Monday, April 18, 2011

Due South #1

I've been wanting to do this review for a while. Due South is a quirky, hour-long comedy drama action amazing show of awesome about a Chicago detective (Ray Vecchio) and a Canadian mountie (Benton Fraser) who first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father and--for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture--remained, attached as a liaison with the Canadian consulate. It was a show I watched with my dad back in the nineties, and it was just so damned good it got canceled three times slower than Firefly.

The comic is something I’d been quietly waiting for before it came out and something I enjoyed privately afterwards. I have a lot of comics I don’t really gush about because I know most of the people around me wouldn’t care. Yes, Batwoman: Elegy might be artistically notable and a really good character study, but the actual story is weak and I only care about the character for certain personal reasons. Yes, Black Hole is great, but I never really find myself talking to a friend and thinking, “Man, this guy would probably love to read a black and white comic book about teenagers in the seventies with a creepy, mutative STD.” Due South is certainly one of those comics. It’s something I can gush about, but don’t really know who to gush about it to.

Thankfully, The Internet is here.

A surprisingly large amount of the show.

It starts out with Fraser and Vecchio driving and talking about a man named Matthew Cavils. The first few details are basic biographical facts, until they reach the part where he has a son. Fraser expresses some surprised, as they then go over a litany of the man's criminal history. The two go over their history with their fathers, establishing Benton's father's loving, but absent parenting style and Ray's more tumultuous relationship. Their conversation is overlaid with Matthew Cavil's relationship with his son. It's abusive, but in overlaying it with Benton and Ray's story, it creates more depth and reveals more motivation for Cavil than "criminal record" plus "abuses son."

When the two arrive, there's this great inside-out picture of the kid (outside of view) crying in a chair by his (dead) mom's sewing mannequin with Vecchio and Fraser silhouetted in the background talking to his dad.

It turns out though, that Cavil is just one link in their trail to their real target, a drug kingpin posing as a sandwich cart vendor. Despite the Chicago Police Department's best efforts, they haven't been able to make any headway in stopping him. Naturally, our heroes do and they take him down in traditional style, with teamwork, accidents, quirkyness, etc..

I just want to mention how great it is that this comic is about the style of Due South, not referential gags. I'll have to check, but they didn't have any classic quotes from the series in there. I have no doubt that they're coming (along with Fraser's dead father who is a ghost and who's death they mention), but I can wait. As it is, they’ve established a lot of the basics for the new reader: yes, Fraser is a Canadian mounty Chicago, he has a wolf, Diefenbaker, Ray has a sister, rival detectives Huey and Gardino, etc..

The one in the middle is the wolf.

So, they're wrapping up the main plot and I expect that the last few pages are going to be them explaining how the drug dealer managed to kidnap those girls, smuggle his drugs across the Canadian border, and generally answer a lot of incidental questions they set up through the rest of the issue. Instead, it's Benton and Ray in what appears to be a chance meeting in a bad part of town. Their conversation tells us that those questions are going to be ongoing plot threads for the next issue to (maybe) explore just before turning on a dime and they begin talking about why they each came to this spot. Benton mentions he heard the crying while Vecchio says he just knows scum when he sees it. The final page is the two of them outside an otherwise non-descript apartment complex, but with a singe window with the silhouette of a mannequin in it. I had to read it twice (and actually look at it) to get what was happening, but it was worth it.

The rest of the comic is great: it is a Due South comic. It's the full circle of the Matthew Cavils story that takes it up another notch that captures just how good Due South was in the media it was originally broadcast in. You see how different Fraser and Vecchio are while still realizing what makes them work together. That equality is something that the series sometimes missed (in focusing a bit on Fraser as a mortal Superman, with complete with "Tarzan and Superman" soundtrack and carrying Vecchio around for contrast). After reading the subsequent issues, they set the bedrock here for making them partners. It's a rough road because Fraser is paragon, and equating him with Vecchio while not bringing him down or treating him like a Vulcan is tough, but later issues do well with it.

I also don't harp on art much, but this one knocks it out of the park. It's light for the main plot, but darker for the 'bookend' parts. Whenever Ray and Fraser are gearing up to take down Cavils at the end, you can see how they feel; Ray has this quiet anger and Fraser as this compassionate resolution that you can just see right there on the page and it just strikes a chord with the dialog.

Pictured: Lack of Due South pictures on the internet expressed via running gag

The only real nitpick I have is a serious one, one I’ve actually written in about. The kingpin they take down? Black. Matthew Cavil is white, but on the exterior shot, everyone living and loitering around the low-rent apartment building who isn’t a cop is totally black. If there was a single Hispanic guy--even a gangbanger or something--I wouldn’t say anything. Again, I’ve already got another half-dozen of these things and if it was just an isolated case, I’d just keep my white-ass mouth shut. But looking at the other comics, it kind of seems like if the character is a criminal or poor with no dialog, then they’re black. If they have dialog, they have a skin tone appropriate to that, which means ethnic speech gets ethnic color and any other speech gets white, which is something I really didn’t catch on to until issue seven when a guy changes color mid-scene but that’s a story for another time. It’s like the artist is just going off some simple (racist) templates unless the dialog or writer/editor says otherwise). It is a weird-ass thing that, now that I’m aware of it, is really hurting me reading this book.

Other than that, the story is great. To sum up, I just can't express enough how happy this series makes me. I'll be reviewing some of my other issues later.

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