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!
Holy crap! Remember when I reviewed Top Cow’s Echoes? I said of the creative team of Fialkov and Ekedal that they “…are quite possibly one of the best “new” teams working in comics – good enough that I’m already seeking out one of their past collaborations, The Cleaners from Dark Horse.” Well, here we are, just shy of two weeks later, and look what I read!
For those of you following along at home, a surprising bit of praise I offered Echoes was the choice to go black and white – something I almost never support. I mused, however, that Ekedal’s art carried a stark expressiveness that might otherwise me muddied by the application of colors. I’m not sure if that’s what happened here, or if it’s merely the work of a younger artist, but I lost the clean and crisp feeling I had before, and instead felt that The Cleaners had an ironically murky feel to its art. A further critique of the colors? For a book so obviously dark in tone from the word jump, this book is FAR too bright and shiny. Whether it was meant to provide contrast, or whether colorist Jon Graef simply had no other tricks in his playbook… I don’t know. Either way, I just don’t feel it works, at all.
Even looking beneath the colors, at the framework that Ekedal has laid down… this isn’t his best work. Period. The flow isn’t there and the characters are just insufficiently distinct in appearance. It’s not even just that they’re indistinct, but also that they’re inconsistent. At right is the main character, as seen in issues one and four respectively. His hairline, nose, chin, and essentially entire facial structure are different between the two pictures. It’s something you might expect if artistic chores had been passed off along the way, but from the same penciler and colorist? The result? Many pages require more effort than should be necessary to work out just what’s happening, and who’s who.
Not all of that responsibility falls on the art team, though. This book lacks all of the clear definition of character that Fialkov showed in Echoes, and I have to wonder how much of that is his fault, and again, how much is the work of the element foreign to me, co-writer Mark Wheaton. None of these characters are fleshed out. Names are thrown about early and often even before being associated with faces. As such, a book that focuses on roughly half-a-dozen Caucasian males of generally nondescript appearance, only one of whom we ever get any REAL insight into, becomes messy. Fast.
Tie all of this together, and what I’d expected to be a slam dunk turned out to be anything but. The plot hinges on a “big reveal” that is both telegraphed and at the same time under developed for the sake of secrecy. By the time the cat’s out of the bag, any attempt at cramming in pathos and back story just feels shoehorned in. None of the characters are especially interesting nor their motivations especially clear, and all of this adds up to a surprisingly subpar book.
Being subpar, however, isn’t the worst of the book’s offenses. After a very clever two page spread (above) early in issue one, this book set itself up to be a somewhat Dexter-esque murder mystery book. These two pages are easily the best in the entire series, giving us the main character’s perspective on the world and a blank slate with which to imagine where his story might take him. The “gimmick,” however, was somewhat squandered and all that promise was left unfulfilled. And THAT is what grieves me most about this book.
The Cleaners gets 2 out of 5 ice sacks full of leeches for its unrealized potential
I will continue to look for both Fialkov and Ekedal’s work, both in tandem and each on their own. I find it easier to accept that they were brought down by their collaborators here than I do to believe that they had a single artistic moment of greatness where they exceeded their own abilities. Simply put, I imagine The Cleaners to be the exception to the rule that is Echoes. Of course, I’ll keep you apprised of my findings.