Night Business #1 & 2
Benjamin Marra, writer/artist
American Tradition, 2008-2009
24 pages each
I had a whole long tedious review of these comics written out and five seconds ago I deleted it. Didn’t even copy it to the clipboard first! I think it’s stupid to write a boring review of an exciting comic. (Not that it’s stopped me in the past…) And Night Business is definitely an exciting comic, the kind of thing you want to sneak into the hands of all your teenaged cousins or spill beer and pizza grease on during the Crank 2: High Voltage/Road House/Predator movie marathon you’re having this Friday night.
The point I was trying to make in the scrapped review was that Night Business isn’t a pastiche of ’80s trash-culture thrillers as found in straight-to-video late-night-cable exploitation movies or “adult” independent comics from fly-by-night “publishers” so much as it’s a re-creation of them. Dolly Parton (whom, coincidentally, Marra has drawn) famously said “it costs a lot of money to look this cheap”; while I doubt that Night Business cost anyone a lot of money, its cheapness is clearly hard-earned. Benjamin Marra’s art is studiously amateurish and ugly in a totally consistent fashion–precisely the way that the art of someone whose natural talent is totally outgunned by his boundless enthusiasm and obsession bordering on dedication would be. These blocky, blockheaded, stiff figures–everyone, male and female, looks like their bodies are 85% gristle–seem like the thought-through product of a worldview, like they’re the output of someone who’s drawn page after page after meaty, pulpy page of these people without ever thinking twice about what anyone will think of it (beyond, perhaps, “they’ll fuckin’ love it!”). The layouts are simple, all business, as if to say “enough of all the frou-frou, let’s just see what happens next.” Every outfit is peeled from some hair-metal or porno fantasy world where men are either leather and denim street toughs or sharp-dressed sharks in suits, and where women routinely walk around in lingerie and heels. The City (capitalized like a motherfucker) consists almost solely of strip clubs, alleys, morgues, and the preposterous offices of an exotic-dancer management empire; everything is lit by streetlights or neon. In order to offset some of the icky taste that might be left in your mouth by doing a story about the serial murder of strippers while spending page after page depicting the naked bodies of those strippers (necessarily, I think; look how toothless Robert Rodriguez’s strangely prudish grindhouse homage Planet Terror ended up being without it), the series takes a page from every bard of the urban nightpeople since Steve Perry’s small-town girl took the midnight train going anywhere and builds up the hopes, desires, and dreams of each dancer as she takes it off to the leering crowds. Sure, they’re all pure-dee hokum, but in a world where the men’s emotions can all be expressed by grimacing and never rise above the complexity level of a Blackest Night tie-in issue’s Lantern Corps appearances, they’re the most psychologically fleshed-out characters in the book. The effect isn’t just reminiscent of some bargain-bin Scarface, it’s identical. If it weren’t for the ironic author photo and bio giving the game away at the back of each issue you’d never know that Marra is, on some level at least, kidding. And by that point, who cares? Smoke ’em if you got ’em and bring on issue #3.