Wrestling with ‘Loose Ends’

Loose Ends is a truly remarkable work, with oversized pages that give the highly stylized art and dialogue ample room to impress, and a story that’s intimate but enormous, with wonderfully rich and bold characters to match.

Finding closure isn’t always easy as a comicbook fan. This isn’t only because the two biggest names in the game, Marvel and DC, have a tendency to let their major events roll one right into the other, with none of them truly reaching a proper conclusion, opting instead to end on teasers for the next big line-wide event or status quo. That certainly doesn’t help things, but events are just one small part of the bigger picture. The more constant struggle for narrative finality comes from regular old ongoing series. While they are more often than not split into arcs, and within each arc there will be threads that are tied up completely, any ongoing book worth its salt will also maintain some plotlines that never entirely resolve. These are the hooks that bring readers back every month, the central premises of long-running series that all of their smaller arcs spring from. These larger narratives cannot be laid to rest until the title itself is ready to end, and often even then there are things left up in the air. Books get canceled, creator changes are made before everything is wrapped up, crossovers take the reins and force plots to move in new directions, etc. The point is, in the end, stuff will usually, unavoidably get dropped, and for any comic to reach a place where every idea it ever introduced has been fully addressed and dealt with by the time the book ends is a rare and beautiful occurrence.

The most obvious escape from the never-endingness of ongoing titles is the comicbook mini-series. In those, there is a promise of closure upfront, usually with a number attached to it, e.g. “#1 of 4.” Choosing to follow a mini-series is a shorter-term commitment, sometimes easier to make even if the title, creators, or both are unfamiliar, since you’re not signing up for the long haul. And once they end, mini-series are easier to revisit, to reread from beginning to end, because they consist of considerably fewer issues than any sizable run of an ongoing. So not only is there more immediate and complete satisfaction in the ending of a mini, but in the long run, their focus and brevity can make them the most valued and studied pieces of a collection. However, there is a frustrating downside to these apparent advantages, because just like with ongoing books, not every mini-series gets to end when or how it wants. With independent publishers in particular, long delays or unexpected cancellations can leave even the shortest books hanging, and having a mini-series killed before its time is volumes more aggravating than when it happens to an ongoing. Because there is that nagging feeling of so-close-yet-so-far that never goes away, plus the desire to return to the available issues is often squelched by the knowledge that they won’t contain a conclusion, that no matter how many times they’re read again, the ending will always be missing. Which brings me to one of my favorite series from the last five years or so, and probably the most appropriately-named comicbook in history: Loose Ends.

Released in 2011 by 12-Gauge Comics, Loose Ends is a visually trippy crime/romance comic from writer Jason Latour, artist Chris Brunner, and colorist Rico Renzi. It was originally slated as a four-issue mini-series, but only three issues have been published so far, with no firm release date scheduled yet for the finale (as far as I have been able to find online, anyway). It’s a truly remarkable work, with oversized pages that give the highly stylized art and dialogue ample room to impress, and a story that’s intimate but enormous, with wonderfully rich and bold characters to match. The stars are Sonny Gibson and Cheri Sanchez, not exactly a couple but thrown together by such extreme circumstances that a romance blossoms between them almost as a method of survival. When two drunk tough guys try to rape Cheri at the bar where she works, it is Sonny who comes to her rescue, though he does so somewhat accidentally after stumbling onto the scene of her assault. Sonny is even more wasted than the would-be rapists, so the fight for Cheri’s freedom is a bit of a mess, since the only fully sober participant is Cheri herself, who’s been traumatized and brutalized. Ultimately, though, she and Sonny defeat her attackers, only to discover that in the chaos they also killed Kim, Cheri’s best friend/co-worker and the mother of Sonny’s child. Hit by a stray bullet right in the head, it’s too late for Kim by the time anyone even notices she’s been shot. Between her death, Sonny’s inebriation, Cheri’s terror, and the general air of energetic madness around them, Sonny and Cheri both panic, and take off together in his car, fleeing the scene and leaving their old lives behind. The rest of the story is about them running from that horrible situation head-first into another, as they meet up with Sonny’s old army buddy and partner-in-crime Rej, who’s being used by some over-zealous cops to go after the big name, truly dangerous criminals for whom he sometimes works. Along the way, Cheri and Sonny do a lot of drugs, spend a lot of (ill-gotten) money, drive all night, and occasionally have romantic interactions with one another, all to distract themselves from what’s behind them and delay what’s ahead. Loose Ends is a comicbook about the dangers of this brand of self-destructive escapism, a look at the consequences and cyclical nature of violence, and a deeply personal story about these two specific characters dealing with this exact set of circumstances the only ways they know how.

Jason Latour’s dialogue is perfect, capturing the individual personalities of each character in their first few lines, and giving everyone an authentic southern vernacular which adds a great deal of realism to the cast and setting both. He also paces things intelligently, knowing when to ease up on the words and let the art do the bulk of the storytelling. Latour doesn’t want to over-explain or over-express himself or his characters. Sonny and Cheri just do things, sans commentary from themselves or any outside narrator, because they are too afraid to talk about it out loud and the reader doesn’t need to be reminded a million times why everything is going down. Latour trusts that his audience is smart and attentive enough to get it, and that kind of respect for the readers goes a long way. Even in the moment of Kim’s death, when Sonny and Cheri realize the awful thing they’ve done and decide to take off, there’s no discussion of the matter. They see her body and leave, no questions asked. What few words they share during their journey are mostly spoken out of necessity, and they travel in silence more often than not. How is it that Latour can afford to be so light on the word count without the whole comic feeling just as light? Why, Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi’s gorgeous artwork, of course.

One of the things I like most about Brunner’s work here is that it’s a little arrhythmic. Sometimes an entire page is devoted to a single, powerful moment, often even letting one image occupy an entire grid of panels just to emphasize its importance. Yet it’s just as common that Brunner will do something more akin to a collage, where every panel shows a different scene. He checks in on multiple characters and/or locations at once, places scenes from the past next to present-day events, or some combination of those two things, so that a whole lot of evocative storytelling gets done in one page. This strategy adds to the manic tempo of the story, and underlines Sonny and Cheri’s messed up emotional states as well. They’re so busy running and staying chemically altered that they never firmly plant both feet on the ground. The art reflects that in its syncopated pace. Similarly, the characters are all somewhat exaggerated physically, either inflated or stretched or both, but always in a way that serves their character. They each look right for who they are, and everyone fits nicely together, too, so there is a consistency to the world of this comic even if it doesn’t look quite like our own. Even the borders of the panels will be misshapen sometimes; with all the drugs and drinking and violence in Sonny and Cheri’s lives, their view of the world is distorted at best, and Brunner shows us what that looks like in everything from his character designs to his layouts.

No letterer gets credited on this book, so I have to assume Brunner handles that job as well, which makes sense considering some of the interesting and useful things the letters do. When Sonny is screaming his head off at Rej, the letters are as big as his head, and his rant takes up an entire wall, showing just how out-of-control angry he is in that moment. There’s an earlier scene in a strip club where the word balloons double as seamless censor bars, blocking the breasts of the dancers to keep the reader’s focus elsewhere. In the very beginning of the first issue, Cheri is wearing loose sandals that make a tiny “flip-flop” sound with every step she takes. This is just the first (and my favorite) example of Brunner’s excellent sound effects work, which is present throughout the series but never distracts from the main thrust of the narrative at all. The sounds are just impressive little details, and this comic is filled with those, because Brunner packs it as full as it can get without becoming confusing, crowded, or over-the-top.

As for Renzi, he brings a psychedelic palette that marches lockstep with what Brunner’s doing already. It’s steady and reliable without even aiming for realism, heightening the narrative’s insanity and its sadness rather than dulling it or trying to bring it back down to Earth. While the colors are definitely bright and warm for the most part, they’re also able to grow harsher when the true weight of the story’s seriousness slams against the cast. Actually, the colors walk that line a lot, staying somewhere between Day-Glo and noir, so that when the story veers sharply in either direction for any length of time, the colors can shift with it.

There’s no shortage of other stuff to praise in Loose Ends: the diversity of the cast, the fact that nobody is really a hero or a villain, the way it jumps around in time without losing momentum or clarity, and so on and so forth. Like with any great comicbook, the list of pros seems endless. But, with the series only 75% complete, there is one huge, glaring con still lingering on the other side of that list. It’s been more than two whole years since Loose Ends #3 came out (in November 2011), and the hope I once held that this series would ever conclude is fading faster and faster as time goes on. Once in a while Latour and/or Brunner will pop up online somewhere to say they haven’t abandoned the project yet, but it’s harder to take much solace or put much faith in those statements the further from issue #3 we get. Yet at the same time, as jumping-out-of-my-seat eager as I am to read the end of this tale, not having access to it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the three available chapters. I suppose if I finally got to read Loose Ends #4 it might add to my appreciation of what precedes it, but #1-3 are fantastic examples of my favorite medium at work, even without an ending. Hell, even without one another, they’re each solid single issues, if only because every page is another dazzling piece of beautiful Brunner/Renzi magic.

So I love Loose Ends, and will continue to love it even if it’s closing chapter never sees the light of day. I feel no ill will toward the series, its creators, or its publishers, because no matter what, they’ve already given me three amazing comics. If there are any negative emotions on my end, they’re closer to longing than anger. It’s like an unrequited love or, perhaps more accurately, it’s like being fully committed to a partner who’s just not that into me. I’m still here, anxiously awaiting the day that Loose Ends #4 comes out. Should that ever happen, I’ll preorder it at more than one location just to be sure. But the longer it takes, the more I’m convinced that’s just a fantasy, that the three installments of Loose Ends I have now are all I’ll ever get. And that’s fine, because I’m really, really happy with them, but I just know I’d be even happier if I could get some damn closure at last.