For a comic mystery to work, you need a skilled writer and skilled artist working together on the top of their game.
Living in Infamy #1Publisher: Ludovico Technique
Contributors: Greg Kilpatrick (Artist), John Lucas (Artist), Allen Passalaqua (Artist)
Writer: Benjamin Raab, Deric A. Hughes
Item Type: Comic
Publication Date: 2005-07
Living in Infamy is a high-concept comic book. Its publisher, Ludovico Technique, is a company best known as a Hollywood production house, and Hollywood is the home of the high-concept after all. The conceit of this book is that it is set in a town that is used as a safe haven for super-powered criminals in the witness protection agency.
And from one look at the cover, a parody of the last scene of the movie Goodfellas, only with Ray Liotta replaced with someone wearing a goofy looking helmet and bunny slippers, you'd expect the concept to be executed with humor.
There is a little bit of humor inside Living in Infamy. But for the most part, the story plays it straight. The main story concerns Tom Blackridge, the town mechanic who has some major problems. His wife might be having an affair with the local gym owner and his son has developed superpowers. Superpowers that might blow the Blackridges' cover and set their enemies after them.
Of course, that is only the main plot. The issue is loaded with characters and subplots. So many that they should have provided a scorecard so you could keep track.
The story is written as a mystery, one of the hardest styles to pull off in the comic format. For any mystery to work, you need to give the audience just enough plot to hook them but not enough go that they guess the end result. For a comic mystery to work, you need a skilled writer and skilled artist working together on the top of their game.
Raab and Hughes do write a plausible start to the mystery. A lot of characters are introduced, each with a unique personality. They work well in the dialog and plotting to establish each character's quirk and write the subplots so the readers are interested and curious for more.
The art is what fails the story. The art by Kirkpatrick and Lucas looks good, but the flaws show in their storytelling. In a lot of places, Raab and Hughes let the pictures tell the story. However, in these instances, the artwork is muddled and confusing.
For example, the issue opens with a character being attacked. Several panels are used without dialog to build suspense. The victim takes a drink from a bottle and then looks at it with what appears to be smoke coming from his mouth. After seeing the victim encased in a block of ice later on, we know that the character was attacked by someone with powers over cold, someone with the ability to freeze things. But at first glance, we can't tell what is going on. Obviously, the liquid in the bottle was supposed to be frozen, but we can't tell that by just looking at the artwork. Being unsure what was happening to the character took away from the drama the writers were trying to build.
And there are other instances of shoddy artistic storytelling in the issue. Some of it is the fault of artists, some the fault of the colorist. Murky coloring in some panels obscures the action, making it hard to discern what is happening on the page. When the action shows a silhouette moving in a scene that is colored to take place at night, you have to squint to see what is going on because the character blends into the background.
The end result is that the art takes away from the story as a whole. You have to concentrate on what is going on in the page in front of you instead of focusing on how the scene relates to the mystery as a whole. It takes you out of the story, which is deadly for a mystery, and the end result is a good concept that ends up feeling pretty mundane.