Writers: Donny Cates & Mark Reznicek
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: September 18, 2013
Buzzkill #1 is an awkward book to review. Not because its grasp of story, dialogue, and art lie outside the typical comic norms, but because some readers will relate to its heavy themes far more than others. A bittersweet reflection on alcoholism and escapism, this seemingly basic superhero yarn hides a cutting subtext under its concept, and the metaphor it conjures is brutally direct and poignant.
This first issue of four, written by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek (drummer of ‘90s alt-rock footnote Toadies), takes place primarily in an AA meeting where a cynical 20-something named Ruben discusses his collegiate years getting shitfaced. But instead of getting thrown into the drunk tank, Ruben literally turns into a drunk tank, an inebriated strongman who soars through the air after his obliterated friends demolish a car headfirst into a semi truck. Ruben’s second anecdote describes a time when he survives a violent hazing ritual by guzzling an entire beer keg, inflating his lanky form into an alcoholic Adonis with a fermented six-pack. The spoken narratives skirt ambiguity, so the surreal truth only bleeds through flashback panels rendered in retro four-color separation homage.
Cates and Reznicek’s message isn’t particularly subtle: alcohol suppresses reality. It makes you feel superhuman, impervious to pain and inhibition. The drink shuts out the sober superego to unchain a high-proof id capable of demolishing all obstacles. Liquid courage through and through. Ruben takes this sensation to a literal level with a ripped unitard and flashing gold armlets. The narrative doesn’t shy away from the hangover, though. Ruben, who’s real name is in fact not Ruben, hints at the encounter that inspired him to seek help.
This introduction avoids the first issue cardinal sin of oversharing. The writers keep the reader at arm’s length from the pathos boiling underneath its complex protagonist. There’s substantial reason to return for the next chapter, and the real-world vice that anchors the entire production holds a weight that transcends dark and dreary superhero garbage.
Geoff Shaw’s pencils pack a load of detail and personality, recalling Sean Murphy and Sam Keith’s sketchy strokes. The backgrounds are surprisingly rich and layered in select shots, and the few panels that depict action burst with kinetic energy, noticeable in two visceral shots. As the violence escalates past a conference room and folding chairs, expect Shaw to show off more range in future issues.
Buzzkill takes an interesting concept and wraps it around a provoking meditation on substance abuse. It’s not for everyone, but its unexpected depth is just as intoxicating as it production.