Review: Deadbeats / Author: Chad Fifer, Chris Lackey / Artist: I.N.J. Culbard / Publisher: SelfMadeHero / Release Date: Out Now
SelfMadeHero are a youngish publisher with an eye for talent in the field of the graphic novel, and Starburst really rather liked their take on H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward when we reviewed it earlier this year. This new offering features the same artist, I.N.J. Culbard, and an original story by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey about two jazz musicians going on the run from the mob back in the Roaring Twenties.
Yep, we noticed that too. Sounds uncannily similar to that old Billy Wilder classic, Some Like it Hot, doesn't it? In this case, the musicians have to hightail it out of town after one of them punches out the psychotic nephew of a mob boss. Desperate for money and an escape route, they (along with a drummer who's been sleeping one off in the back of their car) accept an unconventional gig which involves playing at the funeral of a preacher's wife in a rural backwater. At least, that's what they're told – too late, they discover that what they're actually doing is providing the musical accompaniment to an occult rite that will raise the spirit of a long-dead sorcerer.
Fifer and Lackey's script zips along, cheerfully splicing together a smattering of gunplay, a cast of backwoods zanies, a plague of zombies and a sinister hanging-tree, before heading towards an all-tentacles-waving Lovercraftian finale. There are some mildly amusing quips, and a decent running gag about the drummer losing his trousers. But anyone who knows and cherishes the Wilder movie will be bugged by a sense of deja vu, partly because the book goes for exactly the same hectic action-comedy vibe (much less successfully, needless to say), but mainly because its two central protagonists – silver-tongued lady's man Lester and hapless worry-wart Hank – are lacklustre, ham-fisted versions of the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon characters in the film.
The cause isn't helped by Culbard's artwork, which is slapdash and lacking in background detail – an absence made all the more conspicuous by the use of big, splashy panels. Example: as the musicians arrive at the moonlit ruin which is to be the scene of the rite, there's a double-page spread with the speech balloon, “Get a load of this place!” An artist couldn't ask for a clearer invitation to pull out all the stops. But, instead of some flesh-creepingly eerie vista, all we get are a couple of silhouettes, a bit of cross-hatching and a whole lot of empty space. Don't get us wrong, Deadbeats is pleasant enough. But there's little here to divert the eye or the mind, and it will only really appeal to those who like it lightweight.