Saturday, July 17, 2004

Nightside #1

(This review was originally published at Comic Book Galaxy, and is posted here for safekeeping)

By Robert Weinberg andTom Derenick
Published by Marvel Comics

Private Detective Sydney Taine and her brawny partner Ape Largo find themselves in the middle of what appears to be gang war, but which promises to be much more, in the first installment of Marvel's new series, Nightside, "Ikkyu's Skull, Part 1: Hostile Takeover."

As the 800-pound body of Nightside gang boss Jelly the Belly is dragged out of the Hudson River, Sydney Taine has already been hired to find out why two other Nightside gangs have lost their chiefs to foul play over the last few weeks. With Jelly gone, only two bosses remain, and after a brief stop at the crime scene, Sydney Taine pulls on the tightest leather body suit you'll ever see outside Batman Returns, and her and her musclebound partner head for "The Nightmare House:" an exclusive club owned by one of the two surviving Nightside heads of state, Simon Benedict.

So what is "The Nightside?" Well, before you know that, you need to know about "The Others." The Others are a race of supposedly mystical beings, from whom the legends of vampires, werewolves, and others of their ilk have apparently sprung. But they are not so easily classified as their legendary counterparts. Like us, each is unique in his/her own way. Some crave the taste of blood while some can change their shape and control the minds of beasts. The rules you might find in your favorite RPG's Monster's Compendium don't necessarily apply. And while sunlight won't turn them into smoldering piles of ash, they still don't much like it. Most socialize together, at night, in an underworld they've created for themselves where they can revel openly in what they are while still keeping their "otherness" a secret: this is the Nightside.

Somewhere between the Nightside and the Dayside is Sydney Taine, but this first issue doesn't even begin to let us know where that is, or where her alliegances lie. We know she is comfortable among the Others, knows quite a bit about them and that she's been hired by something called "The East Coast Council" in order to keep what she calls, "The Secret" secure by finding the gang bosses' killer. After a brief tussle in The Nightmare House, we find out she knows how to get medeival on the Others if she needs to, and we know she looks very good in her extremely tight leather body suit while she does it. I am also fairly sure that some kind of rabid, mutant pineapple was slaughtered in the making of this comic book, in order to give Sydney Taine the hairstyle her creators were looking for.

Dead produce aside, this issue is an extremely good read. The art has a beautifully sleek, black quality to it (or maybe I'm just obsessing over the absolutely airtight aforementioned leather body suit). The true testament to Derenick's talent is his rendition of the Others. They look menacing, even in the cases of background characters seen from afar, but without appearing overly fantastical. This "realistic" portrayal of the characters is extremely important to the overall mood of the story.

By the end of the issue, you don't know much more about the characters than you do in the beginning. In fact, you can find out more about them than what I've told you here at Marvel's website. This is good. The mystery of the story goes beyond the simple question of "whodunnit" and extends to the characters. How much Weinberg chooses to show us, I believe, will be the key to whether or not this book succeeds. Sydney Taine is an intriguing character, and while we can be given little hints every now and then, overall a very thick shroud needs to be kept around her. All it would take to ruin this book would be an origin issue.

Slap down an extra three bucks on the counter for Nightside #1 if you get the chance. It's dark, interesting, unique, and I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but the main character wears this leather body suit that's so freaking tight...

--Mick Martin

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