Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
      ( 10/21/2008 06:33:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"CURSE, PRAYER, SAME DAMN THING IN THE EYES OF THE LAW." When we first meet Philip Krome, the cop hero of Steve Niles and Zid's futuristic five-issue horror series, City of Dust (Radical Comics), he's chasing a perp accused of "chanting curses at children." Said "curses" turn out to be, in fact, prayers. In Krome's future world, religious belief and imagination are equivalently punishable offenses – an ironic conflation considering the antagonism many real-world religionists have displayed toward fantasy. "Anybody who knows their history know that humankind were once consumed by strange superstitious beliefs which led to wars and almost wiped out every man, woman and child on the planet," Krome tells us in the first issue's narration. When the suspect pulls out a rosary, the city cop mistakes it for a weapon and blows the poor shmoe away.

Niles, supported by artist Zid's darkly painted panels, is positing an urban landscape not much different from the hard-nosed satiric Brit supercop series "Judge Dredd." In both comic book futureworlds, city coppers dispense a swift on-the-spot judgment; both contain a sharply delineated class structure. "It's dark and it smells of poor people," the distaff half of a slumming moneyed couple complains after the two have descended into the city's "lower levels," and we look forward to seeing this rich twit to get her bloody comeuppance.

Unlike Dredd, Dust's Krome is a more noirishly fallible protagonist. He dallies with a hooker and second-guesses his shooting of that rosary-wielding suspect. As a boy, we learn, he was inadvertently responsible for his own old man's arrest for "attempting to poison a child's mind with impossible ideas" by telling the young Phil one of Aesop's Fables. When he comes across a children's picture book entitled My Monsters ABC at a murder site, you just know he's gonna violate protocol and read it. Dredd would've most likely aimed a flamethrower at the offending volume.

This being a Steve (30 Days of Night) Niles series, City of Dust proves to be a pulpishly grisly affair. The abovementioned snobbish couple quickly get rend into separate limbs for their tour of the lower cityscape, while the holder of that children's book is discovered sans his head. It's all somehow connected to a shadowy figure we see talking to the "father of modern society" Henry Ajax, and though we don't yet know what this figure looks like, we're fairly certain Here There Be Monsters.

Zid's urban cityscape is believably generic looking (even the store logos have been calculatedly washed of all visual creativity), The only full splash of color we see is in hooker Kylie's bedroom. If the aretist's introduction of that character initially comes across more distractively men's mag-y than it needs to be, the dialog between her and our hero effectively works to establish Krome's growing uncertainty about his role as police. You just know that this ambivalence is gonna prove a strength once the monsters come out full force.


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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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