REVIEW: Lowlifes #1 – “Technique Over Story”

Lowlifes 1 cover IDW

LOWLIFES # 1 / Story: Brian Buccellato / Art: Alexis Sentenac / Lettering: Neil Uyetake / Released: July 4, 2018 / IDW

Lowlifes 1 cover

As a reader, it’s never fun to be ahead of the story. I don’t want to know what’s coming before the characters do. A lot of stories go out of their way to hide plot twists from readers, but few have done it as well as Lowlifes #1. Brian Buccellato so effectively disguises the real story that it borders on deception. Unfortunately it turns out that a couple good storytelling tricks can’t hide an average story.

Lowlifes #1 opens on Lenny and Rich as Rich preps Lenny for what appears to be his first armed crime—a job for someone named Wendall. Everything goes sideways as soon as Rich hands Lenny the gun, and before the reader knows it the story has flashed back two days and rather than it centering on Lenny who was at the forefront of the issue’s opening the narrative follows Rich. Rich is a cop whose wife was recently raped. He feels impotent not just for being unable to give his wife whatever she needs to heal but also for being unable to punish the man he knows is guilty. There’s no evidence to arrest the rapist. Rich’s partner suggests that Rich go to Wendall, an unspecified crime boss who gets cops dirty by giving them money.

Writer Buccellato uses the first four pages’ real estate to establish Lenny, a man who’s down on his luck and forced to commit a crime. Surprisingly, though, the first issue isn’t about Lenny. Presumably it does the arduous trek to what Rich and Lenny are doing in that car; unexpectedly it does that by telling Nick’s story instead. Like Lenny was in the beginning, Rich is nearing bottom in the flashback. He can’t act in the ways he needs to. Buccellato’s misdirection from the first few pages keeps the reader in a constant state of questioning which leaves the story a step ahead. The other advantage of the opening scene is that it tells readers where the story is going—though perhaps not where it’s ending—so there’s an unending sense of anticipation throughout the first issue.

Lowlifes 1 Rich

That anticipation and questioning are the major assets to Lowlifes #1 because they keep the reader from realizing that very little happens in the issue. Despite starting out as a crime drama the issue reads more like a prime time soap opera—one a barebones story to boot. While the first issue is almost certainly setup for what will follow, it is a strangely heartless setup: the use of a rape—the trump card for unearned shortcut audience sympathy—doesn’t quite connect because readers have barely met the characters when the rape is revealed.

With the flaws in the story it would be nice to say that the art in Lowlifes #1 proved uplifting. Unfortunately Alexis Sentenac creates a static world to back up an arguably static story. Rich’s expressions are bland bordering on indifferent for the bulk of the issue, and none of the characters provide much visual support. In the end the comic book looks like a reasonable attempt on the real world: drab buildings, washed out skies, a taco truck that looks like a taco truck. However Sentenac’s real world is one that lacks color and character; this I suppose is its own kind of triumph, though, since neither Buccellato nor Sentenac elevate the characters beyond colorless.

Lowlifes 1 Rich and partner

I’m a crime story fan, and was excited going into Lowlifes #1. I’m not sure that I’ll revisit the series. If nothing else Buccellato’s technique was compelling. Additionally those first four pages were exactly what I was looking for in the story. Unfortunately the subsequent pages, despite their attempt to create a character at the end of his rope in Rich, proved devoid of all energy. The issue was sufficient but little else. It left me want more—but in the sense of something that didn’t deliver enough to begin with.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 blank stares

Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he's published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.

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