By Patrick Larose
Intertwined continues to be a series that I dig shamelessly. Sure, the line-work can be choppy and the colors sometimes muddy but the pages wield a pin-point focus on what it sets out to do and be, nailing that target wholly.
This is a 1970s kung fu flick told on the scale of comic book fiction with an aim towards a message of tolerance and diversity. Here in issue two, Juan Jin's washed up on the shores of America and into the warm arms of police brutality and racial discrimination. Alone, Juan has to navigate these things as ancient spirits move in the background and a brutal gang wheeling in magic artifacts follows his trail.
If the moral message of Intertwined is ever too blunt in its execution, it’s cleverly balanced out by its pulp sensibilities. When Juan is arrested by the police for unintentionally and illegally entering the United States, it’s almost played up like a prison exploitation movie. The cops are rough and corrupt, ready to punch first and ask questions later and Intertwined lets Juan throw them all down consequence-free like a legendary folk hero protecting the disenfranchised innocents from the corrupt.
The flexibility in the book's tone ensures that this never feels unnatural. There's this a heightened comic book reality interlaced with the grit and texture of a 70s exploitation film—Juan can be a light, optimistic and rebellious hero while still surrounded by the weight of bloodshed and corruption. The comic anchors us to a reference point with kung fu and exploitation films and uses this now to wallow in the genre but expand outwards onto it. The new deadly gang leader comes off as instantly frightening and despicable as his former lackey walks in on his family cut open and slain as the mob hangs about but he's not designated to just "villain". Rather the book prods us to question his bigger role in the world as recruits this guy to steal a magic item.
That's a specific example but one of the really interesting things this comic does is that it never uses a story beat just because of a reference but instead as a point to mold and shift towards the narrative and the world.
Yet despite that grit and darkness I've just described, it doesn't wallow in it. That, I think, is partly what makes the protagonist Juan Jin such a good focal point and makes the world around him work so well. He’s a careless kid, driven by his own goals and family but still willing to stick his head out for those who need it. He’s never passive in any situation he’s in which in turn makes the growing schemes of an invisible war even more deadly for him. Juan may not understand the ruthless magical gangsters and ancient cabals but he almost doesn’t have to.
He's not only a reader surrogate but a bright spot of goodness in a world that without him would be much more boring and predictable comic.
The comic in general is charismatic in how it unveils the worldbuilding. The world of Intertwined isn’t something weighed down in steep expositional dialogue and neither does it squander its interesting ideas for uninteresting presentation. This is a world that unfolds like a blooming flower, rather than through lots of Proper Nouns and overwhelming dialog bubbles, we see first-hand the shifting reality and we get to watch Juan fall deeper in it.
This is a compelling comic with a compelling world and mythology centered on a character that’s rebellious but never obnoxious, driven but warm. This is a book that, much like its characters within, is something well worth rooting for--it's humanistic message that's balanced by its influences and utilizes them in a way that only this comic can.
Writer: Fabrice Sapolsky
Artist: Fred Pham Chuong
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment