Grim Leaper #1
Dating is hell, the search for our significant other is often scarier than the worst of the horror world’s slasher villains; but you already know that, so I guess you don’t need a book to tell it to you, but you may well want one to. More than anything else it is love that permeates our culture, that makes out fictional worlds go round. You will struggle to find a story that doesn’t rely, to some extent, on the evocation of romance; all of our superhero films, for example, feature a female lead. The problem though is that all of these films – the Twilight‘s for the tweens, Action-Blockbuster babes for the guys and Gary Marshall rom-com’s for the girls – are, for lack of a more poetic phrase, full of shit. No one has had a relationship that really echoes those that are put on the screen; real romance isn’t glamorous, it’s gory and that is exactly how Kurtis Wiebe presents it in Grim Leaper, “A Love Story to Die For”. He certainly doesn’t shy away from showing you exactly what his characters are full of; which is usually blood and lots of it.
Sex and death – what Nietzsche would term the Dionysian urges – are the two main drivers of drama in lives both real and imagined, they are the indivisible reasoning’s inherent in all of our actions; our instincts urge us to live on both literally and through a legacy. Though doing so would seem an obvious choice, the two actually aren’t often combined in fiction for either practical or perverted reasons; the latter usually denotes the end of the former and in those instances where it doesn’t that definitely denotes the end of the tales appeal to a wide audience. Here though the two are weaved together in a most intricate and inventive manner.
Lou Collins, the book’s protagonist, is the titular Leaper and this essentially means that he is cursed to die a horrible, early death only to later return to earth in someone else’s body to suffer said fate again and again and again; sort of like a gorier Groundhog Day. Like the man played by Bill Murray in that amazing movie Lou doesn’t use his powers for good, he doesn’t strap on a cape to save lives by sacrificing his own or sit and ponder the philosophy of the situation but instead spends the short staccato sections of time that he has here on earth to try and seduce women; so essentially just like the rest of us do in our own lives, only he occasionally cruises in rooms that contain his corpse in a casket.
This introductory issue spends most of its time simply strutting around with Lou as he loses his life and then acclimatizes to a new host body; not otherwise doing much of note. It also dedicates much more time to telling us the core concept than I would have expected from a four issue series. This loose, lackadaisical and truly decompressed pacing is not necessarily a flaw though, for it is seemingly done intentionally, mirroring the authenticity of the approach utilised elsewhere; just as love is not as clean in life as it is made to seem in the stories, our stories are not so strongly structured as those in scripts. I simply say this then to warn those who are expecting a plot heavy series. Though that said there is a compelling philosophical conspiracy underlying all of these scattered scenes, something greater seems to be going on in this story than first sight suggests – an agnostic may say that there is an ambiguous higher power at play – I just wonder if there is time enough left to tell it.
Though it may well be that Weibe isn’t actually interested in telling that story ( and one could say that he already has with Green Wake). What really fascinated me about this issue and what also seems to be Weibe’s main interest, is not so much what the curse means for this character on a grand scale but on an intimate one; you may well be wondering why I spent so much time rambling about sex and romance in the intro and this is why. Instead of ending the issue with a glance at God or the Grim Reaper, the big bad behind all this, he instead spends the final few pages introducing us and Lou to Ella, a girl in the same blood-splattered situation.
Her introduction changes everything, suddenly the deaths become social ones; if you were to trip and fall during a date or get turned down by a girl before you even got to go out on one you’d probably ‘just want to die’; the difference is that these characters take that particular turn of phrase literally. Seen in this light the Leaping also takes on a new meaning, one driven predominantly by the art. Series artist Aluisio Santos – who has a strange but stunning style; using a dark and gritty palette to paint almost cartoony panels – can draw distinct characters but has chosen to cast all of Lou’s vessels in a somewhat similar and cohesive manner; it is quite easy to imagine them all being different versions of the same person, some have simply made different choices during or are at different stages in their lives.
To me this suggests something similar to my reading of Lady Lazurus ( both the poem and the episode of Mad Men) in that each death is actually just a change in character, the next stage in a personal evolution and a part of growing up. The fact that Ella ( and one Lou) is seen in a such a ‘phase’ outfit ( her shirt has ‘Metal’ written on it…sometimes) strengthens this point. The pair are going through some changes, it’s a scary time and it is this terror ties them together, so that they’ll seemingly keep finding each other even as their lives change and they become different people. In that way it is actually the oldest kind of romance ever written, the undying and never unrequited affection that makes the book seem sweet despite all the slaughter.
Though of course the aforementioned sparseness of this issue means that it doesn’t do any more than suggest most of that; I am filling in a lot of blanks and when the book is finished could find fault in all that I just said. There was some furor recently in the TV world when David Simon suggested that show’s shouldn’t be written about on an episode by episode basis and although comics are usually a medium made for individual installments his criticisms hit home here. I don’t feel like I have enough of a grasp on Grim Leaper yet to really get into what it does right or wrong because it is very much the first chapter of a longer book. Though I can say with some certainty that my only real criticism of this issue is that it ended before I was ready for it to and now I’m stuck in this month long purgatory before I get another hit and this, like dating, is hell.