[30 August 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
In the past things were brighter, Pherone creator and Blue Estate superstar Viktor Kalvachev’s masterful visual storytelling seems to convey. It’s not that things were brighter, more that there were more hues, a greater palette for expression. But today, tonight as Pherone’s protagonist Eve stalks the story landscape, things are simpler, clearer, more stark. Black & White.
This high-end, postmodernist game that Kalvachev plays with the texture of his book is just one of the dozens of trails to be followed. Postmodernist because the reader’s experience of the text mimics the protagonist’s struggle with the mind-altering drug Pherone. On Pherone you thinking gets simplified, becomes clearer, but you also grow more vicious. Kalvachev’s B&W palette to tell the story’s present while Eve has succumbed to Pherone, and his blue-and-gold hues to tell the story of Eve before Pherone communicates this experience vividly.
But ultimately, this trail through the labyrinth is a false one. Postmodernism only gets you so far. As does Kalvachev’s genius deployment of genre. We live in a world of Ed Brubaker’s Criminal and Frank Miller’s Sin City to take care of the noir aspects of Pherone and the “Jason Bourne Trilogy” to sweep up the spy genre. Sure you’ll find traces of these in Kalvachev’s Pherone, but that’s not the focus of the book. Kalvachev isn’t “competing” against any of these. Pherone merely acknowledges these as a starting point. This book is wholly original, in a world where others have already used the same genre.
But even Kalvachev’s runaway creativity isn’t really the showpiece of the book. Neither is Kalvachev’s rapper-like ability to put together a creative team. Kalvachev himself takes lead on shaping the story and rendering the artwork. But as for the actual dynamics of narrative, the plot twists and pacing, he relies on writers Patrick Baggatta and detective Jim Sink.
Even the super-stocked “bonus features” that include concept art, character studies, deleted scenes, and the original short story that pushed Kevin Eastman to include Pherone episodes in the prominent Heavy Metal is not the real story. Bonus features usually (sadly) point to a thing story. Pherone however is completely immersive.
The real story is how Pherone plugs into the world around it. Almost as if reaching out and reshaping our experience of recognizable genre.
To start off with, Eve is Angelina in her role from Mr. & Mrs. Smith. She’s an assassin who camouflages herself as a seductress in order to approach her targets. But unlike Mrs. Smith, each morning Eve wakes up in a pool of blood not her own, unable to recall who she has killed, or why.
The memory suppressant is of course the bio-engineered Pherone, but we don’t discover that until much later in the story.
The creative team makes the right move in keeping us in the moment. Eve’s confusion and paranoia only heighten as the Pherone begins to deplete in her system; she’s uncertain of whether she’s predator or prey. And we’re fully involved in this. As she eludes her pursuers’ SUV while in a hail-mary dash while on horseback, the why of it all seems almost irrelevant.
Our lack of concern for the causes behind Eve’s need to escape is testament to the fine storytelling of the creative team. We’re lost in a sea of uncertainty and paranoia.
But the real story is how I can’t turn off Tina Turner in my mind. All the while while reading Pherone, “Private Dancer” and “What’s Love?” play on loop in my head. It’s not until after I finish the story that I realize why. Eve is Tina Turner. She breaks free from the abusive Ike on whom she is codependent (Eve’s handler, the venomous Simon) only after living through experiences she can’t explain having chosen for herself.
I can’t wait for the movie, but in a sense I can already guess how it will play out. Pherone as a comicbook is just too good. And it would take a Doug Liman together with a Steven Soderbergh together with a talent we haven’t yet seen to pull this one off. But for now, this book is all the summer blockbuster I need.