Review: Chin Music #1

Let me first say that I really like what is at the root of Chin Music, so much so that I’m not even mad that it’s not about Shawn Michaels’ disembodied finishing move, roaming the country, delivering sweet justice through superkicks. Now THERE’S a story with some spit on it!

But yeah: prohibition-era shenanigans involving Eliot Ness, Al Capone, magic bullets and mummies? Bring that shit right over here! But (and that’s a big but ... I cannot lie), what begins so promisingly in its first few pages, very quickly devolves into chaos. And not in a good way.

The book starts off with an absolutely beautiful five-page sequence of a red-eyed, (literally) chiseled-faced detective-type carving runes into a lone bullet while participating in what seems to be some kind of black magic ritual. Either that, or he’s trying to steal the Green Power Ranger’s powers. (Nobody’s gonna get that reference, Steve. Ah, screw it, leave it in.) You know, when I first cracked this puppy and saw its inaugural spread, I was immediately hooked, thanks mostly (of course) to Tony Harris’ by-now expected, yet no less shockingly gorgeous art.

From there, however, we are, without anything in the way of explanation, shunted to Egypt (apparently) some years prior, where a helpful fortune teller is attacked by a few veiled, evil, “Abhorrence of Arabia” style demon ... things, who proceed to relieve the fortune teller of his skin and apparently, his magical powers of flight and clairvoyance. They also fuck up the Sphinx's nose, in roughly the 800 billionth time that historical happenstance has been explained.

Anyway, now nothing more than a skeleton, the former fortune teller crawls from Egypt to Chicago (presumably over years), where he is found at the roadside by a young Eliot Ness, who shows the crazy language-speaking skeleton his badge, because he assumes it will calm him down; the logic here being ... I don’t know how to finish that sentence.

After the skeleton messily explodes within and disappears from the back of an ambulance (because the paramedics thought there was a chance of a skeleton coming back to life?), Eliot Ness instantly seems bored and walks away, carefully flicking his toothpick ... for “drama,” I guess? We then see the bullet-whittling detective type from the first few pages, who, after firing his special bullet seemingly at random outside his window, toasts the night with a glass of (then illicit) hooch. Finally, we see where the bullet he fired was heading (pun intended), as it blasts through the noggin of Al Capone.

That might sound pretty cool in principle, but in practice, I found the first issue of this series to be one hell of a non-linear mess. Not having seen the solicit for Chin Music before reading it, nor being able to glean the information from the source material, I actually had to rely a USA Today article on the book before understanding ... well, anything. It wasn’t immediately apparent, for example, that the detective and the fortune teller are the same person, nor what Eliot Ness’ involvement in this whole affair is, other than the fact that he was there and likes showing his badge to stuff.

Now, I like a good mystery as much as the next guy, but for me, there needs to be a substantive framework first, which this issue fails to establish, jumping around too much without charting its course effectively. In fact, parts of this feel more like a zero issue, exploring connections we apparently already should know, rather than leading us along with what is a new and previously untold story. But there is a plus side in all of this...

I’m not gonna lie, the reason I picked this book up was for Tony Harris’ art, and in this, the book didn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s the only thing keeping my rating from being lower. Whether he’s drawing the thick, cigar-capped sneer and glistening jowls of one of history’s most notorious crime bosses, or the bloody remains of a freshly eviscerated skeleton, Harris proves why his street cred is so well-deserved.

It’s equally great watching him play amidst the layouts - creating a fantastic fun flow that the narrative lacks. Deeply scarred, wet and marred, the world Harris has presented visually here is disgustingly delicious. It’s a shame that the story itself is ... less so.

Score: 2/5

Writer: Steve Niles

Artist: Tony Harris

Letters: Bill Tortolini

Publisher: Image Comics

Price $2.99

Release Date: 5/8/13