Friday 16 October 2009

A Wee Review - Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'Edera

Ian Rankin is best known and often lauded for his Rebus series of crime fiction novels set in Edinburgh. He’s written relatively few standalones to date. So I was quite surprised when I found out he’d penned a graphic novel. And as I read it, I was even more surprised by the hybrid genre he’d thrown himself into. Dark Entries is one part nihilistic private detective story and one part Barker-esque demonic horror. Now, I have to confess that I am disgracefully uneducated in Rankin’s work for a self-confessed crime fiction junky, but I imagine his hardcore fans would have been pretty surprised by this deviation in style, form and genre. Pleasantly, I hope.

Rankin’s protagonist in Dark Entries is a well-seasoned recurring character best known as the star of the Hellblazer series. Now, I admit that I’m no expert in comic book trivia, and had to refer to Constantine’s Wikipedia page to learn a little about his history at DC Comics. However, as far as I can decipher, Rankin is sticking his neck out quite a bit by taking on this character. With so many chronicled adventures under Constantine's belt and a very solid fan base, the smallest of slips in characterisation are sure to draw criticism like flies to poop. But based on my slapdash learning, Rankin seems to have handled it well.

Constantine is an occult detective of questionable morals and sarcastic charm. In Dark Entries, he is approached by a network executive at the helm of a new reality TV series. The idea of the TV show is basically Big Brother in a haunted house. Said house is set up with all manner of technical jiggery-pokery designed to freak the housemates’ beans. But there’s a ghost in the machine. Or several. And so Constantine’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to go into the house in the guise of a surprise contestant and see what’s what. After a little bartering and a tonne of sarcasm, Constantine agrees to go in, armed only with nicotine patches and a flimsy cover story. And then things get a bit FUBAR.

Dell'Edera’s art is bang on the money for this story. Working in stark black and white with little-to-no grey shading, somehow he manages to make each panel seem softer than it should and very easy on the eye. Constantine looks as badass as he should and some of the more imaginative art that features in the second half of the novel... bloody marvellous. Literally. Something else caught my eye in the novel’s presentation – at the midpoint, the story takes a From Dusk to Dawn-type twist when things just go nuts. From that point on, the panels are framed in a black background which distinctly marks out the change in direction and sanity. It’s a neat little trick.

Dark Entries will take you to hell and (part of the way) back. In it you’ll find a fascinating satire of soulless reality TV and a thoughtful study in flexible morality. It represents another string to Ian Rankin’s bow and Vertigo Crime should be applauded for allowing him the opportunity to experiment.

So, who’s the next crime fiction writer to pull out all the stops for this DC Comics imprint?

Jason Starr.

Bring on The Chill!


Michael Stone said...

Aw man, I'm sold. John Constantine was a favourite character of mine from the days when he used to pop up in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. I had quite a few of the Titan reissues of Hellblazer too, written by (I think) Jamie Delano. I had no idea Ian Rankin had penned a Constantine book. Ta for the heads-up, mate, and great review, as always.

adrian mckinty said...

I too remember Constantine from the old days. This seems good.

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - Cheers, man. T'is what I'm here for. After reading the Rankin, I think I'd like to have a look at Denise Mina's take on the Hellblazer series. Maybe put those on my christmas wishlist.

Adrian - I liked it. As far as I can tell, he's stayed true to the character.



Anonymous said...

Hadn't heard of this one. Sounds interesting. Thanks or the tip.

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Anonymous said...

Over from England visiting Belfast. Just bought Dark Entries from No Alibis - both on your recommendation. Not been able to start No Entries yet, but dropping in to No Alibis was a good experience.

Anonymous said...

Over from England visiting Belfast. Just bought Dark Entries from No Alibis - both on your recommendation. Not been able to start No Entries yet, but dropping in to No Alibis was a good experience.