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03/29/2004 Archived Entry: "WizardCon swag - Ruule: Ganglords of Chinatown #5"

Ruule: Ganglords #5Ruule: Ganglords of Chinatown #5
by Ivan Brandon, Mike Hawthorne, Rick Remender, Guilia Brusco, Richard Starkings, Jimmy Bentancourt, Comicraft, Matt Hollingsworth
Created by Jeff Amano
Cover art by David Mack
Publisher: Beckett Comics
April 2004 - Issue 5

Ruule: Ganglords of Chinatown #5 is a brutally violent comic illustrated in the style of the recent, Bruce Timm-produced Batman and Superman television cartoons. The dialog and plot are unencumbered with the burden of originality, which hardly dooms the project. What is present is atmosphere, and lots of energy, but despite those virtues, Ganglords #5 fails more than it succeeds

Nearly four action-drenched pages pass before the first panel with written text appears. "It's over," a lithe woman says, gripping a long, splintered stick, and standing waist-deep in a pool of water o'er-slicked with blood. The plot, such as it is, is a standard 1950's vengeance noir potboiler, featuring Gid, a young man seeking to kill gang leaders responsible for killing his brothers, and "the men who refused to help us." Anachronisms such as modern-looking motorbikes are depicted, but otherwise Ganglords instincts tend toward the cityscapes of James Ellroy's "LA Quartet." There's a certain charm in explicitly portraying truly unsettling acts of carnage, torture, combat, and yet representing curse words with the kind of funny letters found in a vintage Dick Tracy strip. The presentation is attractive, and features an evocative cover by David Mack, but doesn't go much deeper. The stylized, cartoonish character designs, alongside horrific acts of violence, used to great effect in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's Powers, do not inform or enhance the story and themes of Ganglords.

The narrow emotional range of the characters makes it hard to care about them, or what will happen to them. The focus on consequences and the corruption of power is a good dramatic theme, but its potential is squandered. At different points, several characters (and Gid himself) speak to Gid's "choices" and how he's changing into the men who did him wrong. Which would be an interesting progression to explore, if it was actually shown. Gid has a wild glint in his eye from start to end, 41 pages later, with scant, and deeply unsatisfactory, allusions to a character capable of making considered judgments, to a character worthy of our emotional investment in his redemption. The characters that surround him, from the woman who speaks the first line of dialog in the book, to his adolescent brother, to the twin ganglords who are captured and sentenced by Gid to a kind of street justice, are ciphers. They are horrified and bemused by Gid's decisions, repsectively, but are not granted the expressiveness to articulate what has been lost.

Replies: 4 comments

Wow, that cover is by David Mack? David Mack, the "Kabuki" guy? I love his work. And I loved the cover of Ganglords, but it was too violent for me, which is kind of saying a lot. Thanks, William, you ruule!

Posted by Ginger Mayerson @ 03/29/2004 05:59 PM PST

Yep, that David Mack did the cover. Indeed, it is a very violent book; I wasn't turned off, exactly, but a book (movie, television show) has to earn the right to use that kind of imagery, and Ganglords doesn't.

If the style of the (interior) art intrigued you, I highly recommend Powers, cited in the review. The dialog is ace, and the story is compelling and fun to unravel. If anything, the violence is more brutal, but is leavened with real humor, and emotion. The difficult parts are difficult because they have to be, to the extent that something like pages in a comic book 'have' to be anything, I suppose.

Posted by William @ 03/29/2004 07:47 PM PST

Actually, I think I'm just a David Mack freak. I love the way he draws and colors the "Kabuki" series. In fact, we have "Kabuki Metamorphosis" out for review and I was hard pressed to let go of it. It's so beautiful, I can't even begin to tell you. Also, when I met Mr. Mack at Wizard World LA, he was very nice, charming even, and, as I am finding out, there's a dearth of male charm in the comics world, so even a little stands out a lot. And David Mack has a lot of charm. Oh well.

Oh, by the way, our usually very reliable webhost had lots and lots of problems today that are, hopefully and permanently, resolved so it's kind of a miricle that you were able to post your review at all. I'm very glad you were able to and you certainly did a better job formatting it than I could have done. Thanks, William. GM

Posted by Ginger @ 03/29/2004 10:12 PM PST

Steve Grant writes a regular column of comic reviews for Comic Book Resources, titled "Permanent Damage." In his April 7 column, he reviewed Ruule favorably. If you wanted a slightly different perspective, and more background on Beckett Comics, check it out.

Also, apparently Ruule does not take place in 1950s, but rather a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Hmm!

Posted by William @ 04/12/2004 08:26 AM PST

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Updated: May 31, 2004