So, I think I’ve figured out why I like this budding Oni Press series so much. Sure it has an unflinching resolve when it comes to its own explicitness, is rife with that infectious type of humor that requires a tetanus shot and genuinely benefits from a truly unique storytelling voice. But that’s not it... See, in a time that has facilitated many bad guys getting their own mediocre books, The Auteur #2 is an education on how you do a good villain comic. Now, I don’t immediately hasten to classify the protagonist in this book as a villain, but let’s be honest, that’s exactly what he is ... unrepentantly so, even! And it’s phenomenal.
The basic plot of this issue sees desperate Hollywood has-been, Nathan T. Rex, standing in as a hastily internet-licensed defense attorney to free a very guilty serial killer from jail in order to consult the disgraced actor on how better to be a monster in his upcoming “comeback” horror movie project, President’s Day. Most of the book follows the complete sham of a trial as Rex proves to be the poorest excuse for a lawyer since Troy McClure.
It’s not just his legal ineptitude, though. Literally everything about this guy is acutely unlikeable, which of course makes me like him so damn much. What can I say? I dig heels, man, and Rex is the worst! Whether it’s his terrible Darwinian defense, the way he hilariously wades in (verbally and physically) against a murder victim’s grieving family or his questionable choice in ceremonial prison tattoos, he is legitimately one of the most sickeningly interesting, gut-churningly entertaining characters in comics right now, and you have to read this, his showcase, to truly understand why.
He’s a lot like Andy Kaufman: you really want to kick his head in, but you know that he’d make you laugh your damn ass off the whole time. He is the perfect asshole, and I think that same Kaufmandian spirit runs throughout this entire book.
The greatest thing about The Auteur #2 is not how utterly ridiculous it is, but rather that it knows, to the core of its being, how utterly fucking ridiculous it is. And it celebrates that fact; openly and with a greasy grin in the face of a balled up, incoming fist. It’s something that is reflected in the visual direction of the book, though there, I’m not sure it achieves quite what the writing does.
Some of James Callahan’s art here is absolutely incredible. That first scene of a goat-headed, ritualistic “sac-bro-fice,” for example, is soaked with singular texture and detail, such that it prepares you for a huge visual feast. Unfortunately, while its more gruesome scenes do resonate, it is also painfully apparent how bored he gets in the more prosaic (yet necessary) scenes. In the end, it feels like he’s saving his strength for the meatier parts, which I think takes away from the overall flavor of the book.
Don’t get me wrong, dude can draw the absolute snot out of a retractable adamantium claw-forheaded Frankenstein puncturing a serial killer-inspired clown zeppelin, but as soon as we enter the courtroom, the art unravels into a bit of a rush, with highlights being Rex’s expressions and the fact that he’s wearing a suit jacket/shorts combo. Maybe that’s an intentional style thing - showing Rex’s disassociation from and boredom with reality - but given the talent with which Callahan has proven himself so capable on other pages, it’s a shame to not see it applied so liberally everywhere.
Still, that doesn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of this issue. If anything, The Auteur #2 has cemented my continued patronage of this series. It is hilarious, disconcerting, gorgeous and bloodthirsty. More than any of that, though, is this: The Auteur is that rarest of things in comics. It is Different.
Writer/Letterer: Rick Spears Artist: James Callahan Colorist: Luigi Anderson Publisher: Oni Press Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/16/14 Format: Print/Digital