Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Rage and revenge flow through 'NOLA'

NOLA #1 is the definition of visceral.

Unrelenting in tone and unapologetic in characterization, it's a story centered on someone you wouldn't necessarily want to know, but still find yourself morbidly drawn toward. Nola was a fairly typical kind of person once; apparently successful, well-liked in the community, good to her mother and the people around her. If she's got a flaw it's her weakness for the married man who flaunts the fact that she'll never be anything more than the gal he bangs in the back room of a bar.

Set against the backdrop of the property damage and human wreckage left behind by Hurricane Katrina — no more than days past, judging by the waters still swallowing up homes and highways in the background — we can see disaster has hit Nola in more ways than just the obvious. Something Happened to Nola, and whatever it was has led her to hide her face behind a scarf, to launch an assault into her sunken city, to coldly and ruthlessly kill in search of revenge.

Clues are dropped in NOLA #1 that hint at what might have taken her from a life as a sophisticated, charming woman to someone barely recognizable anymore, a stormy reflection of a city suddenly deeply and poisonously scarred. It's these clues that give NOLA it's hook. Almost everything here is a catalyst, serving as clues to what drives Nola to pursue revenge in such an apparently single-minded way, no matter what or who gets in the way.

Vigilante violence is old hat, but an origin story is almost always intriguing, and NOLA has kicked its off with the sting of an unexpected slap. Normally I'm against decompression in comics; too much of it keeps a story plodding along when it should at least be jogging. But in this case, I hope series creator Chris Gorak and script-writer Pierluigi Cothran continue to take their time letting readers in on the big picture — a little mystery gives this story its tension, and there's plenty of other action to keep things moving.

I also appreciated the way characters speak with that particular, Southern-Gulf Coast drawl in a was that feels natural rather than forced. It's these details — the accents, the wrought iron chairs and fences, the all-too recognizable view of roofs poking out of the floodwaters like the bows of sunken boats — that help put NOLA in a particular time and place. I'd be surprised if New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina don't become characters in their own right in later issues.

Gorak lived in New Orleans for more than five years, and his connection to the city shows. I hope that authenticity carries throughout the story; I'm optimistic that we'll see the people of New Orleans and the victims of Katrina treated as characters, not caricatures, without minimizing what they went through for the sake of story.

My only minor complaint, really more of a pet peeve, is the art by Damian Couceiro. Let me be really clear here: There's nothing wrong with the art itself. Personally I'd like it if was a little cleaner, with stronger lines, but that might be more a matter of the way it's been inked and colored than anything else. Mostly it just looks a lot like the art that turns up in many other BOOM! books. That look has been less true prevalent recently, but as I reader I've seen similar artwork from the publisher enough times that, in my mind, it's the house-style. I'm ready for something with a different look.

Still, that could just be me, and the art is solid and detail-minded in a way that sets the stage — and the mood — for the story being told. The character of Nola herself is fascinating; she seems to be a real car-wreck of a person, with an internal, emotional ugliness you can't help but stare at as you try to put the pieces back into a shape you can understand. I'm looking forward to seeing where Nola's brutal story goes from here.

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