January 27, 2015

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Bendis Backlist: Torso

I'm a big fan of comics, but I'm not very well-versed in the classics of comics. I've spent the last year reading a lot of the newer series, catching up on some of the easier entry-points for stories like Marvel Now!, and generally reminding myself of why I like comics. But now, I'm starting to go back to the roots of the genre. There are plenty of folks who I'd like to read this year and really focus on, like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Peter David. I've chosen to start the year off with reading Brian Michael Bendis' classic works. I've really liked everything I've read by him, and so it seemed like a natural starting point. This is the first book I'm reading to catch up on my "Bendis Backlist." I'll be making a point of reading Bendis' stand-alone stories and current series (Uncanny X-Men and Magneto) throughout the first few months of the year, really getting a good feel for one of the most influential comics creators in the industry.

I picked up Torso as the first place to start. It's one of his earlier works that he got a lot of press for when it came out. Torso is a fictionalization of the Cleveland "Torso Killer," a serial killer who preyed on Cleveland's poor in the 1930s.


The story is interesting already, but the combination of art and story in Torso makes for a page-turner. It focuses on the police side of the story and, in that respect, the story is very much a police procedural.

Bendis splits the plot between the investigation and the contemporaneous installation of a new police commissioner who is fighting to end corruption in the city police force. This could easily have been a total distraction from the murder. Bendis manages to balance the two very well. I really thought that the secondary story about Commissioner Ness was a good way to give more intrigue to the story without overly embellishing the sparse facts of the actual investigation.

The story doesn't ever give a glimpse at the murderer in the act. I thought that this was clever. The Torso Killer was never officially found.

Be warned, Marc Andreyko's artwork is very stark. He works with just black and white and favors the negative space in his work prominently. The cover isn't made for just effect, it is the style of the work throughout. This could be something that is a bit abrasive. Personally, I liked the way it played into the story and into the script. The black and white panels are occasionally mixed with photographs of evidence or scenes of the investigation. The contrast was interesting.

One of my favorite parts of the book are the creative page layouts. Andreyko often uses only a part of the page for many of the scenes. What I really liked, though, are the layout of pages when Commissioner Ness is being attacked. You have to physically rotate the book 360 degrees, often multiple times. It makes for a really vivid sense of chaos during press interviews or when he's being attacked for his methods for combating corruption within the city.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it. It's worth noting that the story isn't terribly gory and only features minor swearing. The most risque it really gets is talk of prostitution, and that whole discussion is stinted anyway.