Comic Review: Chin Music #1

Chin Music #1
Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Tony Harris
Lettered by Bill Tortolini
Image Comics
Release Date: May 8, 2013
Cover Price: $2.99

Chin Music #1 from Image Comics is the tale of a man who skirmishes with mystical forces, mobsters, and law enforcement. Taking place in Chicago during Prohibition, this new series, written by master of comic book horror Steve Niles and illustrated by Tony Harris, has such a fascinating concept “” an idea that could easily fall apart if not handled correctly; and sure enough, Chin Music falls apart.

An unknown man is chased through the streets of a Middle Eastern country and forced to use his supernatural powers to fly into the air in one last attempt to escape. Outnumbered by and inferior to three cloaked figures with red, glowing eyes, the man’s flesh is torn off and he is cast out of the city. Crawling on the ground and near death, the man is almost run over by a vehicle. Ness, the driver of the car, gets out and attempts to help the dying carcass. Just before death, the man grabs Ness’ arm and transfers a massive burn to Ness’ wrist, revealing that he’s taken on the stranger’s abilities. Moving forward through time to Chicago, mobsters are rising to power, but someone begins to remove them from the equation; but where does Ness fit in here?

I’ve only read a small amount of Niles’ books and enjoyed what I’ve seen thus far, but he clearly prefers to use the very difficult technique of rarely showcasing any words. Done correctly, this method of reliance on the images to show the story and not tell it can have outstanding results; however, its practice in Chin Music makes the first issue extremely hard to follow. It was very confusing. I had to read the comic three times, returning to multiple pages each go around before I understood what was occurring. Even then, certain aspects remained muddled. I believe that this technique is something that can be done when a comic book is already well established “” a few issues into the story, perhaps “” but in just introducing the comic, it’s important to portray who is who and what the heck is happening.

Harris’s art, on the other hand, pulled me in. His usage of black and white with subtle hints of yellow, orange, and red made the story and characters seem old and worn out in such a violent, cabalistic world. The contrasting images of desert cities in the Middle East against the booming, larger than life structures of Chicago, were perfectly fashioned; unfortunately, as good as the illustrations were, it wasn’t enough to improve upon the lack of coherency in the story itself.

Chin Music #1 was definitely a letdown. I was highly anticipating reading a new Steve Niles book, but I think I hoped for too much. I wonder if issue #2 will be able to pick up the pieces or if it will be just as messy as this one.

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