Comics Review – Chin Music #1

Chin Music #1

If Boardwalk Empire – the HBO television series set in the 1920’s – had supernatural themes and was set in Chicago, Giza, and Cairo it would resemble the new comic Chin Music #1 by Steve Niles and Tony Harris.

Chin Music #1 represents an original initiative, however. It’s no standard carbon copy of prohibition era supernatural stories.

It’s completely different from  the popular manga and anime Chrono Crusade by Daisuke Moriyama, which has a similar premise. Both series take a different angle on supernatural 1920’s. Time travel plays a role in the narrative, but it’s unclear exactly how.

That’s the key problem I had with Chin Music #1. After reading the solicitations of each issue previewed on the Image Comics website, I picked up some edifying information:

  1. A time travelling magician named Shaw alters history.
  2. Shaw does this be assassinating a prominent mafia boss.
  3. Shaw is now on the run, waging a magic war in 1920’s prohibition era Chicago.
  4. Violence and horror to ensue.

Chin Music #1 contains demons, but these monsters are tied to the Egyptian setting. Niles and Harris have selected character designs that look like Djinni, hidden spirits commonly thought to grant wishes. No European horned and red coloured devil can be found here. At least, not yet.

Harris’ art looks spectacular, both gloomy and electric, switching between moods and carrying emotion along effortlessly. The art is not backed up by a clear story, however, and it’s simply too confusing to determine when and what is happening, and who has caused what effects from their actions. Despite the title, Chin Music #1 makes no references to baseball. It’s most likely a reference to the comic’s intense violence.

The Art

Harris’ art is of the same style he crafted for the JSA Liberty files: The Whistling Skull Series. Panels are not simply black squares and other shapes. Harriss pushes the conventions of panel arrangement, and frames the sequential images with complex and clever lines. In Cairo, Shaw sits in a shady tent and greets a client. The panel warpped around the image is a gold oval adorned with cobra motifs.

The choice of how to present the magic elements of this supernatural, pulp comic was clever. There’s no light show: instead magic is performed with language. Intricate and arcane symbols are carved into bullets and the surfaces of objects to imbue them with occult power.

Credit should go to Bill Tortolini’s lettering work. His letters and treatment of sound add depth and tension to Shaw taking his time as he slowly aims and pulls his gun’s trigger.

A bit more on Chin Music #1

There is a awe-inspiring moment that introduces the Egyptian scene: The demons fly through the arid, dessert air, and come crashing down, breaking the nose from the Sphinx as they collide with the sands. It’s a good bit of alternate and  apocryphal history. Alternate history, unfortunately, does not make up for the confusion in the storytelling. Future issues might bring clarity.

Chin Music #1 is published by Image Comics. Writer: Steve Niles. Pencils, Inks, Colours: Tony Harris. Lettering: Bill Tortolini.

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