Friday, October 9, 2009

Zuda Week: I Rule the Night

All this week we're taking a look at the webcomics phenomenon known as Zuda Comics. We started by reviewing all the new entire this month (exhibit A and exhibit B) and now we've moved on to checking out some of the actual winners of the competition. yesterday we looked at the delightful comedy-adventure Celadore, but today we're going to dramatically shift gears and instead look at something a little more, shall we say, downbeat: Kevin Colden's I Rule the Night.

I Rule the Night
by Kevin Colden

When you first pop open the Zuda viewer to check out page one of I Rule the Night, don't be surprised if either you or your computer has a heart attack, because what confronts you is a real rarity in modern comics: a page layout that consists of a whopping 13 panels. And somehow one of those panels manages to still be a half page spread. I mention this mostly as a public service announcement, because if you come to this after reading something like, say, New Avengers #16, which consists entirely of splash pages and huge, empty expanses of blank space, the sudden sight of actual comics storytelling might cause your system to shut down with overload.

This isn't to say, though, that creator Kevin Colden's style is retro, because even though (as we soon discover) I Rule the Night does deal in deconstructing old fashioned comic book tropes, the style of art and the sensibility behind it is nothing if not modern.

The story starts off with a silent and pretty creepy sequence where a very eerie looking kid stalks and brutally murders a random buy in an alley, and at first (thanks in part to the fact that the kid seems to be climbing the wall like a spider) it looks like this may be another vampire story. But then the kid drags the body to a waiting car, whisking kid and corpse to what appears to be the Batcave and suddenly you realize this is a whole different shade of messed up: the kid, we learn, is a girl by the name of Elaine, and once upon a time she was a superhero sidekick by the name of Shadowboy.

This begins a particularly brutal and incisive look at some of the bizarre psychological issues that underlie the world of superheroics. If that sounds a bit too Alan Moore, well, the comparison is apt, since I Rule the Night does return to what has become somewhat familiar grounds over the past couple decades. But it still manages to feel fresh, thanks to an uncompromising viewpoint that doesn't expend much effort trying to pretend these "heroes" were heroic at all, but rather just deeply disturbed people. I think it's no random choice to make the boy sidekick actually be a girl, and one that Night Devil actually performs surgery on to ensure she never matures past childhood; he needs her to be his permanent sidekick, and the sexual discomfort implied by this is reinforced in a brief sequence where the Night Devil kills a "villain" called "The Deviant" because "he was a sodomite, and sodomy is illegal."

This look at Golden Age and Silver Age heroic tropes is accented by some very cool play with the art; during these flashback sequences, the art takes on the appearance of a classic superhero comic, complete with zippo-tone dots and a four-color printing scheme that contrasts sharply with the washed out black and whites of the modern sections.

The biggest problem with I Rule the Night is the fact that it seems to have dropped off the planet. The series abruptly went on hiatus way back in May and nary a peep has been heard from it since. Just this week, Colden tweeted that while he is still working on the comic, the hiatus isn't actual over yet. Zuda itself also announced at one point that big things were in store for I Rule the Night, but nothing more has been said. In other words, nobody knows wtf is going on with this comic. Perhaps they decided the series would be of broader interest to comic readers and are preparing a print graphic novel with the complete story, so people will pay for it instead of getting it for free. This wouldn't surprise me, but if it's the case I think they should announce it, because much of the buzz that had been building over this comic has been lost due to the silence over the fate of the series. Extended silence will kill any project no matter how interesting, so here's hoping Zuda and Colden are able to spill some information soon before this promising comic gets lost in the shuffle.

My Grade: The action may be a little too graphic or, well, deviant for some readers, and it's true that the subject matter has been explored before. But this is still an interesting, modern take on classic superheroes, so if that's your thing, give it a try. A-.

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This was the first story I read after poking through Zuda for the first time a few days ago - I loved it and was disappointed to see that it's been on hiatus so long.

Great review! I love how Kevin handled the flashbacks with that old-school pulp feel and can't wait to see what's coming with this story.