November 16, 2011

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Nola

Story by Chris Gorak
Written by Pierluigi Cothran
Illustrated by Damian Couceiro
Boom! Studios

Nola was a happy, pretty young woman in the prime of her life, living large with the son of a rich man in the New Orleans area.  She had everything she thought she wanted, until a night of drunken debauchery turns her into a liability.  With Hurricane Katrina creating a convenient pretext, Nola is left to die for the sins of a privileged man.  Now she's back, however, and looking to pay back those who wronged her--and maybe learn some truths to other deep, personal secrets as well.  But revenge is a bitter dish indeed, and the truth can be even more sour, as we learn by following the story of...Nola.

If Dark Rain was the independent film that wins an award at Sundance, Nola is the action blockbuster revenge flick directed by Quinton Tarantino.  They both have a similar backdrop, but the approach could not be more different.  That doesn't make Nola a bad book--I enjoyed it quite a bit--but while it tries to show the hypocrisy and injustice that pervaded New Orleans at the time of the disaster, the plot is just too filled with explosions and shootings and typical action movie dialog to accomplish its task of a social message.

Part of the problem is that while Nola, like the protagonists of Dark Rain, are small-time people who made mistakes, Nola's seems far less forgivable.  It's wrong that she is forced into a car with a drunk driver and left for dead multiple times, but she was living the high life before this all happened and saw no harm in Chevis' use of his power--until she is the victim of it.  Once she's taken out of the circle of control, Nola is a victim like many of the lower and middle class residents of New Orleans, and she rises up as "the mummy woman" to avenge the wrongdoings, but even as the web of lies gets thicker, I had a hard time feeling like I wanted to be on her side.  In a story like this, where the protagonist is killing off more people than a Robert Kirkman comic, I think it's important to be able to like the shooter.  I just wasn't able to bring myself to do so.

That doesn't mean I did not like Nola the story.  I just didn't feel much for Nola the character.  I think that Gorak's plot holds up really well.  There's an epic fall and rebirth for Nola, and the ending is bittersweet, as she finds that no matter what she does or who she kills, her life will never be the same again (a good metaphor for New Orleans, a city that's probably doomed to another Katrina some day).  The mystery surrounding her burial alive merges seamlessly into a deeper issue with close ties to Nola.  Cothran uses a wise older man as a foil for Nola's passion for revenge, and a lot of the dialog flows naturally, if a bit familiar at times.  Each character does have a unique voice, which definitely helps the book along.

Couciero's artwork here is stronger than on the Barack Obama comic, with emotions more clearly expressed and panel stagings given more drama and impact.  I like his eyes, which are very expressive.  Nola is probably presented too attractively after her accident, but that's not unusual for comics or movies.  I do think he could have done a better job painting a picture of post-Katrina New Orleans, especially since it's clear he's not afraid of photo-referencing a book.  I was not a big fan of the muddled colors, which seems to be shorthand for noir these days.  It's not, guys, please cut it out.

If you're looking for a deep story, Nola isn't going to work for you.  But if you want a fast-paced action story that does a great job with the revenge plot, you'll enjoy Nola a lot.  Just don't plan on giving it an Oscar or an Eisner anytime soon.