Saturday, February 14, 2009

Soul Kiss #1 (of 5)

Image Comics, 22 pages, $ 3.50

Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Marco Cinello

Soul Kiss has a number of things working against it.

One is the 22-page-miniseries format. I don’t know if Mr. Seagle always planned for the story to be published this way, but it seems like a horrible mismatch. There is some interesting material in here that Soul Kiss just races through at an unholy speed, evidently for no other reason than to hit an appropriate point in the plot on page 22 of issue number one in five.

The lead character is Lili, a young production assistant who wants to go to college in Arizona, is assaulted by a rapist in the middle of the desert when her car breaks down, and ends up making a literal deal with the devil to save herself. If this sounds like well-trodden territory, that’s because it is—which doesn’t mean this kind of story can’t be told one more time with a good hook, of course.

But Mr. Seagle passes up every opportunity to get the audience on the same page with Lili—quite possibly because the structure of a five-issue limited series just doesn’t allow for that, but that’s no excuse. Soul Kiss doesn’t have proper scenes, it just has sketches of them. That’s not enough.

The second thing that’s dragging Soul Kiss down is the awful, awful prose. “What godforsaken stretch of asshole Arizona highway is this? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now,” et cetera, and so forth. Are these lines particularly original or interesting? No. Do they convey a great deal of character? Not really. Do they have some other function that justifies their existence? Well, they establish that the highway we see is in Arizona. Why not just leave it at “Arizona,” then, if nothing inspired comes to mind?

Later on, the first-person monologue tells us that Lili has a taste in her mouth, “a taste like … death.” And the story takes an entire page to establish this, so it’s a big deal. Now, without any sarcasm at all, I have a really hard time imagining what “death” tastes like. Would it be asking too much from somebody who’s a writer by profession to work a little harder on this sort of thing and maybe refine it to a point where the reader can actually imagine what the “taste of death” means to Lili? Or is this just some sloppy thing that sounded cool at the time but doesn’t actually mean anything?

It gets worse, though. “Am I dreaming, Damon?” Lili addresses her boyfriend. “If you are, it’s my dream come true, babe,” he replies, and I’m cringing. Maybe that’s just me, but I would feel kind of embarrassed to turn this dialogue in as anything but a placeholder for the real thing, in a really rough first draft.

There’s also the issue of the story’s chronology, which is all over the place for no discernible reason. I’m counting at least five points where we’re jumping to another time and place, and I can justify maybe one or two of them—in some cases, I’m not even sure if the story jumps, or when the given scene is meant to be taking place. This doesn’t wreck the flow of things in a major way, granted, but it does make it unnecessarily confusing.

On the positive side, Soul Kiss gives artist Marco Cinello a chance to show off with multiple styles—some scenes are rendered in an animation-type style, others look like they’ve been drawn with crayons, others again like more traditional comics pages. Mr. Cinello gets a lot of mileage out of the coloring, as well; depending on the setting, he’s rendering pages in blue and red tones to great effect. I’m not wild about his occasional use of odd, pixelated photographs, but he appears to be a talented storyteller.

Overall, Soul Kiss doesn’t quite work, I’m afraid. It has a sturdy enough premise and interesting art, certainly. On the other hand, it’s been shoehorned into a format that does it no favors at all, and Mr. Seagle’s writing largely seems uninspired and careless. This should have gone back to the drawing board, not out in the world.

Grade: D

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