Saturday, August 18, 2012
License Request - SODA
The modern-day rational of an S-hero keeping their secret identity and their civilian life separate from each other is so they won't endanger the lives of the people they're close to is so ingrained into the genre that it's hardly ever expanded or explored. In fact, it's easier to list the exception of S-heroes whose dual identities are inseparable from each other, since any information revealing such a secret would be fatal for anyone in the spy business. One European comic that puts an unique spin on this angle is an authority figure named Soda. Despite sounding like a soft drink, his nickname is derived from the first two letters of his file name, Solomon, David.
Soda is a New York cop who hides his true profession from his Aunt May-like mother by pretending to be a priest. Much like how Alex in Good-bye Lenin! devised an elaborate white lie to convince his mother that her country was still Communist, so too does Soda go to similar lengths to prevent his mother from ever finding out he's in a dangerous profession. Although Soda worries for his mother, he displays none of the geekish awkwardness that Peter Parker does, though he's more world-weary than anything.
Part of the fun comes from seeing how Soda does his police investigations while simultaneously trying to hide his true profession from his ailing mother. While his "secret" civilian identity is never quite the main focus, it's something of a running gag that EVERYBODY except Soda's mother knows that he's really a cop. It also doesn't hurt that there are times when his Priest alter identity comes in handy as a plainclothes officer.
The cartoony expressions help convey a sense of the grimy underbelly personality that make up 90's New York city in a way that feels more authentic than the most realistically designed drawings in noir-stylized comics fail to accomplish. Another admirable trait is the amount of facial variation given to black people, which is in direct contrast compared to most negative perceptions of Nubians, commonly seen in Asterix and Tintin albums. (I wish I had more examples to show here, but you'll just have to see for yourself) Things only start getting interesting until the third book, which is not only when the quality of the stories improve, but also when the artists change from Luc Warnant to Bruno Gazzotti. It's not unusual for an artist to be switched for another cartoonist in the middle of a series. It's been done for Brothers in Blue, Thorgal, and Violine, among others; the most famous example being Spirou who's gone through multiple writers and artists. Though it's unusual for one to be switched out in the middle of an album.
One thing I especially like about this series is the impressive amount of information that's conveyed within the silent panels as well as the wordy talking heads scenes. The former is pretty much the selling point for me in a police story that normally relies on hardboiled dialogue to get its point across. There is the occasional narrative, but it's not the full focus of the storytelling, and is less of a writing crutch than just another writer's tool.
Oh yes, there's also the most ironic usage of David and Goliath's names since Disney's Gargoyles. The cat may not play a large part, but his silent commentary and rivalry with David's suitcase containing his police stuff is the stuff of heightened tension.
Observant readers may have noticed by now that Soda only has three fingers for his gloved left hand. Despite this handicap, this little setback is never fully commented on or explained, which is something I find rather refreshing. It plays up the mystery allure, and plays on the audience's imagination of what could've possibly happened. The closest we get to an actual backstory is a single sentence when Soda returns to his hometown on a trip. Naturally, any cop on vacation is guaranteed to get anything but rest and relaxation while away, since crime practically follows them on the job. It's a rule or something.
There are only 12 albums of the series total, but although it ends on a unresolved confessional leaving certain questions hanging, it doesn't feel unfulfilling at all. It's just as well, since the last two books were more serious than the early stuff, and had become more depressing of late. Better for it to leave readers wanting more than to devolve into mediocrity and wonder what they ever liked about it in the first place.