Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hoax Hunters, Quarantined Release (For Real)

Wednesday looks like a double release day for me--I say "looks like" because if I've learned anything about comic shipping dates, they are tentative at best. But, June 22 looks like a pretty firm date for Hoax Hunters and Quarantined to drop in stores.

This installment of Hoax Hunters marks the halfway point for the series--just five more parts to go. JM, Steve, Jim, and I are all pretty happy about what we've accomplished so far, and are excited for what's to come--if you've enjoyed these first installments, I think you'll really like where it goes from here. This part, part five, was especially nice to have released because it continues directly from where part four left off. We've tried not to do that too much, instead giving each piece its own unique feel, setting, and portion of the overall story to reveal. But it was still fun to have a big action sequence thrown into the mix.

So pick up Hack/Slash #5 at your local comic shop tomorrow; it has two amazing covers, one from Jenny Frison, the other from Rodin Esquejo. Check out a five-page preview here.

And if you like Hoax Hunters, please spread the word!

As for Quarantined (that's the issue four cover--art by Keith Burns--on the left), it is finally hitting comics shops (whichever ones were generous enough to order copies, that is). I think I've pretty much exhausted what I can say on this topic--what I do want to mention, instead, is the digital release.

Quarantined is now available for digital download through Graphicly. Each issue costs only .99 cents, giving you the entire 157 page, full color book for under $6! I use Graphicly quite a bit, and dig their interface--it's easy to use and makes panel-to-panel reading really fluid.

We'll be running a contest soon for those who purchase Quarantined through Graphicly, so watch out for that in the coming days. And if you haven't checked out Quarantined yet, you can read a free preview here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Coming to a Head: Thoughts on the Cliffhanger

[The following is a few thoughts I've had since watching the finale of The Killing; spoilers abound.]

There's nothing like a failed landing—and the sense of betrayal it engenders—to get the Internet teeming with curses, threats, and all other forms of angered, negative feedback. I don’t think there’s much to argue on The Killing’s finale: it bombed. And, truth be told, we viewers all should have known better. The middle episodes were a mess of transparent plot threads and inconsistent character development, yet we trusted anyway—or, at the very least, we stuck around to see who was the culprit. What The Killing delivered, instead, was not only more of the same mess, but cynical and manipulative as well, and I can’t imagine what Hail Mary the show has to bring viewers back for more.

What that final episode gave me—in addition to outrage—was a reason to think about the execution of cliffhangers within a serialized story. I am, unreservedly, a passionate devotee to serial stories (and I define serial stories as stories broken into chunks yet still have an end it’s working towards; thus, unfortunately, most comics aren’t really serialized, they’re just told in pieces as a result of the industry, not the story). And when you’re compartmentalizing in a serial, the cliffhanger is one of the best tools at your disposal, but also one of the riskiest. Nail it, and you’ll have readers/viewers dying to know what’s next; blow it, and they’ll want to claw your face off.

The Killing is an exercise in how not to handle a cliffhanger, a pull-the-rug-from-under-you gut punch to spawn theories, discussions, and a reconsideration of everything that’s come before those pivotal final moments. And the reason, to me, is simple: The Killing failed to resolve it’s own narrative goal.

A cliffhanger functions at its best when a goal, an endpoint, is made clear and is then achieved. This sounds antithetical to building mystery and keeping the story going, but it isn’t, in my opinion. The combustion driving the narrative needs to be dealt with in a direct way. The twist comes when the audience—and, likely, the characters—realize there was more happening, more at stake, than was originally known.

The first season of Lost handles this balance to perfection. (Yes, later seasons got confused as the red herrings and plot devices stacked to the rafters, but let’s stick to the first season.) For starters, they managed the story’s arc far, far better than The Killing; you never expected the survivors to be rescued at the end of the first season, but you do expect Rosie Larsen’s killer to be revealed at the end of the thirteenth episode since that’s all the show was about. In Lost, there are two related threads that come to a head in the season’s final hours: some of the survivors will go off on the raft they’ve been building and try to find rescue, while others will work to get into the hatch and escape the threat of the Others. Those objectives, in the most basic sense, are met—the raft is launched, the hatch is blown open.

The problem with The Killing is the show’s objective is never achieved—Rosie’s killer wasn’t revealed, and there we no threads taking the viewers any other place than the resolution of that mystery. That was the central, driving force of the entire show; hell, even the promos make this completely explicit. Not only that, but the twists are cheats—you can’t go back to previous episodes, study Holder, and see things that make his sudden character change any less jarring or nonsensical. The first season of Lost, in contrast, makes their twists palatable in ways that stay true to the narrative. In season one, the Others were still a complete unknown—capable of anything, nearly mystical, their actions could be nothing else but a surprise. So when they flip the script on the survivors and go after Walt—which makes sense, since his strange abilities and connection to the island had been established—it doesn’t break any of the show’s rules. In fact, it enhances the suspense by making the Others all the more threatening.

The Killing wants us to assume the Holder is a wild card, like the Others. Only there is no indication of him fitting into that role. In fact—and this is one of the most frustrating things—the final episodes purposefully build him up to be as much of the protagonist as Linden; he becomes more likable and sympathetic as we see him bond with Linden and struggle with his personal life and demons.

What The Killing leaves its viewers with is more inscrutable rewriting of the show’s schizophrenic logic. Bennett isn’t the killer, neither is Belko or Richmond. The cliffhanger was supposed to be a springboard into season two, but landed in a belly-flop; no plot threads were satisfied, and no sense of curiosity was established. Season one of Lost left me dying to know what was in the hatch because its mystery had been teased for weeks. Conversely, I could care less whose car Holder got into or whether Linden will get off the plane or not; neither seemed tied to a cohesive story worthy of speculating on. Even AMC's cancelled (yet far superior) Rubicon handled its cliffhanger narrative with greater elan than The Killing. You learn the story behind Kateb and the results thereof, and see how that functions within the larger story of the conspiracy involving the mysterious, powerful group of old white guys. And that's part of the keys to the failings of The Killing; it has only managed to establish one compelling thread, that of Rosie's killer. They've attempted to go deeper in other ways, all of which have failed miserably. By episode 13, the writers had painted themselves in a corner that the killer's reveal was all the show had left.

That being said, the finale would have been far more effective if Rosie’s killer had been revealed*; then I’d at least be wondering how this person would be caught and how Richmond would be exonerated. The show could have moved forward and evolved into something more than a single case, yet still have that case at its center.

*For what it’s worth, I’d be willing to bet the killer is Richmond’s aid. But who cares if it is?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011