Friday, January 20, 2017

Murder By Remote Control

Today I like to say that we are living in the "golden age of comics" because of the sheer volume of excellent material being published in so many genres and for so many different audiences. The key year in this transition (in the US at least)  is usually cited as 1986, when Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and the first volume of Maus were published. The book I am reviewing today is an original graphic novel that predates those publications, and it had a difficult time finding a publisher in the US at the time. So I am glad to get to read and experience it today.

Murder By Remote Control may have been written more than 30 years ago, but it is still a fresh, interesting, and provocative book. The plot is about the murder of an oil tycoon in coastal Maine, an act perpetrated with a remote control airplane.
There are only four houses in the remote location, and the detective on the case, a trench coat-wearing Zen Buddhist named Jim Brady, employs some unorthodox tactics in his investigations. The suspects themselves are a motley bunch: a reclusive farmer, a former high-price call girl, a film star, and a gun-toting, paraplegic ex-criminal (pictured).
Far from progressing in a straight line, this investigation takes some weird turns into drug-trafficking, local corruption, as well as philosophical ponderings of America, sex, and popular culture. These narrative turns are also accompanied by beautiful and surreal splash pages full of portentous images that are just ripe for interpretation. I feel that all of it could easily go off the tracks, but the plot is well-paced and, more importantly, the artwork helps anchor the whole enterprise. Not only is it beautiful to behold, the style is realistic and done in the style of Wally Wood and Jim Steranko, two of the most revered and copped US comics artists.

Murder By Remote Control was created by Dutch writer Janwillem van de Wetering and US artist Paul Kirchner. Van de Wetering was a crime novelist whose work has often been called "off-beat." Kirchner has had a long career, drawing comics for Heavy Metal, multiple toy companies, and The Big Book of series. He also has been a toy designer and today works mainly in advertising. He speaks at length about this book in this interview. He speaks more about his career and specifically about this collaboration with van de Wetering in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Win Wiacek called it "a delicious treat for the eyes and a therapeutic exercise for the mind." Gahan Wilson, in the original 1986 review, called it "an enjoyable entertainment that succeeds in demonstrating very effectively that this form of storytelling has a unique potential and can work a special kind of magic unavailable to any other medium."

This re-issue of Murder By Remote Control was published by Dover Publications, and they have more information about the book here. This book contains some nudity and sexual situations, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle both. This edition also has a couple of extra essays, one an introduction by Kirchner, the other an afterward by Steve Bissette, and I found both fun and informative to read.

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