Overview

Shuddertown #2

Review

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Shuddertown #2

Credits

  • Words: Nick Spencer
  • Art: Adam Geen
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Apr 28, 2010

Shuddertown is one of those books that sneak up on you. It comes at you from angles. Odd angles. In the first issue, creators Nick Spencer and Adam Geen introduced an intriguing, stylish mystery delving into the conflicted psyche of a burnt out homicide detective investigating murders committed by long dead perps. In this second installment, Spencer and Geen continue to build their story gradually, allowing it to unfold naturally, and gambling that their audience will be with them until the end.

It’s a ballsy move by independent creators but it’s a play backed by more than just hype and false confidence. Spencer and Geen have bought into their story wholeheartedly and they’re betting their audience will too. Their investment is evident in every stark line of the crumbling Shuddertown Projects, in every syllable of dialogue uttered by their tortured, quirky characters.

For the most part, this issue focuses on exposition and character development but it doesn’t drag at all, thanks to a nice steady pace peppered with sharp dialogue and intense emotional beats. Spencer realizes that good storytelling doesn’t have to rely on spectacle, allowing his readers to familiarize themselves with his deeply flawed protagonist naturally. At times, getting to know Detective Isaac Hernandez is difficult and uncomfortable. He carries a lot of baggage. With a broken marriage and a stalled if not imperiled career, not to mention a taste for illicit drugs and strippers, Hernandez isn’t an easy guy to like. His heart may be in the right place but he’s kind of like that friend with a perpetual cloud hanging over him – cynical, exhausting, and just a little needy.

Spencer lets Hernandez drive his plot and so it unravels, more than it unfolds, meandering just a bit, dependant on the questionable focus of its protagonist. It makes for a very organic reading experience. Hernandez is a fascinating character precisely because of his flaws. The audience buys into Spencer’s premise because they can relate to the decisions, the reactions of his imperfect characters. Hernandez’s initial disorientation upon stumbling into the Shuddertown murders in the first issue is only amplified by his need for an emotional and physical reprieve in the second chapter. Unfortunately, he finds his escape chopped down the center of a mirror at the end of a coke straw.

Detective Hernandez isn’t really the main character in this book, though. Shuddertown is. The dying ghetto permeates every panel of this comic, burrowing into and tainting everyone who crosses its indistinct borders. Adam Geen does a superb job transforming the setting of the story into its most important character. Utilizing a photo-realistic style and a collection of interesting artistic techniques, Geen succeeds in creating a personality for this urban setting, as distinct and familiar as any real-world city. Shuddertown always looms in the background. It hovers over Hernandez’ shoulders as he half-heartedly probes Father Dunn about the murders and it hangs its shadows in every club, street, and alley. Geen’s use of collage and unusual layouts reinforce Hernandez’ kaleidoscopic descent into the secrets of Shuddertown and creates an overriding sense of claustrophobia. Squat buildings loom in crumbling disarray, while the neon lights of a strip club threaten one’s equilibrium.

In its second issue, Shuddertown continues its unpredictable journey through the dirt and grime of a dangerous corner of the modern western psyche. There is no gloss here. A crack forensics team isn’t waiting in the wings to provide last minute damning evidence. There’s only a broken-down cop desperate to solve the strangest case of his career.

And there’s Shuddertown.

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