The Cat Is a Weapon

Are you reading Prophet? Far be it from me to comment on your pull list (and goodness knows there's nothing that I hate more when I go to my store, look through my pull pile, and then put something aside only to have someone say "Put that back! X is the best book being released right now." May be, bro, but I'm still putting it aside for a reason), but you really should be, if you like detailed, sprawling sci-fi stories and wonderfully sloppy, almost European looking, comics art or if you think that Rob Liefeld had some really great ideas but was really sloppy when it came to executing them (I'm not sure that that's a thought that anyone has ever had but, hey, Prophet is great-- maybe Liefeld's just an idea guy?).*

Anyway, read the book. You'll like it, I promise. And if you like Prophet? You might like Brandon Graham's King City. I say that because, while the two have a few things in common (like a certain utterly magnificent oddity) they're, mostly, very different. For one, Graham's simple art, which is composed of neat single lines and carries a very heavy manga influence, is worlds away from Simon Roy's. And, although both books could be qualified as sci-fi, Prophet feels much more like a work in the genre, while King City takes things that are classically seen as trappings of science fiction and utilizes them more for the sake of a charming weirdness than as an attempt to tell a story in a specific mode. In fact, if I were to attempt to categorize it that way, I might suggest that Brandon Graham's book carry the vaguely oxymoronic label of slacker epic, a genre that certainly goes back as far as The Hobbit, and perhaps even further.

What makes King City a slacker epic? Well, for one, there's the ending, which eschews what it seems to be leading towards, that is, our hero Joe defeating an extinction level, demon-based threat that grows in power during the first act and second acts, and then literally looms over the action during the third, in favor of a much smaller victory in global terms, although what is ultimately a much more significant one for Joe himself. For another, there's Joe: a lockpick who trained for two years in order to learn how to correctly use a weaponized, soup loving, cat named Earthling.

Basically, Joe is the most awesome hero ever conceived while a creator was stoned. I don't say that to denigrate what Graham has done; in fact, that not only the premise of the book but also every other fleshy detail was probably first described in a sentence beginning with the phrase "wouldn't it be awesome if...", adds significantly to the serious achievement that is King City. Nothing of this type has ever been so tightly plotted, or so constantly, wonderfully, surprising. Almost any element of the book handled incorrectly, the constant puns, the fact that the cat is a weapon, the zombie war in Korea, the damsel-in-distress sub-plot starring Joe's friend Pete, or, particularly, the featured roles that Joe's ex and her new boyfriend play, could seem either cloyingly clever or utterly predictable and, somehow, Graham is so deft as a storyteller that all of these elements come off as smart rather than cute or cliched. In fact, given how sprawling the main story is, the most amazing thing about the book is just how much of a complete world King City inhabitats, and it is to Graham's credit that he builds this world and then doesn't get lost in it by feeling the need to explain everything. The book could be three or four times longer than it is, and still it wouldn't fully exhaust every awesome idea that its author introduces; instead, what we get is an incredibly tight story that exists in an almost believably odd world-- and that's something worth checking out.

Before I give this edition of the book an unqualified recommendation, though, I would be remiss not to mention that there is a pretty significant problem with a section of the book, insofar as the art is unfortunately and noticeably distorted. If Graham were a lesser artist, or if every other thing about the book (as an object) weren't so brilliant, I'm not sure it would matter so much; on the other hand, if those things weren't true, there would only be a third as many reasons to pick the book up. As it is now, only a small section of the book has significant imperfections and, maybe, that's about as close to perfect as comics ever get.  

* For the sake of full disclosure, I'm an issue behind on Prophet just like I'm an issue behind on everything else; it's been a busy month, ok? Hopefully I'll make it to my store tomorrow. 

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