Ludicrous horror concepts and nigh-incalculable body-counts aside, one of the best things about Alex de Campi’s Grindhouse series has been its impeccable sense of balance. Throughout the title’s run and revolving stable of great artists, de Campi has somehow managed to take an absolutely bonkers idea - i.e., the translation of exploitation cinema to hardboiled comic-bookery - and not only preyed deliciously upon its inherently illicit (and offensive) vices, but also elicit some bona fide emotional resonance and lastingly effective drama. That otherwise uneasy narrative marriage has become something of a hallmark of the series, no better exemplified than in last year’s absolutely brilliant two-parter, “Slay Ride,” the first issue of which attentive Bastards will remember I gave my Best Single Issue of 2014. With a nuanced poesy matched only by its utter lunacy, it continues to be a shining example of modern sequential art horror.
Even still, and as good as it may be, one issue does not an exemplar series make, and while I still have a soft-spot for this Dark Horse book, I fear that after reading its subsequent issues, Grindhouse may have already seen its zenith come and go; having somewhere along the way thereafter lost its balance.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely stupendous scenes in the second half of “Blood Lagoon,” which sees the one-eyed badass Garcia and her odd crew of small-town bystanders take on a ... hmm, what do you call a gathering of gigantic mutant space ticks? A gaggle? A pod? Wait, I think it’s a pride, like lions. Anyway, after randomly discovering said pride’s convenient (and downright intoxicating) kryptonite, Garcia takes matters into her own hands (and more cloistered bits) by cutting off this tomfoolery at its otherworldly source, with all the cathartic death scenes, space-powered leech monsters and blood-dripping human butts you can handle! Sounds like a party, amirite?
Of course I am. But my problem is the lack of cohesion in “Blood Lagoon” Pt. 2. Like I’ve said before, a fair suspension of disbelief is necessary when embarking on a book like this, but the reasoning that leads the crew to its boozy resistance, a hidden weapons cache and a glowing blue skull meteor (while all being fun) is just too quickly-paced to be effective.
And while I’ve been super impressed with how much de Campi and company have been able to shove into two-issue turns, “Blood Lagoon” shows a glaring limitation with Grindhouse’s format, as this could have benefitted from a slightly longer roll-out. Then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing! I mean, I mafackin’ LOVES me some Garcia! And I dunno about you Bastards, but her own monthly book of whiskey-swilling, cigar-chomping, inked-up cycloptic roughneck shit-kickery would be a welcome addition to my or any fellow nerd’s pull pile.
But while we do get to see her bare both her fangs (metaphorically) and her breasts (literally; in one of the most gorgeous splashes I’ve ever seen from the incredibly talented Chris Peterson), it would have been nice to see the naked fury of the story threaded with stronger fibers.
Another thing I didn’t love about this issue is something I’ve noticed as a whole from de Campi’s writing recently - most notably in the, I thought, uninspired approach to “white man’s burden” in the recent No Mercy - and that is her more on-the-nose approach to social commentary by way of characterization. Once again, it’s a question of balance. Being a grindhouse story in both verve and name, you come expecting “blatant,” but particularly the conflict between Wayne and his father felt, at best, cobbled together thanks to the negative strength of one of the english language’s most hateful words.
And of course it’s the creator’s creative license to do so, but the power behind the scene was so fleeting and the end resolution so shallow, that it didn’t feel earned, such that it felt used solely for shock value. Again, this IS Grindhouse, so shock is par, but I just expected more from the same writer of “Slay Ride,” in which social mores were addressed and deconstructed with a much more skillful hand, while at the same time maintaining the overwrought nature of its exploitation premise.
Couple the above with monster ticks cartoonishly emoting before exploding, a sudden and seemingly hastily-conceived, out-of-nowhere deus ex machina and a hurried dash for the finish, and this has to be my least favorite Grindhouse story, buoyed only by Garcia’s soulful hotness and the real star of the show this time, Peterson’s art.
I already talked about that amazing splash page of a dual knife-wielding Garcia plunging warrior-like into a deep pool of mutated blood, but (barring those dopey death-knell tick faces), pretty much this entire issue looked gloriously sopped in thick-lined texture and bawdy violence. This includes, but is not limited to, hails of bullets (including one particularly potent one), tides of fire, all sorts of alien beast-gutting, and oh yeah, that Black Panther monster truck, which remains...just, the best goddamn thing.
And through it all, Peterson does a mostly brilliant job of maintaining his own balance between gritty realism and infectious surreality. I have to admit, for as much as I am still a huge mark for de Campi’s writing, the art is the only thing keeping this at a steady 3/5. Then again, I suppose in grindhouse fiction, sometimes the visuals are the point.
Ironically, of course, the quick two-and-shoo (that’s a good equivalent for one-and-done, right?) nature of this series means that I will still be on-board next time for “Lady Danger,” the subsequent story arc in the Grindhouse series. I just hope that de Campi can recapture the black magic she ensorceled the book (and me) with so many times previously, and that “Blood Lagoon” was just a sputtering, bloody hiccup on the way to another truly inspiring death rattle.
GrindHouse: Drive in, Bleed Out #4 “Blood Lagoon” Pt. 2 Writer: Alex de Campi Artist: Chris Peterson Colorist: Nolan Woodard Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/22/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital