Through issues one and two, Image Comics’ pulp series Blue Estate has been nearly cinematic. It has introduced an array of colorful characters including a recovering alcoholic starlet, her hitman AA sponsor, an inept private eye, and a clumsy mobster. It’s a mix of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie films, with a generous helping of Elmore Leonard novels and a twist of absurdist comedy.
To say this is not your father’s pulp noir is a fair statement. Though Blue Estate is unabashedly inspired by some of the best crime fiction in the last 20 years, it still remains unique in its presentation and tone. With issue three, the series slows down the pace to sure up the narrative and remind readers that there is a strong interwoven plot to go along with its darkly entertaining characters.
In the mighty southern California jungle of LA the lion doesn’t sleep but snorts coke anyway he can – including with a semi-automatic handgun just to throw a mobster buddy off guard. Issue three introduces the crazy Uzbek Alyosha the Lion, a drug smuggler turned stool pigeon for the LAPD. He may be incompetent at smuggling, but he sure can do drugs like a hall-a-famer. And like so many of the characters in Blue Estate, Alyosha screams off the page and into our pop culture hearts, strumming and doping like the rock star he is, as the LAPD and his clumsy mobster target look on in amazement.
Everything is connected – in the narrative sense and in the relationship sense. The characters’ interpersonal relationships, and the relation of their actions to the rest of the story, are on full display as Blue Estate settles into that soft middle. This is the point of third issues. Like the mix tape metaphor in previous reviews of this series, the same holds true for issue three. After raising the stakes and the action for two issues, it’s time to start cooling things off before it gets too hot. Peaks are always followed by valleys – it’s what makes you appreciate the peaks. But don’t be fooled by the slowing pace, there is still a lot going on in this third issue.
The narrative structure demands a cooling off period and with that comes cementing of the plot and relationship of the characters. Inept private eye Roy Devine, Jr. and his adoptive LAPD Detective father don’t have the most nurturing of relationships and the cause and effect of that strain is hinted at being something of a drive for Junior. It’s an element that grounds the story as the more violent and comedic aspects play out.
As for the artwork, Viktor Kalvachev continues to direct the action, design, interior art and colors. The artists assembled around him – Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox and Robert Valley – use their varying styles to full effect so that the shifting illustration styles within the issues showcase different times and perspectives. The use of multiple artists also allows Blue Estate to move at a faster and more dynamic pace. Panels and flow are not static and predictable, and readers ebb and flow with the comic as the scenes change.
For the first two issues the color scheme was quite dominate so that changes in pencillers didn’t throw the reader off too much. Now with issue three, the color work becomes a bit looser, allowing each scene to take on its own lighting. It’s a cinematic technique that Kalvachev thoroughly invests in to stunning and brilliant results.
Refocusing on the characters, we know that even mobsters and stooges have lives and go through some of the same struggles we do, like how do you get blood out of your work clothes? How much would your mens fashion house bill be if you can’t dry clean blood stains? Replace blood with coffee and you have just about any office place story.
For all the celebrity seediness, E! True Hollywood style mockery, cocaine kings and bumbling mobsters, Blue Estate at its heart is a fascinating experiment in sequential storytelling. Like many of the other pioneers of the medium, the comic takes great pains to present an assessable story – one that resonates strongly with our post-modern ironic understanding of pop culture. The weird characters aside, this is a traditional crime story told in a non-linear fashion. The characters are the point, but the story that guides us through their lives is just as tough and brawny.