Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Review - Sharknife: Stage First

By Corey Lewis
Grayscaling by Alejandro Fuentes
Published by Oni Press, March 2005. $9.95

I used to see SHARKNIFE mentioned in the same breath as SCOTT PILGRIM a lot, because they both came out around the same time, and both from Oni Press, and both in the same format -- digest-sized, to fit next to the manga -- and both with similar influences and tropes. Like PILGRIM, Corey Lewis through SHARKNIFE invents a world with its own rules and logic, centering on the Guangdong Factory, a Chinese restaurant constantly threatened by monsters that live inside its walls, and constantly defended by the busboy Ceasar Hallelujah, who transforms into the mighty bio-mech ninja Sharknife with the munch of a magic fortune cookie.

Also populating this world are Chieko, daughter of the Guandong Factory’s owner, baker of the magic fortune cookies, and damsel-in-distress to Sharknife’s conquering hero; Ombra Ravenga, crime boss of Sharknife’s unnamed city, and ringleader of the villains who send monster after monster to do battle with Sharknife; and a manageable but forgettable supporting cast that wouldn’t be out of place in an 80’s cartoon with much the same setup.

That’s the great weakness of SHARKNIFE -- it begins with a concept that’s well-worn, and despite artwork has flashes of kinetic fun, doesn’t rise above what we’ve seen before from other post-modern medium-bending action/adventure tales. Chieko is practically Olive Oyl, fainting when monsters attack, and Ravenga might as well be Mum-ra, Skeletor, or any other villain who’s ever lurked in the shadows, flinging deadly beasts at The Hero, either for purposes unclear or clich├ęd (in this case -- Ravenga is a crime lord who also ran the city’s hottest restaurant, until the Guandong Factory lured all of the customers away).

The dialogue tries to be ironic and sly, but where SCOTT PILGRIM has heart behind its awkward posturing and battle scenes, SHARKNIFE simply stumbles from fight to fight to fight. There’s no sense of what’s at stake, Sharknife himself comes across as a kid’s Ultimate D&D character -- always with a bigger, badder trick up his sleeve, and never in any real danger. And I know that’s part of the joke -- the bombast, the heroic pronouncements -- but knowing your dialogue is stilted doesn’t un-stilt it by itself.

While the artwork shows gleams of a Paul Pope influence (there’s even a Paul Pope poster behind Corey Lewis’s author photo), it’s often too hectic and confusing to follow what’s going on. This could be a case of mine eyes being unused to SHARKNIFE’s manga influences, but I like to think I’m not yet too old to appreciate the Brand New Scene. So, fine, I’ll say it -- grindcore IS just noise, and this comic IS, at times, too busy.

There’s some fun to be had in SHARKNIFE -- asides and captions like “Oh noes!” and “ZOMG!” give the book a sense of humor and freshness, but ultimately it’s a book that doesn’t rise above its influences.

Tell me more: Corey Lewis, Oni Press.

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