Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of books that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you crack them open have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
It saddens me to no end that I am forced to put this book under the “It’s a Trap!” category. It really does. I’ve heard so many great things about Tumor (originally published in eight parts exclusively for Kindle) and when the hardcover edition was announced for a November release last year, I immediately ordered it. After many delays and a long wait, I finally got the beautifully designed trade two months ago. However, that’s the best thing I can say about it; that it looks good.
I have no previous recollection of Fialkov and Tuazon’s works, who previously worked together on another celebrated comic book, Elk’s Run. Coming to this book with no knowledge of the creators’ output and high expectations were probably a bad mix. It’s not really a bad story, it’s just not… that great to receive all the love. If I have to flash-forward to the end of the review, it’s an okay crime noir story that I won’t remember a few months from now (probably after I read the next Vertigo Crime novel).
Tumor is the tale of Frank Armstrong, an aging (I’d guess he’s late 50s-early 60s), lone private eye. For over twenty years he’s been working both with LA police and its local crime lords, doing a dirty work only to amend the pains left after losing his beloved wife Rosa. The details about her death are shady, but they become clear as the story progresses. Frank is sick and possibly dying. Soon we find out that he has a brain tumor. As a result, he experiences past, present and future differently that anyone else, going from the night that ruined his life, to lying in a hospital bed to his current investigation. Investigation? Well, Frank is getting pulled from retirement by a local family boss who’s looking for his missing daughter. Frank senses that something is wrong, and indeed the girl somehow betrayed her father and is now hunted by his men. Frank and Evelyn’s (the daughter) lives are integrated as he attempts to do one last good thing before succumbing to the tumor.
Thinking about it, I divide the story into two parts: Before Frank meets Evelyn and after they unite forces (sort of). After that point, Frank’s weaknesses and almost laughable determination in the face of death are too dominant, making him an almost goofy character. More of a parody on a noir protagonist than an actual one. If I was the writer, I would’ve taken the plot to other directions, probably killing certain characters early on. The end is unavoidable, but I would’ve reached it from another way than the one Fialkov chose.
Aside from the aforementioned trade design, Tuazon’s art is also lovely. His rough black and white ink and pencil set the story’s mood despite the script’s faults. Tuazon moves from plain ink in the present to hardly acceptable pencils in the early hospital scenes, which apparently take place in Frank’s head before actually occurring. Scenes from the past are drawn in ink with some dark, gray tones. A really masterfully done noir work.
As for the trade I mentioned so many times: It has a hard black/brown cover with the title and a brain embedded on the front and the Archaia logo on the back. Add to that a separable dressing with a drawing of Frank, the top of his head missing, making the brain from the hard cover pop out of it. On the back, the usual babble with the Archaia logo again, partially completed by the one on the cover beneath. It was all designed by Kody Chamberlain.
Inside there’s an introduction by Duane Swierczynski (Cable). I don’t like most of his mainstream work, but he has some good things to say about noir. In the back there are a short story starring Frank Armstrong (a prose, not a comic) that I’ve yet to read; the original pitch; a sketchbook, of course; an interview with Fialkov from AICN and two short essays by Fialkov, one a tour in “Frank Armstrong’s Los Angeles” and an afterword. There’s also some neat design to the paper the story is published on, giving it a unique feel.
So… to sum it all up, I didn’t like the story much but I loved the art and the book design. See why I find it so hard to put it under “It’s a Trap”? Life sucks. That’s why I also make it a gem. Anyway, Tumor gets 2.5 out of 5 fat hospital security guards who can’t catch an old, dying man with an injured leg for the story. The art, the design and everything else in general get 4.5 out of 5 pupusas from Norah’s place.