There are a lot of artists out there who get prickly when everything they do gets compared to their most famous work. Which I guess makes sense, though frankly no few of them who could probably stand to realise the fact they obtained such success in the first place is possibly not something to treat with such grudging disdain. Whether it bothers them or not, though, there’s very often perfectly sensible reasons to do it, which is why I’m going to do it here with Code Pru.
(I don’t actually know if Garth Ennis gets annoyed about people comparing his post-Preacher work to his seminal Vertigo series of the ‘90s. The fact he announced his later series The Boys would “out-Preacher Preacher” suggests not, but maybe he was simply bowing to the inevitable. Or not, he could be completely cool with the idea, in which case my lead paragraph isn’t a relevant introduction so much as an apology-in-advance for taking so unoriginal approach to reviewing. A great way to start at Geek Syndicate, isn’t it?)
Much has clearly survived the currents of Ennis’ 21st century career. The interest in what lies beyond our corporeal world (and how it affects those of us back home) remains intact, as does his undercutting of the divine. Judging by this issue, however, his concern this time is the squamous nightmares of Lovecraft and his pen-pals, rather than the Church and its attendant hierarchies and hypocrisies. This in fact is a canny move, allowing him to sidestep the temptation to be crudely unpleasant for its own sake and chip away beneath the symbols of godliness (for a very skewed definition of the word) with what in Ennis’ world must be considered gentleness. Last time round his fictionalised Catholic Church maintained a breeding program for Jesus’ descendants, resulting in Christ’s latest scion being a drooling vacant mess. Code Pru suggests Elder Gods might have a taste for Monopoly. It’s all considerably easier to swallow, at least for now.
If this implies Ennis has matured over the last two decades then I’d say the evidence is encouraging but not conclusive. On the one hand, it’s quite delightful that the man who wrote the hyper-violent man-feels epic of Preacher and managed the testosterone breeding farm of The Boys has written a comic which – depending on how one assigns gender to glistening tentacle monsters – actually fails the anti-Bechdel test. And it’s not even that the men only get to talk to (or about) women; it’s that they’re barely even here, beyond the sinister – and delightfully named – Mr Squidpump. Instead, this is all about the ladies; the smart-mouthed sceptic Pru; the hair-trigger occult groupie Lisa; shy peacekeeper Judy, and Bridget who… well, this is where we get into trouble. Everyone else feels fully conceived as characters, or at least on their way to being so, but Bridget exists in this issue purely to say and do inappropriate things, inevitably involving sex. She brings metre-long dildos to séances in the hopes they descend (evolve?) into group masturbation sessions. She tries to drunkenly seduce her housemate wearing nothing but a bra and a strap-on that Stannis Baratheon could have used as a battering ram at the Battle of the Blackwater. She’s just a bit too much into hugging.
This would be a bit wearying and one-note at the best of times, but what’s more aggravating here is that Bridget is the only one of the four women and six (human) speaking roles in the issue who’s overweight. The result comes perilously close to suggesting the sexuality of an obese woman is funny in its own right. Ha ha ha! The big girl thinks dressing down/up/off like any number of porn stars will be arousing but it looks ridiculous because she’s fat! Ha ha ha!
There’s an obvious counter to my complaints about Bridget, of course, which is that this is just the opening issue of an ongoing series. Plenty of time to develop her beyond what she appears to be. Maybe Ennis is even flirting with this appalling trope specifically to tear it to pieces later on. Even if I found this plausible, though, it highlights another problem with the issue, which is that it doesn’t feel like a fully-rounded introduction. Yes, there is only so much one can do with twenty-two pages. But the industry is full of writers who can offer up a coherent, tightly-structured intro issue in so short a space (see Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet #1 from last year, for instance). Code Pru’s first issue just seems to stop, ending with something that’s not a cliff-hanger, or even really a story hook. Sure, the scene we’re observing ends, but it feels like a transition TO something, something we don’t get to see. In an era in which comic writers are getting crazy good at understanding the structural rules and possibilities of the medium, Code Pru #1 feels less like its being written for trade, and more like a chapter cut short because the author had to save his dinner from burning.
Still, there’s no lack of potential here, and Raulo Caceres’ artwork is characteristically gorgeous. It can’t be an easy task to draw expressive faces on one page and a Cyclopean nightmare playing a board game on the next, but Caceres’ has the skills to pull it off seemingly effortlessly, and the lack of colour strengthens the mood rather than detracting from it (note how the “Lord of Apostrophes” is permanently surrounded by pitch darkness, the bright lights of the neighbouring corridor never crossing the threshold into his room, for instance).
Not perfect, then, but very much one to watch. Even if it does threaten to drive you insane.
Title: Code Pru
Publisher: Avatar Press
GS Blogger: Ric Crossman