Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, September 20, 2007
      ( 9/20/2007 06:49:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A CLEAN KILL WHEN YOU CAN'T VERIFY IT." Remember that bad-ass villain at the end of the first season of 24? The one played by Dennis Hopper with his trademark pissedness and a not entirely convincing Euroscum accent? Ever wonder why the guy had it in for Jack and his loved ones? Well, the recently collected graphic novel, 24: Nightfall (IDW), purports to fill in the blanks. Set "two years to the day prior to Senator David Palmer's victory in the California primary," it depicts a disastrous mission led by Jack into the former Yugloslavia to assassinate not-so-lovable ethnic cleanser Victor Drazen. We know the assignment can't succeed, of course, otherwise the entire first season of 24 wouldn't have taken place. So we read through the 112-page graphic novel, wondering about and anticipating that delicious moment when our hero earns Drazen's eternal enmity.

Jack and a largely indistinguishable crew of fellow CTU agents have parachuted into the war-torn country to hook with a brother-&-sister team who are supposed to help them target Drazen. But things quickly start to go sour when one member of the team parachutes into an active minefield, taking the Serbian military band radio with him. Meanwhile, back in the states, future presidential candidate Palmer and his loyal advisor Mike Novick ineffably attempt to keep tabs on the mission, but, of course, someone else in Washington is feeding information to Drazen about the mission. Hovering in the background is Macbethian wife Sherry Palmer, but she doesn't really get to do much except nag her hubby to keep his eye on the presidential prize.

Like the teevee series, Nightfall attempts to convey the illusion that its events are occurring within a fixed 24-hour timeframe, but this storytelling gimmick doesn't really work in the comic book format. Writers Mark Haynes and J.C. Vaughn, originally writing for a five-issue mini-series, devoted the first four issues to four hours of story time apiece, then crammed the remaining eight hours into the last issue. Though they regularly ensure that captions digitally establishing both Eastern and local time are stategically placed within the panels, they still can't establish the teleseries' level of tension as time keeps on ticking/ticking/ticking into the future. It ain't easy to establish "real time" when your storytelling reality is broken into panels, but comic artists like Will Eisner have shown that it can be done more convincingly than this - even if it's only for the duration of an eight-page story.

With any comic book property based on a beloved movie or teleseries, the other big question is whether the book's art captures those characters who we know so well as actors. On this score, artist Jean Diaz does best with Drazen and weakest with Sherry Palmer, whose head doesn't always seem to fit on her body, but I generally accepted his dour-faced Jack Bauer. An actioner like this also rises and falls on the strength of its battle sequences, but Diaz doesn't always make these scenes as clear as they could be. I had to stop and reread one page where a truck is blown over by a bazooka, for example, because the writers and artist kept the action on the preceding page inside the truck, then pulled so far away from the actual explosion that I wasn't immediately sure what I was seeing. In more than one panel, we're given big explosions where you never once believe that the stiff silhouettes being framed by the flames are actual human beings. If you can't give a big-assed fireball its props, then perhaps you should be doing the GN version of Men in Trees instead.

The bulk of Nightfall is devoted to our hero dodging Drazen's soldiers as he attempts to uncover the bad guy's location so a bombing mission can take him out. Through the course of the mission we get the usual big betrayal, but since the character who does this is the only who on the team besides Jack who comes across the least bit distinctly, it's not much of a surprise. That moment we've been waiting for – when Jack and his target come face-to-face, cementing the antagonism that'll fuel Drazen's evil schemes in the show's first year - never occurs, so tough luck if you were waiting for that particular pay-off. Perhaps that takes place in a second prequel set one year "to the day of Senator David Palmer's victory in the California primary"?
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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