Rock Bottom original graphic novel
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist/Cover artist: Charlie Adlard
Greytones: Charlie Adlard & Paul Peart
Letters: Josh Richardson
Price: $12.95 US
We don’t hear as much hype coming out of AiT/PlanetLar these days as we once did; perhaps publisher/propagandist Larry Young is busy with more pressing matters these days. Nevertheless, when I saw that the small publisher was releasing a new Joe Casey/Charlie Adlard project, I had to take a look. It’s too bad Young has dialed down the hype machine, because this project definitely merits the hullabaloo. It has the potential to appeal to a broad audience, not only to the fans of the industry’s dominant super-hero genre, but to supporters of strong, character-based, indy-comics storytelling. Casey’s script makes the idea of a man turning to stone more and more believable as the book progresses. Though this book boasts super-hero elements, it’s not a super-hero story. It’s about a man coming to terms with a health crisis and how the people around him see it as a tragedy and yet an opportunity as well.
Musician Thomas Dare isn’t the nicest guy around. He’s in the middle of a nasty divorce, the result of his wife’s discovery of his infidelity. And as for the woman on the side, her announcement that she’s pregnant serves as a cue for Tom to cut off contact. But the stiffness in his joints and the heaviness he feels in his chest are omens of a much bigger problem to come. No one can explain it, but it seems as though Tom is literally turning to stone. It’s cost him his music. It’s cost him his independence. And it could cost him his life. With his friends at his side, Tom looks for answers as he realizes he has to rectify past mistakes.
Adlard’s approach to the art here is unlike his work on The Walking Dead, for example. There’s a kind of outlining approach that reminds me a great deal of the style of Scott (Beyond) Kolins. It works incredibly well for this story. Despite the whiteness of the panels and stylistic look, Adlard establishes a realistic tone. The sparse use of greytones — limited for the part to conveying the main character’s petrification condition — really drives home the scary and unnatural nature of that plot premise. And note that I say “sparse use;” Adlard and Peart are restrained in applying the greytones. In keeping with the script, the artists don’t want the petrification effect to dominate the story, given that the real drama stems from characterization.
The subplots here are fascinating, especially that of Tom’s GP, Dr. Alvin Bledsoe. He struggles to balance his obligation to his patient and their friendship with the hopelessness of the situation and the opportunities that they offer to the doctor. Casey handles the scenario incredibly well, and it really had me wholeheartedly believing in this impossible premise.
My only qualm with the plot is how clearly Casey telegraphs the decoy method used for his “escape” from the hospital. Some obvious foreshadowing took me out of the story for a moment, but it’s a fleeting one.
One of the greatest strengths of the script is that the notion of “super-powers” or “being special” never enters into any of the characters’ minds. Tom’s condition is an illness, a horror that’s ended his life as he knew it. The only super-hero moment in the book is an accidental one, and the danger actually arises as a result of Tom’s condition, at least indirectly. It’s how Tom and everyone in his life react to his bizarre condition that makes the book so engaging and credible. When one woman in his life learns the news, it’s not sympathy that arises. It’s further resentment and blame. It’s powerful and genuine, just like so many other moments in the story. 9/10