Time again it is to check on the progress of one Mr. Shaky Kane, artist of the strange. He’s back with a new project: it’s called Weird Work. I’d like to spend a few moments talking about it, if you’re of a mind to hear.
I was late to the table with Kane, only catching up with the Bulletproof Coffin series in trade after the fact. In a period when I wasn’t reading a lot of new books it stood out for being indelible, composed of a seemingly familiar gauntlet of referents sliced and diced into something altogether new. Art not so much influenced but haunted, possessed by the ghosts of so much past style. There are familiar elements in Kane’s work. There’s some Kirby, straight up, but it’s not a warm inheritance. Kirby’s eye for form and shape has been drained of line weight, projected flat and traced to exsanguinate. It’s not the dynamic Kirby, or the kinetic Kirby, but the awkward Kirby, the ungainly Kirby. The ugly Kirby.
What happens if you take Kirby’s understanding of shape and trace it with a line more redolent of Gilbert Hernandez? Well, you might end up nearer to Shaky Kane. Like Gilbert, and Ditko before them both, Kane is happy to let a consistent line weight play the part of unnerving the reader. Everything Kane draws ends up coming out just a little bit strange, not to say sinister. He’s good at drawing sleaze and the sad side of nostalgia, like if Mike Allred had a bad day because someone accidentally left the TV on the R-rated movie channel.
Weird Work, written by Jordan Thomas for Kane to draw, is a cop book, strange as it is for me to report. A winding murder investigation with two down-on-their-luck detectives stumbling onto miasmic corruption, implicating not just the richest man in town but the police hierarchy as well. It’s noir, I suppose you’d say, but cast in bright color. Kane colors himself and the results are a wonder to behold, flat primary tones slathered on with precision. Cotton candy noir, in places, featuring a cast of characters colored like a bag of Skittles.
That’s the most arresting element of the book, actually: the character designs. We’re not given any kind of explanation for why the world of Weird Work looks the way it does, populated as it is by strange creatures of every stripe, animal-human hybrids and aliens and cyborgs and even a few regular-looking dudes leavened in. That’s what’s instills the strangest affect, in a series made of strange affects: the noir elements of the police procedural are played completely straight, with the only real alteration from that design coming from the fact that the participants are uniform grotesqueries. We follow two cops assigned to the case Di Sawce is past his prime and haunted. He looks almost like a normal person except for the fact that his skin is sky blue. Sawce’s partner is Donut Trustah, fresh off a suspension for taking a bribe. Her skin is bright red, with a shock of canary yellow hair atop her head.
There’s no acknowledgement at any turn that the characters themselves are weird. The very first scene in the book features a crooked politician, Vimmy Vinders, escaping an assassination attempt with an ejection seat out the back of his limo. Vinders is a normal politician save for the fact that he’s a talking pig man, and we we meet him there’s an anteater with three tits going down on him. They hitmen take out his driver, first, and the driver is a yellow humanoid duck. “Damn the Maker, the fucks killed Roni!” screams the enraged pig man, “The gazoombahs on these goombahs!” The effect there is comic, but the story takes itself more seriously than not. The most familiar cliches gain frisson welded to sheer absurdity.
The police elements are themselves standard hard-boiled tropes, purposefully familiar from a thousand such police stories we’ve all seen. Sawce is a struggling cop, whose partner is murdered as part of the story’s inciting incident. If I told you he was paired with a crooked cop brought back to work for the express purpose of slowing the investigation, you probably wouldn’t be too surprised. Because, as I said, the corruption leads straight to the top.
That Sawce and Trustah get anywhere seems as much down to sweet contingency as anything else. They pay attention when evidence goes missing, and stumble onto botched murders, committed by orphans with crab claws for hands wearing invisibility suits. One of the cops is working both sides of the case. It all adds up to a whole lot of murder. Everything ends in a shootout at the lair of the master schemer at the heart of it all.
The series hums along on the charge between all these disparate elements, the unrelentingly bizarre world and endlessly inventive cast of characters playing straight with a script of a kind that could have been written at any point in the last seven or eight decades. Not that far from Chinatown or L.A. Confidential, to pluck two really obvious examples from the ether. It’s not supposed to be abstruse. That all these elements come together in a world of technicolor aliens and strange hybrid mutants is the point. It all ends with the shootout, as I said, and the shootout features two-headed gangsters firing Thompson submachine guns against little grey goblin men, anthropomorphic rats, four-eyed muppets and stocky rock men. It’s a three-way war between cops and private security and the mafia, ending with bodies everywhere.
By the time internal affairs stops by to sweep everything up at the end, Sawce has decided the price of his silence is sweeping up his aforementioned dead partner’s involvement and making sure his widow gets the full benefits. It’s a crooked way to cover up the involvement of high-level police bureaucracy in a blackmail scheme set in motion by the richest man in town, but a better ending than these characters deserved. Which is itself an element directly out of classic noir, no justice in the end but maybe the bystanders walk away with a little comfort. The cops at the heart of it end up much the worst for wear, maybe even with a new monkey on their back.
Sometimes the strangest affect possible is just playing the whole thing straight. Weird Work is a intentionally odd hybrid, a straightforward cop story but for the fact that it’s populated with monsters and freaks. I mean, moreso than most cop stories, that is. If you’re a fan of the Thomas / Kane team, they’ve already got another mini on the racks, another sci-fi story, The Man from Maybe, shipping from Oni. It’s a post-apocalyptic western with aliens in it, so we’re continuing with the trend of putting fantasy creatures through the wringer of familiar genre templates. One issue in and it’s already pretty rad. At this point, I’m willing to concede that Kane might be on a streak. He appears to have good taste in collaborators and I’ve never read anything of his I haven’t adored. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.