Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trade Waiting - Rock Bottom by Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard

Regular readers will know that Trade Waiting is a massive fan of Joe Casey. The Man of Action member has a way with words that few others could muster and has a knack of choosing artists that are perfect fits for his endeavors. For fans of the writers work, 2012 has been a bumper year when it comes to trades and collections of his work. (Single issue buyers of Godland on the other hand have had a bit of a torrid 2012, but that's a whole other story.) The year began with the fantastically silly Doc Bizarre M.D alongside the terribly talented Andy Suriano and has ended with the long awaited collected edition of the completely crazy Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker with another incredibly gifted artist in Mike Huddlestone. Somewhere in the middle was the truly disturbing horror comic, The Milkman Murders alongside British comic legend Steve Parkhouse. Add that to the work for hire product that has been collected this year with the exciting glimpse into the fringes of the Marvel Universe with Vengeance (alongside Nick Dragotta,) and the reinterpretation of Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman's Haunt (with Nathan Fox; see? Casey does have a knack with artists,) and it can be argued that these are halcyon days for both Casey and fans of his work. Alongside Butcher Baker, Casey has had another hard cover released in the tail end of this year. Is it any good? Find out after the jump.

Rock Bottom 
Written by Joe Casey 
Art by Charlie Adlard 

Semi successful and fairly affluent pianist for a blues band, Tommy Dare is not a bad man, yet nor is he a particularly great man either. Stuck in the middle of divorce proceedings and with a pregnant lover, Tommy chooses to hide from his issues, instead deciding to exist within a second childhood. Tommy begins to isolate his band mates and is in a situation where his only friend is his lawyer Fred, who in a strange about turn for usual lawyers in fiction, is actually a good man. If his issues with the women in his life and the mounting problems with his band weren't enough, Tommy is beginning to feel heavier, literally. Adding to this is a strange discolouring in his hand that makes it appear to be turning to stone. From there, Rock Bottom accelerates at an astonishing rate, focusing not only on Tommy and his affliction, but how he and the problems he is having effect the people close to him and also the public at large. 

The story of a man turning to stone has been done many times before and should be one that is familiar to comic book fans. The family that birthed the Marvel age of comics had its own man made of rock and the trappings that come with such an affliction are usually seen to have many benefits alongside the downfalls. But this is not the Marvel Universe, this is our world and the benefits are virtually non existent. In our world, it is not seen as a power but an affliction or a before unseen disease and Casey spends a lot of his time stressing that point. 

Fans of Joe Casey should beware, this is not your usual Joe Casey comic. Usually a writer that revels in stories that are not only crazy, but told with a nudge and a wink, Rock Bottom is a tale that is told completely with a straight face. Because of this, there is a rarely seen humanity to Casey's writing, particularly in the complexities of who Tommy Dare is as a human. Pushing the idea that you can be a good human being yet still make mistakes that can hurt others, Casey takes great pains to make Tommy a rounded character. His treatment of the women in his life isn't particularly great, but by the same token it is more down to his own inaction rather than actually being actively horrible. Casey also pushes the idea of friendship to the forefront, not only with the relationship of Fred and Tommy, (and also his band mates for that matter,) but also with Tommy's doctor, a man who is constantly battling with being a good man and friend to Tommy and the idea of impending fame and fortune of being the man to discover an before unseen disease. 
Rock Bottom is more than just genre fiction. True, this is a story about a man who is turning to stone, a ludicrous concept at the best of times, but even the supporting cast are completely human. It is easy to paint characters as good or nefarious but we all know that in reality we all tend to lie somewhere in the middle and Casey is adept at showing this. The characters in Rock Bottom all seem to have the best intentions at heart but are prone to bouts of selfishness. Oddly, the character who Casey writes to be least complex of all the the girl that Tommy gets pregnant, seen as the victim on every level, Casey uses our knowledge that she is a girl that knowingly slept with a married man as the layer to make us not feel too sorry for her. Conversely Tommy's ex-wife is someone you expect to be completely bitter and full of hate yet confronted with the reality of the problems that Tommy is facing lets the facade fall.

Charlie Adlard is a man who is used to being an artist who can put the humanity into seemingly unrealistic scenarios as the long running artist on The Walking Dead. In Rock Bottom, Adlard's skills are put to good use because, as with all good working relationships in comics, the dialogue only tells half the story. The facial expressions that Adlard draws are nothing less than fantastic. From the helplessness seen on Tommy's face, the sadness and hate on Tommy's lover, and the complete lack of knowing what to do that constantly paints Tommy's doctors features, Adlard tackles all with ease. Adding to this is his sense of detail, which at times is at Geoff Darrow levels. When Tommy accidentally breaks a piano you can see every string within it snap and Tommy's motorcycle looks like it came straight out of the showroom. One issue; this is a black and white comic and while that alone isn't an issue, there is no shading or swathes of black ink in this comic short of the grey tones that pepper Tommy as his condition worsens. Because of this, it takes a few pages to get used to but once you do it's something that you don't even notice.

Verdict - Buy It

Who would have thought that the man who wrote Butcher Baker, Officer Downe, and countless other completely insane comics could write something so touching and humane?  By purposely taking himself out of the big two picture (short of the odd Marvel book,) it can be easy to forget about Joe Casey, but do so at your peril. Some of the best comics being published in the western world today come out of his head and Rock Bottom is no exception. Add to this Charlie Adlard, one of the most reliable and exciting artists working at the moment and the fairly decent price point (twenty bucks for a hard cover and a lot less from places other than your LCS,) and you are on to a winner.

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