I keep expecting some kind of let-down from Image when I review them. After all, this is the company who shot to prominence with overall shallow comicbook stories told with flashy, ultraviolent artwork featuring impossibly muscled men and impossibly top-heavy women way back in the early 1990s. The Image of today is more than just an “Image”, as proven over and over in their current lineup of individual series set in their own continuity (the old “Image Universe” has long since fragmented enough to where each title exists in its own world anyway). While some Image works are better than others, that expected disappointment is nowhere to be found in the new four issue limited series Lost Vegas from the Eisner Award winning team of Jim McCann (story) and Janet Lee (painted art).
The title may sound trite, but the story is anything but. Lost Vegas showed its depth in the first issue when a dashing young card-player finds himself over his head and is sold into indentured servitude on the casino ship Lost Vegas until he can pay off his debts. Unfortunately for Roland, the house continues to get a cut of his every earning, so his stay is proving to be far longer than he feared. Roland is a relatable anti-heroic character in the vein of a more cynical Han Solo on an off-adventure and as eccentric as he is, he proves to be the most normal character in the series.
This is because McCann and Lee have no aversion to presenting a fully science fiction story with impossible and fantastic oddities in every frame. The Lost Vegas vessel itself seems like something out of a one-off episode of Doctor Who with a fully realized, multi-level gambling and support society growing up around incredibly alien aliens and incredibly impossible technologies. Echoes ofBabylon 5‘s multi-layers as well as the futuristic dystopias of Logan’s Run, THX-1138 and The Lathe of Heaven can also be detected in Lost Vegas, both in theme and visual design.
The hologram-disguised Roland and his friend Loria are connected by an amorphous telepathic alien named Ink (who comes in handy at the blackjack table), while famous performer Kaylex and her sentient, scientific, giant stag reindeer pal Atho prove to be connected to a larger network of secrets.
Feel free to re-read that last sentence a few more times. If that doesn’t prove to you that literally anything can happen both on the organic ship Lost Vegas and in the pages of its namesake title, read for yourself and see what I mean.
Lost Vegas #3 is a further product of this boundless imagination as McCann and Lee deepen their already complex story with flashbacks to the pasts of Loria and Roland and terrifying revelations of the truth behind the overarching conspiracy that has plagued their every steps for the past decade. What starts out as a story of a slave earning extra credit with illegal gambling time soon proves to be a deep mystery of secret armies, godlike entities and royal intrigue.
Just as McCann’s story has dug into new depth with the third issue, so has Lee’s art. Janet Lee has come up with more strange aliens in one locale than Star Wars’ Creature Cantina and Jabba’s throne room combined. While there still is a certain fantasy cartoonishness to some of her human characters (and that is not a negative here), especially Atho the stag takes on a noble, detailed air, looking like an ancient woodcutting come to life with each hair meticulously given individual care. While many of her other alien figures do share a certain funny animal look, this clicks well with the fantasy story and takes the cynical approach taken to the dire straights these characters find themselves in and makes them all the more sympathetic because of their friendly nature against this harsh underworld. Her practical drawings are functional and engaging, but her intricate detailing of the impossible is simply breathtaking. From the aliens themselves to the very nature of the ship (a hodgepodge of apparent plant, animal, mechanical, crystalline, metallic and rock formations), Lee painstakingly fills every inch of these sights with complex labyrinths of tangled detail in the spirit of Jack Kirby’s most Science Fictional works as well as Geof Darrow’s most chaotic and twisted.
The art (accentuated by an acid trip of painted colors) alone is worth the third issue, even if the story wasn’t much to speak of. Luckily, the story is praiseworthy, building on the previous issues and expanding upon them, revealing more than one could expect, but in logical, surprising ways.
The psychedelic art and color and “anything-goes” storytelling style might not be a treat for all comicbook fans, but the tale is so cleverly spun and well-planned that any reader looking for something fresh should find Lost Vegas. The closest thing to a true negative I can report to you is that the final story page is stamped with the words “To Be Concluded”, so there is only one issue left of this very fine comicbook to enjoy.
Lost Vegas #4 goes on sale July 17, 2013. My advice is to catch up on the first three issues ASAP. When you hit the cliffhanger at the end of the third issue, you will not want to miss the conclusion.