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posted February 5, 2007


Creators: Doug TenNapel
Publishing Information: Image, softcover, 160 pages, January 2007, $14.99
Ordering Numbers: 1582406804 (ISBN)

In this day of big publishing houses and leveraged entertainment deals and being precise and exacting about what gets out into the market and where and when, there's something to be said about just making a comic. Doug TenNapel's career-starter Gear's best elements exude a don't give a shit insouciance that was more common to comics 25 years ago; it's a fantasy set in a generic world of its type that mixes giant robots with a Jesus metaphor, revolving around a group of humanized cats. Taken page per page, TenNapel's mix of slapstick and measured narrative work within scenes as they unfold make him seem like the greatest cartoonist in the world. Curiously, the more you read, the less effective the work becomes, like a movie trailer that you love and a movie you only barely like.

Gear lacks focus and the energy to make good on anything other than isolate story moments. When the story settles into a huge, warlike confrontation in its last third, TenNapel is left without the ability to switch narratives, robbing the climax of the technique that gives his story's first 50 pages a compulsive energy. At that point, you're never not aware you're in a story, and sort of a goofy one. There's an odd but fairly typical panel near the end where after the main plot is resolved at some considerable, personal cost, the fighting stops and what's left looks like people leaving a fraternity party as opposed to a battlefield. It's the kind of thing that really could have used a rewrite; it's as if the author ran out of energy. There's a lot of skill on display here, and I have no doubts that people were all over the cartoonist when this came out to help get it out there. It's definitely a building block, though, not a whole damn pyramid.