BookBin2012: Secret Identity

I promise, this will be the last book review for a while. It will also be much shorter than my last two reviews. I don’t want to overload you.

I’m now finished with the stack of CSI graphic novels that I purchased last year, with the fifth in the series, Secret Identity. I thought this was the last one illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, but it looks like there might be one more, although it doesn’t seem to be part of the longer serial novels. I think it might be a one-shot novella done back when Ashley Wood was still doing the abstract artwork. More investigating is required.

For Secret Identity, Rodriguez again paired with Steven Perkins on the abstract art. Steven Grant took over from Kris Oprisko as the writer of this story. It’s a shame that this was the last novel Rodriguez and Perkins worked on together, because I believe this is the best of the bunch. Not only did these two artists’ divergent styles merge beautifully for this novel, Rodriguez really came into his own for the main artwork. He invests a great deal of care and creativity into exploring the space of each page, each panel, bringing a sense of grace and artistry to what is also the darkest, and in my opinion, best written story from this batch of five novels.

Steven Grant did a tremendous job writing this story, giving readers something that not only can compete with a television script, but might in some ways surpass what we’ve seen from the show (especially in recent years). It’s refreshing to see such a cumulatively extraordinary effort put toward a medium that, when done in such a mass market style as comic book tie-ins to television series, typically tends to suffer from mediocrity and apathy from all involved. Case in point? Go flip through a stack of hastily written/drawn/published Trek comics and tell me what you think…you know, after you finish peroxide-washing your brain and eyes.

The coloring is again superb, drawing from a palette of soothing to passion-infused, and enhancing the almost cinematic-quality angles of Rodriguez’s cleverly drawn panels. Also, IDW Publishing returned to the standard size for this graphic novel (although it looks like they also offered it in the smaller “New Format” size; avoid this one at all cost), which means larger space for artwork that truly deserves every inch and more.

Final Verdict: Definitely a keeper. I’d vote this the best of the first five CSI graphic novels, hands down. If you’re at all interested in seeing what the comics can offer you, this would be my top recommendation.

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…