At the risk of giving you a terrifying mental image, it takes a special kind of caper to get my knickers a-twist. This is especially true when those stories come vetted through the comic medium. Unlike seemingly most folks, I’m not a huge fan of crime stories in my funny books, and to get me aboard at any level, it has to be on-par with or exceed something like 100 bullets or Scalped in its treatment, complexity, production and most importantly, delivery. That’s why I was naturally a bit hesitant to dip into Wes Locher’s original graphic novel, Chambers, which the author quite rightly has compared to series like Brubaker’s Criminal and the Parker books. However, would this turn live up to or indeed surpass his comparisons or the preconceived ones I had going into its reading? At the risk of spoiling things early, the short answer is “not really,” but that’s not to say Chambers isn’t without its own sense of grizzled fun or charm.
As opposed to some other books at play within the “dirty cop” dynamic, Chambers, from the outset, doesn’t pretend to wear the veil of mystery. This story about the murder of altruistic, whistle-blowing Officer Adrian Williams and the subsequent hunt by his killers for the children that survive him (both in family and in the police force) is not a “whodunnit.” In fact, throughout it all, Chambers does not enjoy the intricate weave of a noose, but rather the blunt thud of a slapjack, the unsubtle salvo of a drive-by shooting.
As Adrian’s daughter Denise sets out to avenge her father’s murder at the hands of a corrupt police force, she very quickly discovers that its cancer runs much deeper and closer to home than she first thought, infecting even [SPOILER] her once-trusted partner, Bruce Conway.
There follows a significant trail of severe beatings, deaths-by-bullet and double-hard shit-talking, and while the well-named Chambers will scratch the itch if you’re in the mood for a tried-and-true, straightforward bad cop shoot-em-up, it lacks the narrative finesse employed by other like-minded examples of the genre, without providing anything new.
In the words of the wrathful Denise as she finds a clue to her father’s murder in the form of a matchbook, “How cliché ... yet convenient,” and in a way, that’s how I felt about the entirety of Chambers. This wasn’t a bad book, it just didn’t add a new voice to an old conversation. This is a story of un-minced vengeance, bereft of subtleties or idiosyncratic storytelling; that makes it all-too-easy to consume and digest, but it does so without satisfying much other than your desire to see people being shot, beaten up or thrown through a plate-glass window.
Speaking of voices, all of the characters in this book sound like each other, without any characteristics distinguishing each as unique, making it very hard to tell one apart from the next in anything other than name. Also, because everyone in this book (including the one hero) is incredibly at ease with immediately turning to murder, be it for money in the case of the crooked or vengeance for the righteous, there is a weird moral ambiguity that prevents you from taking a side or cheering for those that should deserve it.
Thanks to all of that, and a “twist” ending (which comes off a bit flat ... no pun intended), this feels like your basic, easy-on-the-brain, popcorn summer action movie. On the other hand, it does sometimes impress in tense tandem storytelling, like when Denise (again, conveniently) forgets her keys, and discovers another murder. Sure it’s a bit hackneyed, but the brief series of feints that allows the killer to go unseen by Denise is particularly well done, and it would have been nice to see those moments expanded upon further.
The art, like Locher’s writing, is dependable, if somewhat unambitious, and creates a visual feel that is serviceable for the story Chambers conveys, with muted, sometimes inconsistent, often overly-shadowed color work from Kefas Armando. And wow, does Kristian Rossi love putting the reader in the subject’s point of view! I don’t know how many times we find ourselves looking down the business end of a handgun, but it’s a LOT. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an effective perspective, but when it’s done this much, it loses the intended punch, regardless of how adequate a job the artist does of it.
In the end, Chambers is your typical hard-boiled dirty cop payback book, and there is very real talent shown by both Locher and Rossi in making this book so quaffable. It took me no time at all to get through and I had a pretty damn good time in the process. It’s like one of those obscure cop drama flicks that comes on basic cable (if there is such a thing anymore); you don’t watch it to be invested in the story, but rather to switch your mind off and enjoy the easy, unpolished action. It may not be loaded with heavy narrative artillery, but you’ll still find a standard-issue story of adequate calibre.
Writer: Wes Locher Artist: Kristian Rossi Colorist: Kefas Armando Publisher: Arcana Studios Price: $1.99 Each Chapter Date: 9/18/13 Comixology Link