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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A review a day: 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man


via Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources by Greg Burgas on 9/27/09

There's a hole in the cover! How keen!

A few years ago, Matt Kindt wrote and drew Super Spy, which was the best graphic novel of the year (in my opinion, of course - take that as you want). Since then I've been waiting to see what he does next, and now it's here: 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man, which is published by Dark Horse and costs $19.95. Can it match the excellence of its predecessor? Can it????

Well, not quite, but it's darned close. In some ways, it's better than Super Spy, and my opinion might be just because Super Spy was so inventive and exciting that 3 Story, which is a bit more conventional in its storytelling, seems a tiny step down. Really, however, I oughtn't compare the two, because I loved 3 Story, and if the love is a little bit less than what I have for Super Spy, it's still an excellent graphic novel.

The title of the book not only refers to the main character's size - he's a giant, after all - but the fact that Kindt tells three different stories about the main character from the point of view of three important women in his life. The main character is named Craig Pressgang (the last name is never explained, although I suppose the way Craig finds his employment is somewhat shady), and throughout the book, he never stops growing. The first story is told by his mother, whose husband is killed in World War II and is left to raise Craig alone. The second story is told by his wife, Jo, who meets him in college and stays with him as he continues to grow, becomes a worldwide celebrity, and is recruited by the CIA. The third story is told by his daughter, Iris, who is searching for him after he disappears into the wild.

Kindt does his usual fantastic job and structuring the story - basically, it's a chronological tale, but some events remain unexplained until later, when they fit into the grand narrative. Kindt does this very well, but that's not really important in the grand scheme of things. What's important is that this is a wonderful look at alienation, as Craig simply doesn't fit in anywhere in society. The metaphor is a tad bit heavy-handed, but that's a minor complaint. Kindt is really looking at how Craig's growth affects the women, and he does this wonderfully. Craig's mother, Marge, is actually somewhat unsympathetic even as Kindt makes her story tragic. It's an interesting contrast, because we want to feel bad for Marge - her husband, after all, was killed in the war, leaving her a single mother. Her son grows too fast for her to even have a normal relationship with him, and she's left alone once again, desperate for something real in her life. She never seems to make an effort to reach out to Craig, instead pining away for Butchy, her husband. Then, when he outgrows her (both literally and figuratively), she acts like a petulant child instead of accepting it. It's a very interesting way to present the relationship, because Kindt shows that he's never going to get too far into Craig's head - we learn very little about him from him. The closest we get is in his conversations with Jo in the second story and a brief recorded journal that Jo listens to. In Marge's tale, Craig is hardly a presence at all - Kindt rarely even shows him in toto, as he doesn't fit into the panels (a function of his height, of course, but Kindt also does it to show how he's moving beyond his life even as a child). Marge is a tragic figure because of what has happened to her, of course, but also because she never considers that the other people in her life might be suffering more than she is - Butchy suffered, of course, because he was killed, but Craig suffered far more, and Marge can't see that.

Jo's story is also a sad one, for different reasons. She falls in love with Craig in college, before he has grown too tall. After they get married, Craig continues to grow, and eventually he grows too tall to have a relationship with her and their daughter. This is a devastating chapter, as Kindt does a marvelous job showing how isolated Craig would become as he grows. He addresses the physiological problems of Craig, as well - not just how he'll support himself as he grows (as his bones would crack), but the issues with, say, his poor eyesight (how will they make a prescription strong enough for him?). Craig and Jo's relationship is doomed from the start, and it's interesting how Kindt explores it. Jo is an architect, and she starts to create dioramas expressing her sadness with her life. Craig is also an artist, and he becomes frustrated by the kitsch value of his art. As they fall apart, Jo's dioramas become more and more twisted, and she realizes that Craig is no longer part of her life - she can't even communicate with him except by writing on a chalkboard, because he's too loud for her and she's too quiet for him. It's an amazing look at the disintegration of a relationship, not because of a loss of love, but because one person becomes so apart from society that even the love of a woman can't bring him back.

Kindt wraps up his comic with Iris, Craig's daughter, searching for him as part of a book she's writing about him. It's somewhat of a summation of his life in general, as Iris discovers secrets about his work for the CIA (for which he was just a courier - his size would never allow him to be an actual spy) and why he stopped working there, and she tracks him across the planet, trying to understand what has happened to her father. The final pages are beautiful and poignant, as Kindt explains why he structured the book the way he did (through Iris, of course, who comes to the realization). Iris may not get the answers she's looking for, but she does get the story of her father, and that's what she wants.

Kindt not only tells a wonderful story, the way he lays out the book is amazing as well. Kindt has a very interesting style, as he uses deliberate distortions of characters to make visual points and puns, and he does it well in this book. I can't decide if the one problem I have with his art is deliberate or not: Craig's size varies even as he ought to be constantly getting bigger, and it's somewhat strange. Occasionally he looks 20 feet tall, while other times he seems to shrink even though the time is chronologically later in his life than the previous time. It's not that big of a deal, but it's a bit strange, especially if it's not conscious on Kindt's part. But the design of the book, overall, is wonderful. In Marge's story, he uses flashbacks to show her and Butchy together, but the dialogue is just her reminiscing about how she can't remember enough about the specifics of the courtship. Jo's architecture comes into play, too, as she designs a house for them to live in that will accommodate Craig, but Kindt also messes with our perceptions, as often Jo is creating tiny versions of landscapes from her life, so she becomes the giant in those situations just as Craig is a giant in "real life." Kindt also places newspaper clippings and other media into the book, and some of them read like regular press releases or advertisements (Craig is a pitchman for many products) while others form snippets of dialogue and narrative between Jo and Craig. It's an interesting device, and like Marge's recollections in the first story, helps keep the book visually interesting when the narrative becomes just Jo and Craig chatting, which might get boring. Kindt is marvelous at this kind of storytelling. The final chapter is a visual feast, as Iris narrates sparingly but follows every lead about her father, from the Bigfoot-like photograph of him in Las Vegas to the lake-like footprints he leaves scattered across the landscape. Iris is chasing a ghost, and it ties back into the isolation Craig feels - his traces are everywhere, but he himself is gone. Everyone remembers the Giant Man, but nobody really knew him, even those closest to him. How could they?

With just a few graphic novels under his belt (this is only the third full-length book he's written and drawn), Kindt has become a geniune top-shelf creator, and I'm anxious to see his next work (he's working on a graphic novel for Vertigo, I know that much). He has become a better writer (I might like Super Spy more, but this is definitely a more thoughtful work) and his pencil work continues to shine while his design skills improve. There's more going on in 3 Story than even I covered in this review - Craig grows up in the Fifties and Sixties, so the idea of social unrest is present throughout, mirroring his alienation from society - and it's the kind of book that you can read again and again and discover a new layer of meaning (I've read it twice already). It's a wonderful comic book, and I think you should put down that video game console and go get this right now! Well, I guess you can finish that game. But then get on it!

Tomorrow at noon: The last review a day? Could it be????

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