Friday, September 19, 2008

Book of the Week 4: Loveless Volume Three: Blackwater Falls

[Another week, another "book of the week." I choose a book that I got this week and I think is interesting and worth talking about. It may be a good book, it may not be--quality is not an issue. New posts on Fridays of weeks where I've gotten books and something is worth talking about.]

I honestly can't tell you why I got this book. I bought the first two trades when they each came out and after each, I thought, "Gee, this book isn't that great..." In fact, I said as much last year on this very blog. Now, the book has ended and this trade collects the final twelve issues, and I'm mad because I want more.

I had the good sense before reading this trade to reread the first two and, yeah, it's a good book. I think it will take another rereading or two before I begin to fully appreciate what Azzarello was doing, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 24 issues that I read yesterday. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend my Thursday afternoon.

It occurred to me that this is probably the first Brian Azzarello creator-owned work I've read completely. Everything else I own by the man is company-owned: Hellblazer, Batman, Superman, Deathblow, Doctor 13... I've yet to start in on 100 Bullets (although now that it's almost finished, I may start buying the trades finally). So, yeah, this is my one experience with Azzarello's creator-owned work. Not sure why that's important, but it occurred to me.

Loveless is about a Missouri town post-Civil War... and it's slow, it's subtle, it's layered, it's funny, it's sad, it's brutal, and it's pretty damn good. Like everything else I've read by Azzarello, it works best as a whole read in one (or close to one) sitting. Distilling the plot doesn't really help in discussing the book... so much of the appeal lies in Azzarello's skill with dialogue, his structuring, and the art of Marcelo Frusin (who only provides covers after issue ten), Danijel Zezelj and Werther Dell'Edera.

What interests me is how the series ends with one of the main plots left hanging (Ruth Cutter continuing to avenge her rape by Union soldiers) and the final three issues taking place anywhere from 36 to 64 years after the first 21 issues... each exploring the effects of the story we've been following on history, and exploring some of the same ideas and themes, but still... what a way to end a series, you know?

Now, Azzarello previously stated that the book would end in the 20th century, but that was when it was planned to last around 40 issues, whereas cut short by 16 issues, the final trio seem... not mean or offensive, but odd choices... Instead of going for closure of some kind as most writers would, Azzarello clearly continues on with his plans--or at least hints at them prematurely. I can't say for sure as it wouldn't surprise me if these simply were issues 22-24 and the impending cancellation of the book didn't cause Azzarello to change a thing. If the book is going to be cut-off mid-story, why not have it be cut-off mid-story?

I'd be interested in an extensive study of how pre-maturely cancelled books end. I imagine most try to wrap things up in their own way. Looking at the various Joe Casey books I've been reading/discussing, most of them have been cancelled, or Casey's been taken off the book (rarely does it seem all that voluntary, except for maybe Adventures of Superman). In his case, he tends to wrap things up... even if it's a little rushed or the ending comes out of nowhere (although is one that could be used at any time really--Deathlok was a good example of this where Truman hunts down Young and trades bodies with him--it sort of came out of nowhere, but made sense and could have been used by Casey at any time to end the book). Cable seems to be the one book where he didn't really wrap anything up, but that's because the book was still part of the giant Apocalypse storyline that he had begun (although there is some sense of closure with the Stacey stuff). Other books like Sleeper, The Monarchy, X-Man... they all concluded things in their own way.

The only books that don't seem to always provide real closure are ones with an ongoing continuity where a new writer will take over next month or the character will continue to appear in other titles. It's rare (altough not unprecedented) for a self-contained narrative to leave a major plot wide open and then end with three only tangentally-related stories. It does provide hope that Loveless will return in some form as obviously Azzarello isn't done with the book.

I do hope we get more as it was pretty damn good sometimes. If you haven't try giving the three trades a shot. The book is nothing if not interesting.