Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Leave the Money on the Table (Not at the Store)

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 21st, 2012

Whore original graphic novel
Writer: Jeffrey Kaufman
Artist: Marco Turini
Colors: James Brown
Letters: John Hunt
Cover artists: Felix Serrano & Jeffrey Kaufman (regular)/Michael Golden & Serrano and Alex Saviuk (variants)
Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment/Big City Comics Studio
Price: $9.99 US

I’ll give the people at Zenescope and Big City Comics Studio credit for this: they put forth a hell of a promotional effort for this project. For a couple of months, I couldn’t avoid mentions of this project online, notably on my Facebook feed. However, the title of the book and the accompanying image of a guy surrounded by supermodel-type figures didn’t appeal to me, so I didn’t absorb any further information about it. Then a review copy of the graphic novel landed in front of me, and looking for something outside of the comics mainstream super-hero genre to review, I decided to peruse its pages. It turns out the story isn’t about prostitution literally (which I had assumed it was), but rather about a government hitman/cleaner who finds himself forced to freelance in the private sector. I was surprised at the convincing tone of his military-quality skills and his ability to read and manipulate others. But overall, the stiff nature of the artwork and the over-the-top male fantasies passed off as the protagonist’s missions elicited more in the way of eye rolling than a sense of entertainment.

Jacob Mars is an elite assassin and the best when it comes to blackmail. For years, he solves every problem the U.S. government could put in front of him, and it seemed like he was impossible to kill. His one tragic flaw is a weakness for women — one that’s led to several failed marriages and a bunch of alimony payments. So when the government cuts him loose, his financial obligations and taste for living high on the hog lead him to accept private jobs for big bucks… and he’ll take any assignment. From protecting a secretly gay pop icon to handling a valuable show dog at a major competition, there’s no job he won’t take. He realizes he’s become a black-ops whore.

The artwork by Marco Turini is obviously heavily photo-reference, and a note of thanks to the artist’s various models for the story certainly supports that conclusion. As a result, the visuals are stiff though occasionally convincing. Where the linework gets rougher and more awkward are during the action sequences, which the artist would’ve had more trouble reproducing photographically for reference ahead of time. Turini has some potential as a comic artist. The grittiness and occasional realism of his efforts here reminded me a little of the style of Alex (Daredevil) Maleev, but he definitely needs to develop his craft more and focus on honing original images rather than relying so heavily on reference.

Kaufman’s script is rife with gratuitous elements. Sure, there’s lots of violence, but given the black-ops nature of the protagonist and circumstances, it’s not off-putting. No, it’s the amped-up, unrelenting sex factor in the book that’s distracting. Now, given the title and the nature of the project, complaining about the sexual elements is a little foolish. The book is meant to titillate, and I can accept there’s an audience for it. I’m not a part of it, but I get why the book is crafted this way. But then I have to question why Kaufman and Turini hold back so much. Though there’s plenty of on-panel sex and nudity, the artist endeavors to cover up the female character’s naughty bits every time — with shadow, a conveniently placed hand or, most ridiculously, word balloons. The effort to make the book PG-13 goes against the clearly R-rated intent of the premise and appeal of Whore. The creators have toned things down to the detriment of the book.

Kaufman’s choice to link this to a previous project — a graphic novel apparently entitled Terminal Alice — is befuddling. The overall tone of the script is quite accessible, but in the latter part of the book, Kaufman includes a group of female mercenaries the reader is clearly meant to recognize. But I haven’t read Terminal Alice, so the appearance of these women warriors fails to have the intended impression. It’s an oddly inaccessible element in what should’ve otherwise been a standalone book.

Perhaps the most surprising and unusual scene in the book is the one in which Mars is hired simply to talk straight to the President of the United States, to take him down a peg and tell him what everyone else around him is reluctant to share. Kaufman’s political statement is clear: that political leaders need to man up and stop listening to the yes men and the opinion polls are telling them. Though it’s an interesting scene, the problem is it’s completely out of place in the book. It’s implausible, and it takes the reader out of the story. It’s obviously motivated by the political leanings of the writer, and its inclusion not only doesn’t contribute to the plot, but rather, it interferes with it.

The seemingly random nature of the commander-in-chief scene is symptomatic of a larger problem with Whore — namely, there’s no real plot. Sure, the latter part of the book features a revenge scenario, but it’s one that comes from out of nowhere. And while the epilogue addresses an earlier loss in the character’s life, it’s not a plot thread he or the writer seemed to be pursuing for the bulk of the book. Ultimately, Whore is a collection of cool ideas, of individual scenes that boast the potential for entertainment, but little in the way of actual storytelling. 4/10

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