The Grey Area: Rapid City - An Unclear Exercise / by Patrick Smith

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Over the course of reading Rapid City #11 I indadvertedly began thinking about the career of Brian Michael Bendis, and once I was done thinking about it I realized that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Although I can't find the source I remember reading an interview with Bendis where he once said, and I'm paraphrasing, that the reason that he started out in crime noir because he knew that after Watchmen he would have to make a name for himself in another genre to get recognized. That's always sort of stuck with me through the years and therefore I'm always a little confused when someone decides to make a superhero book as one of their first projects. Not to say it can't be done but it usually needs a little extra something to work outside the sandboxes of the big two. And while it definitely can work, and has in many cases, it ultimately isn't on display here. Rapid City as a series does have a hook, sort of, as it's touted as semi-autobiographical. The book's protagonist's journey as he tries to make his way as a new superhero mirrors the internal monologues of creative team of writer Josh Dahl and artist A. Kaviraj as they attempt to create a superhero comic.

Now I want to this right up front: Apparently Dahl has many of this book's scripts in the can but, issue 11 is actually the first issue of this series to be illustrated, with number 1 also complete, but not yet actually printed. Reading that in the press material frankly left me just sort of reeling because although I'm not necessarily against nonlinear storytelling, I can't really see an instance where this just isn't out and out confusing, especially when the series hasn't even been established yet! (There's even already a "B-sides" book available filled with stories of the side characters. I didn't get to read this, but again, why finish this before issue 1?) I was also given access to issue 1 digitally, but between that and issue 11 I can't necessarily see the overarching story of the series. Although I consider myself to be a guy that doesn't necessarily mind some lapses in logic, I can't figure out how this story fits into the semi autobiographical mold. The first issue is a better representation of that, but the premise is either abandoned or wildly off course by issue 11. So right from the get-go this book is sort of shooting itself in the proverbial foot.

I would like to highlight the work done by Kaviraj, who I actually thought did some solid work with the fully formed issue 11. He has a style hat uses inky blacks to create an almost noir-ish atmosphere, which frankly adds to the Bendis vibe I was talking about earlier. A few panels that left me scratching my head, one in particular was of Kinetic's (our hero) face with his mouth agape during a fight scene and it didn't particularly look like he was happy or in pain. It almost seemed like there was supposed to be dialogue but no speech bubble was printed. His character designs, although not incredibly dynamic are functional with the only problem being that sometimes you can't really differentiate from character to character when they're out of costume. It got to the point that I had to keep looking back to figure out who the main character was on the page or if they were there at all, although I will admit it was also due in part to the writing. Still Kaviraj has the makings of an artist to watch as long as his skills as an illustrator and visual storyteller continue to progress. Particularly I was impressed with how he conveyed motion with the characters and the ways he posed his characters while  propelling them through open air. This attention to kinetic detail reminded me somewhat of the way Mike Allred positioned his characters. Not nearly on Allred's level, mind you, still very solid.

Now for Dahl's writing. I want to make clear that although I don't understand why a creator would want to start with a story within the superhero genre that does not mean I think Dahl doesn't have the right to give it a shot. In all honesty, the book actually is a pretty competently constructed standalone, telling a very precise story with a very precise point of view of a superhero going against run-of-the-mill drug dealers and makes some interesting statements regarding the fluid nature of super heroism and super villainy. The problem is if that 11 is your introduction you have no connection to these characters, and the only way the superhero genre works is if you care about the hero. Since I was forced to start with 11 (again, I'm unsure why this was made as a distinct choice for a press kit), in the case of Kinetic, I do not.

Thinking about it now I seem to remember one other comic series that decided to release e a future issue early: Chew. Although not in the same genre, Chew put out issue 27 way ahead of its print order, giving us a peek into the future. But that was during the run of an already well-established book, and gave us a startling glimpse into the future and therefore we really wanted to know how the story was going to eventually get to that point from where we were. With issue 11 of Rapid City, we would be almost a year into a traditional run but nothing here really gives us any reason to look forward to seeing how we got here and whatever stakes are introduced after issue 1 instantly becomes moot. It almost seems like they want us to have the emotional attachment to these characters without working for it, and that's just not how superhero comics work. More than any other genre in comics the superhero genre needs to make the reader actually care about the hero's plight and by extension their journey. (Which is also one of the flaws of the genre when you're denied the 3rd act, but you can read more about that on our About page if you really like.) Whether that journey be dark, bloody, amoral, funny, border-line absurd, or simply seeking truth justice and the American way it does not matter. If the reader doesn't care than the story has no power and by extension neither does the hero.

A superhero comic done right has characters that embody who we are or, at their best, the people we want to become. Those qualities were readily apparent in when Marvel and DC were building up their universes and you can find them in modern superhero comics in places like Invincible and even in The Boys. And although I'll admit it's unfair to compare those books to Rapid City, it doesn't change the fact that you most certainly don't find those qualities here. Keep in mind that this is simply the opinion of one person. Maybe I'm missing something from the grand equation of this book. Maybe if I had been able to read the story straight through from issue 1 to issue 11 I would be singing a wildly different tune. But I don't think I am missing something. What I think is that this book, which has the potential to be a bright spot for a superhero tale in the indie and self-publish market, just makes me feel disappointed.

TL;DR: Rapid City #11 may be constructed competently enough, but with a odd publication order and a promised hook that isn't readily apparent in the long view, the book becomes confusing and dull. If you are interested in pursuing this story, wait until it's more complete.

Rapid City #11 is written by Josh Dahl with art by A. Kaviraj and self-published by Dahl's Monolith Press.

Review copies of Rapid City #11 and #1 were provided to Spandexless by the writer.