BookBin2011: CSI Graphic Novels

No, that isn’t a mistake, denizens. This will be the final book entry for my 2011 reading endeavors. Even though I was in the process of reading several other books (my attention span seemed to shrink significantly toward the end of last year), I decided I wanted to end the year on a fluffy note. Therefore, the stack of CSI graphic novels that I picked up from Amazon Marketplace a while ago seemed like a great place to go. Besides, as I mentioned in my last post, there was road-tripping to be done this past weekend, and since I wasn’t driving, I chose to entertain myself with reading.

Okay, so here’s the deal: After reading the first CSI graphic novel, Serial, I decided that—true to my obsessive nature—I wanted to read more CSI graphic novels to see if they improved upon what I considered to be a relatively sturdy foundation. I purchased the next four novels. There are more graphic novels beyond five; however, these are the only ones illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I mentioned in my review of Serial that at some point the artwork for these CSI novels turns quite mucky. However, Rodriguez’s artwork in the first novel was impressive enough to assuage my fears that he might be the tainted artist.

In all honesty, it’s Rodriguez’s art and coloring that compelled me to continue reading these comics. His grasp of illustrating our favorite band of Vegas criminalists continued to improve throughout each of these three novels. The disproportionate appearances that I noted in my review of Serial continued through Bad Rap and Demon House, but definitely began to diminish.

[Loba Tangent: If the cover art for Demon House looks a little familiar to regulars here at the lair, it’s because I used it as the inspiration for my CSI: Bajor spoof cover, Blood Prophecy. You’re welcome.]

By the time I started Dominos (yes, I know the title is misspelled; yes, it did irritate the hell out of me), I was noticing a definite balance in proportions. Also, the likenesses became even more refined with each effort (with the continuing exception of Greg Sanders…I don’t know what it is about our favorite Lab Rat, but Rodriguez simply cannot get him right!). In fact, the only nitpick I can come up with is a minor one and really only something that would bother me: In all three novels, Rodriguez gave Sara Sidle long, sharp fingernails with a dark red polish.

Er, no.

Seriously, find me three instances on the show of Sara Sidle wearing any kind of nail polish and I will send you cookies.

The real beauty of each of these novels, however, is in the coloring. I think Rodriguez did the coloring, but I might be wrong. Fran Gamboa is listed as being responsible for colors in Bad Rap, but that’s the only time someone else is listed. Regardless, whoever did the coloring for these graphic novels did an amazing job. The attention to shadows and lighting gave the panels a gorgeous dimensionality that often is missing from mass-produced comics. The lighting closely mimics the lighting as seen in the television show, which adds a nice connection between the printed and televised worlds.

The flashback and speculation scenes for all three novels were still done in a different, more abstract style than the primary artwork. Ashley Wood continued to do these watercolor renderings for Bad Rap and Demon House. Steven Perkins took over for Dominos. I appreciated Perkins’s abstract style to Woods’s work. Woods’s take on these scenes seemed to degenerate throughout each story, becoming more abstract and less interesting with each offering. Toward the end of Demon House, it seemed as though the abstract artwork became nothing more than scratched-out stick people over a sickly mottling of drab olives and browns. Perkins brought back a more refined level of artistry with his take on the flashbacks, keeping them stylistically different from the rest of the story while imbuing them with an appealing sense of sophistication.

As for the writing, Max Allan Collins stuck around after his first crack at graphic novel storytelling to write the stories for Bad Rap and Demon House. They were acceptable stories, but nothing that would push the boundaries already established by the show. One thing that I’ve always liked about the Trek universe’s forays into comics and novels is the fact that the stories there tend to stray from the canonical path. With few exceptions, nothing shown in either written world is ever viewed as “truth” to the filmed Trek universe. I guess that’s not the case with the CSI universe, because not a whole lot new is revealed in these graphic novels.

Kris Oprisko took over the writing from Collins for Dominos. Again, nothing too different, although Oprisko enjoyed invoking a darkness in his tale that Collins very seldom embraced. Dominos had a much more brutal feel, which inspired equally brutal imagery from Rodriguez and Perkins. It was in these aspects that I felt the graphic novel finally started to reach beyond the boundaries of the show…although that’s not really the case anymore. Ever since CSI switched to a later time slot, they’ve definitely been exploring the reduced level of restriction in what sort of gore they can show their audience.

All that being said, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll enjoy these dalliances. Are they worth purchasing? Again, if you love CSI, then they’re worth owning if only for the enjoyable artwork. That reminds me: Here’s a more objective nitpick, not necessarily about the artwork but more about the skimping the publishers did to the artwork. Whereas Serial was printed in what has become a “standard” size for many graphic novels, these three were printed in what IDW Publishing called the “New Format.” Reduced size, which means: A) The artwork was skimped the way comic strips get skimped in newspapers; and B) these books now look ridiculous on my graphic novel shelf. All the other books there are a relatively standard size. Even the fifth CSI novel, Secret Identity, went back to the standard size. Guess they realized their mistake and corrected it.

Oh, and if you’re interested, I’m nearly finished with Secret Identity. I promise my comments on that one won’t be nearly as long as these comments.

Final Verdict: I’m keeping these three for now. I like my obsession-related collections. Prophets know I have plenty of Trek-related books. While my CSI collection will never grow to that level of insanity, I’m having a fun time collecting for a new obsession…at least until the Buffy collecting bug kicks in…