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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/16/2004 Archived Entry: "Ruule: Kiss and Tell"


Review by William Wentworth-Sheilds

In noir, the line separating the sublime from ridiculous is whisper-thin. Kiss and Tell doesn't straddle it well. The art is lush, distinctive, and stylish; the writing, pacing, and characterizations are less competently handled.

Kiss and Tell shares many of the genre conventions as Frank Miller's Sin City stories. But where Sin City's pace is whip-fast, and no panels are extraneous, Kiss and Tell meanders. The events of the first three issues would probably comprise the first three pages of a typical Sin City tale. Where characters like Marv and Hartigan in Sin City, and That Yellow Bastard, respectively, anchor their scenes effortlessly, Sam Swede doesn't exert that kind of presence. Many of the panels that show him as a man of action actually capture him just before, or after, the moment of decision, or show him being interrupted at the moment of climax, so to speak. He's trailed by a character, his "mother," whose main function appears to be follow up his every decisive utterence or action with "... but your vow!"

There are two kinds of noir stories. There's the kind typified by the classic, profoundly violent, paranoid 1955 Mike Hammer film, Kiss Me Deadly, that's probably a pretty fair archetype for the Sin City romps. It's propulsive; Mike Hammer speaks with his fists, and the plot, centering around nuclear annihilation, and McCarthy-ite red fears, follows along behind. The violence is horrifying, and disgusting, and finally, cathartic. In the other camp is the author James Ellroy, and his LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz), which evokes a kind of labrynth of corruption, and glimpses into the dark machinery of hell. Ellroy's protagonists are assertive and speak with their fists quite well, but what lingers are quieter moments, of despair, and aching loss.

Kiss and Tell has some good, sharp violence going for it, highlighted by a sequence where Swede rips off a man's arm and uses it for a cudgel, and some good scenes of betrayal, but ruins the tempo with a story that should be told in a matter of pages, not three (and counting) issues, dialog with no snap or rhythm that goes on forever, and plot twists that make no sense. There's some ambition here; enough to attempt a larger portrait of an organized crime syndicate, and the people ruling, and fighting against it. Unfortunately, Sam Swede still hasn't come into focus. His "mother" has repeatedly referred cryptically to "his vow," and we're not one iota closer to discovering what she's talking about. Emblematic of this problem: much of what passes for a plot takes place off the page, unseen by the reader. Nearly every significant event involving Sam's "fiancÚ," Phyllis, falls into this category.

Kiss and Tell, despite being easy enough to look at, doesn't hook the reader into caring enough to actually read it. It doesn't promise (or deliver) a journey through dark places, and Sam Swede, despite having the strength of ten men, is an indecisive wimp. By itself, the latter is no criticism; the archetype of a weak man in a strong man's body is perfectly capable of clotheslining a good story. But in addition to being weak, Sam is, fatally, not very interesting.

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