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Rock Bottom
posted November 6, 2007


Creators: Joe Casey, Charlie Adlard
Publishing Information: AiT/Planet Lar, soft cover, 112 pages, September 2006, $12.95
Ordering Numbers: 1932051457 (ISBN10), 9781932501452 (ISBN13)

imageWith so many titles out right now, it doesn't take much for a book to slip out of one's interest based on a facile, surface evaluation that has little to do with the work as fully experienced at a later date. What I knew about Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard's Rock Bottom from its accompanying press speak and a couple of flip-throughs indicated a skewed version of the hard-skin superhero story. This includes the hero's dismay at finding his body transformed, observations how this might have an effect on the details of day to day living, dangling metaphors in terms of how that thick outer covering bears relation to his own relationships with other people (or hardening heart), passages where we see how the affliction changes the people around the protagonist, and even the rescue of a small boy from an oncoming car. And it is all of those things; in fact, I think Rock Bottom's big negative is that Casey and Adlard don't go far enough away from a basic gruff redemption storyline that the outcome of the story is ever in doubt, or its details ever fully surprising. This may be a reflection of the book's preoccupation with mortality, in that when people die it's usually right out there in front of them and not something they get to avoid, but I think it's still a failing. As much as the book spends time on hospital policy or the change state of mind from its rock musician lead, those sequences lack a comparable payoff or richness of experience. If all you remember are the affecting moments, you may recall a Rock Bottom 16 pages long.

There are virtues, however. Casey's scripting proves to be reasonably tight, his writing disappears into the book in a good way, and he's working on familiar ground of adult disappointments and unexpected opportunities for redemption. Adlard's decision to go with line work except for the hardened skin of the work's protagonist is an obvious choice in many ways (the character pops off the page as different and alienated), and a curious choice in others (the character's subtle epiphanies don't work all that well against this wave of visual information, dropping the shading from the world puts the onus on it and not the lead for what Casey's script seems to be selling as his difficulties in relating to others), but it's generally attractive, particularly in the way the Walking Dead artist finds appropriate abstraction to communicate backgrounds and settings rather than simply dropping them away altogether. Rock Bottom is a sturdy story, but not one that feels fresh or particularly insightful or that demands consideration. I admire its dour faith in the subtleties of the medium, but unlike its characters that become more real and human as the story progresses, this tale remains a bit too abstract and artificial to transcend its serial-drama roots.