Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lie to me like I lie to you . . .

Yesterday, I reread Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard's Codeflesh. Now, I've discussed the final chapter of this series/story in an essay already, so I'll probably steer clear of it. Even though, I must once again say just how fucking amazing that final chapter is. Because of it, I can see Codeflesh becoming big some day. It's a shame it already isn't.

The story is about as basic as you can get: Cameron Daltrey is a bail bondsman in LA that writes up bonds for super-powered criminals because they always skip and that means he gets to bring them in. However, a judge ordered him to no longer bring in skippers and to farm the work out to bounty hunters. As a result, Cameron dresses up in a mask and does it himself without anyone, besides his business partner Staz, knowing it's him.

Codeflesh operates in a tradition, namely that of Spider-Man. One of the subplots running throughout the eight chapters is the relationship between Cameron and Maddy, which is under strain because of his work. She doesn't know he still hunts down the skippers and he can never explain. We get a few clues that maybe Maddy knows, but nothing ever comes of it, because, in the end, Cameron chooses the life of the mask over love--just like Peter Parker. Knowing that doesn't ruin anything, trust me.

Unlike Parker, Cameron doesn't do it because it's the right thing to do. This is not a tale of power and responsibility. Cameron does it simply because he enjoys it. He's addicted to that rush of kicking the crap out of these super-powered criminals. In that way, it's the flipside of the whole "with great power comes great responsibility." It's almost "with great responsibility comes great power."

At the same time, there's something unique here. This book shines a light on a place regular superhero books tend not to look, really just in the premise. Wouldn't these guys skip out on bail? None of the criminals here at heavy-hitters. They're mostly the two-bit, piece-of-shit guys that would have apeared in a single issue of Marvel Team-Up or Two-in-One back in the day and never returned.

While it exists in the superhero tradition, it also owes a lot to Raymond Chandler and the pulp tradition. Much of the focus here is on Los Angeles and the feel of the shitty part of town where all of this takes place. That's partly why all of the criminals are the dumpy kind. This isn't Manhattan, this is Northeast LA. The fights are nasty and brutal--at one point, Cameron sticks a telephatic guy's head in a vice. Maddy is a stripper--an issue that doesn't even come up in a moralistic way--it's just a given and never explored, which says more about the tone and setting than any actual words COULD. If this was any other sort of superhero comic, we'd have an entire story devoted to it or something.

I'm honestly amazed more people haven't noticed Codeflesh, because it really is worth noticing.