Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CREDENCE Graphic Novel Review

Entertainment
CREDENCE
Writer: Michael Easton
Artist: Steven Perkins
Publisher:  Blackwatch Comics
“Sometimes being a depraved bastard works out and you end up in bed with the only woman you’ve met in a long time that actually makes you feel something other than regret.” ~ Danny Credence
        Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
        From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
        The summer's gone, and all the flow'rs are dying
        'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
The cover of the new graphic novel CREDENCE, by writer Michael Easton and artist Steven Perkins, sports a quote from the director of the classic BAD LIEUTENANT film favorably comparing that Harvey Keitel vehicle with this excursion into the seedy underbelly of gritty noir.  The comparison is apt.  Both stories detail a darkly disturbed police officer's spiral into self-indulgent excess of pleasure and pain and his murky pathway into a sort-of spiritual redemption.  Along the way, the reader of CREDENCE will encounter profanity, pain, sadism, sex, and death.  There's humor to be found, but it is the blackest of humor and not the type to laugh out loud at but wince in discomfort over.
I have a profound love of the medium of the comic book (or graphic novel for those of us trying to sound more enlightened).  Yes, the medium coopted by grotesquely overinflated biceps on super-heroes and helium balloons in place of breasts on super-heroines can also be a breeding ground for works that do more than excite and tittilate pubescent teens and the Peter Pan syndromed.  Telling a story with the enmeshment of static visual images and text has evolved in many quarters into literature, without any academic need for a dismissive "Graphic Novel" qualifier.  MAUS or BLANKETS, for example, are simply works of literature that succeed both textually and visually.
Now, I'm not going to go so far as to put CREDENCE into the same sphere as those two works, this is not that sort of story but it has the flavor of something seeking and achieving a deeper impact than simple escapism.  It’s just one more example of Easton pushing the medium beyond the boundaries of the box of public expectations.  His previous works have done this as well.  the SOUL STEALER trilogy is one of the most profoundly moving stories I've ever read.  THE GREEN WOMAN was a fine piece of psychological and supernatural horror (co-written with Peter Straub with painted art by CREDENCE cover artist John Bolton).  Easton excels at delivering the inner darkness of human depravity while finding subtle ways to pierce the shadow with the sharp light of beauty.
In the character of Danny Credence, we have a man who is the sum of a hard life.  Told cinematically and dramatically by beginning the story with essentially the peak of the climax of this story and then rewinding to get the reader up to speed before picking back up with the action and moving us toward the final act.  And what a kick-off. It's about as shocking as you can get for a film or a novel.  In fact, from the opening page to the final page I found myself reading CREDENCE but playing it through in my head as a film.  It delivers the goods like a solid police drama but with a deeper spiritual resonance of how the bad choices we make drive the direction of our lives.  Pay attention as you read CREDENCE and see how Danny is not as bad as he believes himself to be.  It goes back to his father and the way his father raised him with this misguided notion of what it means to be a "man" and no real understanding of morality.  To him, being a policeman makes you a "good" guy but yet he feels compelled (perhaps out of immature child rebellion) to conduct himself contrary to that very role he has embraced.  And that's the core of Danny Credence's crooked path to redemption.  He has no real sense of self.  It's why he can't really give himself to a love relationship. It's why he can't find happiness or satisfaction. It's why his job is what defines him. He is seeking himself, fearless in the face of danger but terrified of his own darkness.  As Carl Jung once wrote "The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, 'divine.'"  And ultimately, the story becomes Credence's dance with the Divine.
Credence is a cop. The best cop.  Because, as I said, being a cop is all he has to define himself.  He has a broken marriage that ended in divorce and attempts to maintain his parental relationship with his son.  His wife has gone from an emotionally abusive marriage with Credence to a physically abusive rebound. Credence's asshole father is doing time in prison because Credence turned him in. So you have these added onion layers on top of his anger and confusion as a cop.  And just when he thinks he has hit rock bottom and can't get any lower, he comes face to face with an evil that shocks even him.  It is this person that allows Credence to see past his own self-loathing to allow  his innate goodness to finally shine in most unexpected ways.
Readers aren't going to particularly like Credence as a person; this cop who indulges himself in drug, drink, and sex, but we do find ourselves coming to care for and root for him.  This is why this dense and lengthy unfolding of the story serves the character well.  By the time we return to the sequence that opened the story we now understand what is happening.  Where we began the story with suspicion and distrust, Easton has paced the story just right so that now Credence has earned our respect.  We are emotionally invested in his journey.
I'm not going to spoil the final act of the story, but it struck me quite deeply.  I interpret it metaphorically as an ending that implies some degree, finally, of eternal happiness for Credence.  However, I see in the promotional materials that this may not be a stand-alone book.  This story certainly stands on its own merits, but my curiosity is peaked as to where it could go from here because I trust Easton's ability to tell stories that resonate with me on levels that others often don't.
Steven Perkins does an exceptional job crafting the visuals for CREDENCE.  Keeping the images black and white while peppered with stylistic panache where it almost seems like every page is spattered with blood.  He tackles the feel of the darkest of film noir without going into excessive exaggeration.  There's a surreal touch to his work that serves the material well but a gritty realism grounding it as well.  Perkins achieves a balance that is not easy and especially so when telling a story sequentially.  
I enjoy peering into my own darkness sometimes.  This is where great literature is a true asset to self-understanding -- allowing us to vicariously peek into our own hidden corners of perversity and pain safely.  This is where CREDENCE works for me and if you are inclined towards these darker type of stories, I would recommend you give it a try.  
        And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
        And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
        And then you'll kneel and whisper that you love me
        And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.
        I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
        And I shall rest in peace until you come to me.
        Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.