-addicted women beating celebrities sell tickets for a national tour; an age of irony and consumerism where you can buy a retro Pepsi t-shirt at your local Target and wear it as fashion; an age where we chuckle at the human train wrecks on “reality” TV. Blue Estate doesn’t condone this, but uses these factors of our culture for satire and mockery, similarly to how many comedians have highlighted the post-modern irony of our times. We laugh at the trappings and excesses, but never quite escape the visage of its reflection.


Blue Estate embodies post-modern irony to such a degree that you can’t help but smile at each panel, recognizing the biting wit and paradox of characters going about the routine while also showcasing the hostile intent of their professions. The scenes in issue two are certainly a reflection of this and give an intimate understanding of the existential position characters are in now and for the foreseeable future.


The comic opens with more back story for Rachel Maddox, the drug-addicted starlet wife of has-been action star Bruce Maddox. Their marriage, as predicted, is not a true romance but a relationship of circumstance and secrets. We discover Rachel is a better actress than anyone would give her credit for being, and her performance is a key piece of “Blue Estates” plot. All of the new characters introduced in this chapter are directly or indirectly related to her, including Billy, her brother caught up in a real estate deal with a two bit mobster, and his stripper fiancé Cherry Popz. These characters lighten the dark and tense mood. It’s not in stark contrast to the opening chapter but this follow-up chapter certainly takes a dimmer turn.


That mood is enhanced by the work of the creative team. Viktor Kalvachev is the driving force that guides the team as they each work independently (yet also collectively) to show various aspects of the plot. Blue Estate has employed several pencillers, each taking a different portion of the story to show changes in mood, time and perspective.


The work of Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox and Robert Valley is top notch, utilizing this effect to stunning results. The differences from panel to panel are still unified by the color work, but how each artist manipulates the character models is mesmerizing. As comic readers we are use to different artists taking on characters at different points in a series, but aside from anniversary issues, we are not use to it happening in the span of a few pages. This approach could be hazardous, but Kalvachev has assembled a strong team, only strengthened by Kalvachev himself directing everything from the top.


Aiding the creative execution is the script by Andrew Osborne. It’s a non-sequential story in the vein of Pulp Fiction (a genre mate of sorts) and that type of narrative can be troublesome for readers. However, Osborne seamlessly transitions from past and present with the touch of a seasoned Hollywood screenwriter. He never waivers from the story conceived by Kalvachev and Kosta Yanev. Osborne pushes it forward allowing the action and character introductions to work together to deliver the story.


Like most comics being introduced in this era, Blue Estate has taken to introducing some of the story as part of its marketing campaign. The comic’s website, BlueEstatecomic.com, is not just a promotional site, but a place for readers to explore more from this world and understand the narrative that much more. It’s a multi-media experience, similar to stable mate “The Li’l Depressed Boy,” but in a more storyline manner. For instance, some of the back story for new characters Billy and Cherry Popz has been introduced on Twitter, as several of the main and supporting characters have Twitter accounts to show other facets of the story as well as promote the comic. This is the future of comics, as readers are not limited to the story between the pages but can be further satisfied by exploring a book’s online offerings. The enhancement, of course, can be a blessing or curse. Offer too much and reader is overwhelmed. Offer too little and a reader is bored. The trick is to find the Goldilocks moment of just enough. So far, Blue Estate has found that middle ground.


It is very early in Blue Estate’s 12 set miniseries, but the comic has already demonstrated the staying power for a year long story. The consistency from issue one to issue two is striking, as the comic has not wavered from its strong aesthetic. And though the creative process for the book would suggest a haphazard mess, Blue Estate is nothing short of excellent. The strong visual presentation, enticing characters and compelling plot makes it one of the best new series this year, and we are only up to issue two. The next 10 months should be something to look forward to.

Rating:

PopMatters Associate Comics Editor Michael D. Stewart has been a freelance writer, pr consultant, loan officer and private detective. He holds degrees in communications and media studies. Michael currently spends his days as a marketing executive and his nights prowling the mean keys of his laptop. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelDStewart


Related Articles
6 Jun 2011
Even in meeting the demands of the crime noir genre, and giving the story a cooling off period Viktor Kalvachev brings an intensity to Blue Estate.
25 Apr 2011
Like Pulp Fiction and other tent poles of the neo-noir/pulp genre, Blue Estate features a varied cast that is a veritable feast of post-modern enigmas, but with only the first issue out, it's early days yet.
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