Friday, November 18, 2005

Local #1

Outside of last week's DMZ, I don't think I've read Brian Wood before. I was out of comics when classics like Demo and Channel Zero came out, so if you're expecting comparisons to other of his works ... you're out of luck. And if you want me to put this in perspective in terms of it's long term plan (individual issues set in towns across America over a 12 year span), you're out of luck there, too. Plans for the future aside, I want to look at what makes this first issue of Local special.

And it is special. In fact, this may be one of the best first issues I've read. The story here is essentially Drugstore Cowboy meets Groundhog Day. In rain-drenched Portland, Megan's boyfriend tries to convince her to enter Nob Hill Pharmacy and get his fake prescription filled. The small scene is played over and over again, with varying results throughout the book. Like a jazz riff, all the permutations of this simple exchange between Megan, her abusive boyfriend, and the pharmacist get explored with subtle shifts in emotional tone. It's an odd gambit for a first issue, but I think it really works. Most series will hook a reader with mystery, with trickling out the first indications of an overarching plot that will keep 'em coming back for more. The structure of Local means that Wood doesn't have that crutch: Local will hang on Megan as either observer or participant through it's run. Since the location and ensemble will keep shifting, she's the "hook" that will keep readers coming back. What Wood accomplishes with this writing gadget is that while we only know one decision in Megan's life, we know it well. The character still contains mysteries, as we know all the choices she could have made, but didn't. We know her intimately, but aren't already bored ... because outside of these few fateful moments we know nothing about her.

The thing that elevates this idea of "variations on a scene" is Ryan Kelly's choice to keep retelling the story visually. I've seen this mechanic in comics (and film) before, and the usual style is photostatic copies of the first time it's presented. You see the same panels, same sequences, as if you keep you remembering that this is a repeat. Kelly, smartly, figures that Wood has that covered with the script. Instead of hitting us over the head with sameness, he tells each scene fresh. The physical setting of the scene is identical, but his shot selection and emotion vary with each iteration of the scene. It's confident stuff, and it's the raw emotion that sells it. The big splash page of Megan's final decision is almost undercut by her expression in the silent panel before it.

Not only is the first issue of Local a great read with really subtle characterization, but it starts the series off with a bang. If "the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step", Wood and Kelly made one heck of a first step.

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