MIAMI VICE REMIX
By Joe Casey and Jim Mahfood
Publisher: Lion Force
Comics (November, 2015)
Reviewed by Sam Waas
Before I proceed with the review of this fun piece of contemporary literature, a little background material will be helpful for those unfamiliar with the terms graphic novel and mashup. It’s necessary to define these to better understand Miami Vice Remix, so bear with me during this small “essay” into the field.
Graphic novels are essentially comic books all grown up. Some are serious and highly literate, some more fanciful. But most of you have seen them, large format full color volumes. Their roots are found in the hippie-era underground “comix” with an added dash of Japanese manga. Some are extreme, with forays into pornography and, to be honest, filth. Most however are simply comics for an adult (or near-adult) readership, often containing strong language, violence and mature themes.
Iconic among graphic novels are two works. The Dark Knight Returns is first, author and artist Frank Miller with contributing author and colorist Lynn Varley. Since its 1986 debut, it’s remained a best seller. The story, of course, depicts the return to action of Bruce Wayne, now 55, who is Batman hardcore and lacking the slapstick goofy behavior from the old TV series. As a lifelong Batman fan, it was for me a dream come true, Batman as I’d always wanted him to be, and the character’s resurgence spawned a very entertaining film trilogy.
Also from 1986 is Watchmen, with writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins. The film was faithful to the graphic novel, and anyone who enjoyed either the recent Batman or Watchmen movies would do well to purchase their print originals.
You’ll note that I’ve listed not just the authors, but colorists and letterers. And for Remix, we’ve got a story by Joe Casey, artwork and lettering by Jim Mahfood and coloring by Justin Stewart. Few graphic novels are the product of one single artist, most being collaborative efforts. Therefore each contributor deserves mention.
And as for mashup, the term generally applies to two or more separate genres shuffled together. Those who may have seen a recent dark fantasy film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter know precisely what a mashup implies.
So is it with Miami Vice Remix. The characters of Crockett and Tubbs are still in action, fighting crime and being bad boys, when they are confronted by a new street drug which seems to turn its addicts into zombies. Although it’s possible that these denizens aren’t necessarily of the supernatural variety, they fit the zombie role nicely in other aspects. I’ll leave any discussion of supernatural influence on the shelf, in that I’m reluctant to disclose spoilers.
What can I say about Remix? It’s certainly lively, with car chases and fights in abundance, a scattering of over-the-top villains, and a generally engaging story line. And I fully appreciate the tongue-in-cheek presentation. We’re not meant to take it seriously any more than we were expected to believe that the TV Crockett and Tubbs would go more than a week without their cover being blown. Remix is a comic-noir romp, pure and simple.
I did however find some weaknesses, and realize that I’m comparing this graphic novel fairly, against others in the same artistic genre, not judging it against major hard-core crime novels by the current masters.
First, the story line. I thought, “Zombies? Again? Gimme a break.” because that idea has recently been wrung dry, and although Remix does proffer a unique twist on the subject, I would have hoped for more originality.
The lettering is far too hastily penned and extremely hard to read. Graphic novel lettering is an art by itself, in that the material is hand-drawn, not machine lettered. But sometimes, as a result, the person doing the lettering allows an artistic muse too much free rein, resulting in jerky and scribbly text when the original intent is simply a splashy style. It shouldn’t be a chore to decipher what the characters are saying.
I was also somewhat put off by the continual use of euphemisms. The dialogue is full of “f*ck” and “sh*t” which is, I think, cheating. Either use the words themselves or find a synonym which can be spelled out fully. I don’t know whether this was an effort to render the book a “PG-13” rather than an “R” rating but the blood and gore are certainly of the stronger style, and accordingly, use of real curse words would not be any more chancy.
The principal artwork is enjoyable, with deliberately exaggerated long shots and extreme close-ups, making the characters’ arms and legs appear spindly and elongated. Facial expressions and head images were often stretched as well, exceeding the bounds of reality. And although we understand that this isn’t a Norman Rockwell-style photo image book, a little goes a long way and the excessive stretching and twisting becomes slightly tiring. Too much of a good thing.
Another small fault is the framing and shot placement. Top rank graphic novels break through the conventional square panels of the old Sunday comics, with some images filling a half page or more, and “bleed” from one panel to another. Remix was highly imaginative in this respect, but too many images are straight-on as if shot by a stationary camera, with many action scenes slightly repetitive in layout. Modifying the view to see the image from over the shoulder of one character, or from a 180- or 270-degree rotation, are illustrative techniques which were not as deeply explored here as I’ve seen in other works. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable, if slightly over-stylistic, even for an admittedly “spoof” driven and intentionally comic story line.
The coloring is first rate. As you might imagine, it’s full of bright primary colors at times, then washing some of the other panels with colors dark and somber in tone. Coloring emphasizes the story line as well as helping establish the psychological moods, and this was expertly effected.
I liked the story of Miami Vice Remix despite the fact that zombies are currently overdone, but think that the concept deserved more support via the lettering and artwork. Others however may enjoy the flash, bang and energy which the book clearly conveys, and be more forgiving of its small faults.
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