Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rock Bottom

When I first read about Rock Bottom, I expected a riff on Paul Chadwick's Concrete. Though it shares some common themes (namely the nature of celebrity) with Chadwick's epic, Rock Bottom is an entirely different beast. Rock Bottom isn't about superpowers ... it's about death.

Joe Casey's script is incredibly dense, packing in observations about high medical costs, consumer culture, estranged families, abortion, divorce, and celebrity in many forms - musical, scientific, and superheroic. It may be guilty of tackling too much, but there are only brief moments (like the home shopping scam) when the tangents threaten to spiral the book out of control. Rock Bottom hits a list of hot-button topics, but avoids feeling too issue-based by keeping complex characters front and center. Tommy Dare's gradual and fatal transformation into stone is the heart of the book, and the character is compelling. He's utterly flawed, and we're spared the TV-movie dictum that his impending death will transform him into a saint. He makes questionable decisions throughout, and that friction between expectation and what's delivered keeps the book a page-turner through the final images.

Charlie Adlard pulls off an artistic gamble with the tones in the book. As the novel begins, there is no shading to be seen. It's a bit confusing at times, the naked lines lacking definition and shape. It all pays off as the book develops, though. The grey tones are used exclusively to show the progression of Tommy Dare's petrification, and that color starts to anchor the book. As packed as the script is, that simple grey reminds us in every panel who this story is about, and what is happening to him. One of the book's themes is how the reality of Dare's impending death gets swallowed up by bigger societal forces, and it's Adlard's subtle experiment that carries the storytelling weight of that theme.

Rock Bottom is a damn fine book that is completely unlike what I was expecting. I should have know better than to expect the expected from Joe Casey, Charlie Adlard, and AiT/PlanetLar.