Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sinister Dexter: The Taking of the Michael

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Sinister Dexter: The Taking of the Michael (Rebellion, 2016).

A little over two years ago, I raved about the return and resurrection of Sinister Dexter, and the series has not done a darn thing to reward my loyalty until now. If you're unfamiliar with this series, I covered its peaks and chasms in that review and won't go into them again. Much.

The problem is that Dan Abnett - who, in fairness, seems to be writing a dozen other stories for a dozen publishers and may not have the time to devote to keeping this series vital - often falls back on comedy and cliche in Sin Dex, and that's amusing to a point but what works best for the series is taking the protagonists dead seriously. Donald Westlake could juggle both jet-black melodrama and lighthearted capers, but he used different protagonists in his stories. Ramone and Finnigan work best when they are frighteningly efficient at their jobs, and when their jobs are really, really serious. But after that triumphant 12-week return in 2013, a handful of subsequent stories were back in the safe arms of gentle parody and mild comedy, throwing away the incredible opportunity that came with the "Witless Protection" story.

But now, oh. We're four weeks into "The Taking of the Michael," written by Abnett and illustrated by Patrick Goddard, and it's remarkable. Ray and Finny are dangerous, ruthless, and completely horrifying in a way that they're rarely depicted. In episode two of the story, one of two bent witness protection agents arranges for our heroes to be abducted in broad daylight, and that turns out to be an awfully bad error. I love the way that Goddard draws the violence. It's depicted with cold, brutal realism and just left my eyes popping.

And I am completely loving the structure of this story. It's told in flashback, as two detectives investigate the aftermath of a huge gunfight on the deck of a yacht. It belongs to longtime series villain Moses Tanenbaum. There are many bodies, many chalk outlines. Each episode opens with a few more words from their investigation, a few more clues as to what will happen as the story unfolds. We're not sure who has died, but each episode shows more of the small supporting cast meeting grisly ends before Ray and Finny even make it to the ship. The second federal agent's wallet has been found. It's possible that she's among the fatalities.

For that matter, our heroes may not have made it out of this one alive. Sure, they probably did, but if any comic in history has ever made readers genuinely question the safety of its characters, it's 2000 AD. The brutality and shock of this story is strong enough that I'm perfectly prepared to place one bet on this story quietly concluding the long-running series (almost twenty years!) with the revelation of the leads' deaths, while also placing a second bet on them making it out alive and showing up in another four-part satire next summer. Fingers crossed for the former, but whichever way, I am absolutely enjoying the daylights out of the uncertainty, and reading each episode with relish. Highly recommended.

(Clicking the link in the image will take you to 2000 AD's online shop, where you can purchase the issue that begins the story. PDFs of these issues were provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your books (typically comics or detective fiction) featured here, send me an email.)