Watching the detectives
By nature I’m impatient. I find watching shows during their regular season excruciating, the week (or WEEKS) between episodes is an eternity. I’m strictly a marathon girl. I consume words and film voraciously. I watch entire seasons of a show on a Sunday. I read graphic novels in single sitting, breaking only for grilled cheese and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. In a way, this makes me a terrible fan of serial comics. Luckily, I catch on to everything late.
One of the attractive qualities of serial comics, that make them preferable to graphic novels to me, are their divisions. The stories come in digestible parts, punctuated by ominous ellipses or the “To Be Continued. . .” cliffhanger. The space between books, much like the end credits of a show, are just a palate cleanser. Enough time to grab some chips.
Never have I found this method of consumption more rewarding than this past weekend when, while recovering from a migraine hangover, I read the entire first volume of Sam and Twitch (The Brian Michael Bendis Collection). Never having watched a single episode of Law and Order or The X-Files outside of a classroom, I was skeptical of the “good cops in a corrupt world” set up I inferred from the book’s cover. To quote the medical examiner Dr. McCroy “I ain’t all about that Scully shit.” But this book was lent to me by my new friend Laura, who extracted promises that it would be returned unharmed and in a timely fashion, and also required a kidney as collateral. And because I really love making new friends, AND function best with both kidneys, I decided to give it a go. Three pages in and I had changed my mind about detective fiction, and decided I would trust Laura’s judgment from now until the end of time.
Sam and Twitch is, at its heart, a collaborative effort. The gumshoe duo made their public debut as peripheral characters in the Spawn series. The pair was created by Todd McFarlane, who turned them over shortly after their conception to the pen of Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis found the detectives fully formed and spun the dialogue of their adventures. A team of artists led by Angel Medina (of KISS comics fame) then brought Bendis’s rough sketches to ass-kicking life.
The story follows recently reinstated detectives of the NYPD as they investigate a series of murders that systematically wipe out the reigning mob family of NYC. The killers leave behind body parts with genetic anomalies as a twisted calling card. The opening crime scene is marked by four thumbs, all seemingly from the same person, in varying states of genetic completion. Thumbs! Brilliant!
As the department and city unravel around them , Sam, Twitch, and their trusty medical examiner work in tandem to restore order.
In the NYPD, as in love, opposites attract. Sam and Twitch, though essentially opposite in terms of appearance (Twitch reminds me of Einstein, while Sam is a John Goodman type) and demeanor, balance each other. Sam is the one-man wolf pack, shoot from the hip cop. Twitch describes him thusly: “He’s loud, verbose, mule headed. Frighteningly overweight. He habitually smells like whatever he had for lunch the day before. He has the worst case of low blood sugar I have ever, EVER been witness to.” He seems to be eating everything in sight, including his words. Twitch, on the other hand, is wiry with a shock of electrified hair; he’s an expert marksman whose movements are as measured as his speech. He’s a family man expelled from his home and family by his wife because of his refusal to commit his time to anything except his work. It’s easy to prefer Twitch at first, until you realize Sam’s ultimate bad-assness.
The charm of the story and the interactions of Sam and Twitch won out for me over the cloying nature of the detective formula. There’s real humor here, not gag humor, or puns, but real, human humor. The kind of inside jokes and the repertoire that make our friends the funniest people we know. There’s warmth between Sam and Twitch with just enough machismo and professional ice to make it believable. Bendis has created a relationship between the detectives that is somewhere between best friends, brothers, co-workers and partners in crime.
The Bendis Collection gathers the Sam and Twitch “Udaku” storyline in amazingly illustrated, full-color panels. The effect is cinematic and fluid. I felt like I was watching a Pixar movie shot not in Andy’s attic, but in a seedy underworld somewhere between real life and Goodfellas. The images flow along with the dialogue making the action of the panels visceral: the chase scenes, the perfectly executed gun shots, the blown tires, Sam flipping off Internal Affairs, the crime scenes. The panels are so detailed and alive it’s as if they scroll across the pages, flipping them for you.
This brilliantly executed collection weds the pace of an action adventure with the heart of a novel. Every panel as haunting as it is beautiful. This is the comic as high art and literature. Future artists take note, paper your walls with these pages as a constant reminder of how perfect an art form comics can be.