Spoiler warning: This review covers the second issue of CHUM and contains some spoilers.
Story by Sami Kivela and Ryan K Lindsay
Writer: Ryan K Lindsay
Artist: Sami Kivela
Variant Cover: Joe Mulvey
Colorist: Mark Dale
CHUM # 2 explores murky moral depths and the siren who lurks within them. In this case, the siren is a flesh-and-blood woman and she’s more than just an embodiment of male paranoia.
Pop culture, especially comic books, often displays a great fear of sexually independent women. A woman with sexual autonomy is frequently depicted as a demon or damaged. Summer, the protagonist of CHUM, is neither.
She is someone who longs to be free. In a darkly humorous conversation with her sister, Summer even states that “I am what I am, never what they think I am.”
Despite her cruel streak and ruthless nature, she’s developed into an oddly sympathetic protagonist. You find yourself wanting her to get away with her growing list of crimes.
Summer wants things and that in itself is an attractive quality. She’s also unapologetically driven on an island of men who come across as listless and passive even when they take action.
The male cast – Penny, Standard and Gus – are all reactive. None of them seem to be catalysts – they simply react to situations. Summer is the only character who shows real initiative.
This makes her deeply appealing. Yes, she’s selfish, ruthless and at times, almost frightening in her single-minded desire to escape the island. But there is something admirable about the lengths to which she’s prepared to go to fulfill her goals.
In contrast, her ex-husband, island lawman Standard, seems dull and predictable. His moralizing comes across as insincere. He shows little genuine empathy for anyone except Summer and you get the feeling that even when he takes the moral high ground, he’s playing a role that no longer holds any meaning for him.
He’s trapped on more than the island – he’s trapped as a cliché – that of the one good man in den of thieves. His refusal to be swayed by Summer’s siren song is both expected and somewhat irritating. Many readers might feel a guilty twinge of pleasure when he pays for refusing to kneel before the goddess.
For like the Sin City series, CHUM explores the theme of a hungry goddess and her often luckless consorts. All the male characters are or have been Summer’s consorts at one time or another. In this issue, two of them pay a high price for their involvement with her.
Superficially, they are punished for trying to thwart her plans but it goes deeper than that. In certain mythologies, the Mother Goddess had numerous consorts, many of whom ended up sacrificed as part of the cycle of life. Even though Summer is developing into a fascinating, well-rounded character, she has also taken on an almost mythical role in this tragic tale. What happens to her consorts is to be expected.
In some Noir work, there’s a tendency to punish females who represent this aspect of womanhood. For example, in Frank Miller’s A Dame To Kill For, the femme fatale is blatantly described as a goddess by another character. She is shown as a woman of almost irresistible charms and power only to later be killed by the story’s male protagonist. There’s a sense that she needs to be punished for being too ruthless and too powerful.
One can only hope that the same clichéd fate isn’t visited on Summer. Ryan K Lindsay has managed to create a character who is too well-rounded to be called a femme fatale – she is the female Noir antihero we’ve all been waiting for. If the mini-series is to end with her destruction, I hope it will be at her own hands rather than anyone else’s.
Sami Kivela’s art is a joy to behold. Clean, bold linework, enhanced by Mark Dale’s palette, helps breathe life into Ryan K Lindsay’s script. Kivela’s range of expressions give the characters an admirable depth and ambiguity. I was particularly impressed by his depiction of a sex scene. By framing the scene through doorways and windows, he forces us into the uncomfortable role of voyeur. It’s a clever way of exploring the male gaze.
Lindsay is emerging as one of my favorite modern comic book scribes. His approach to the comic book medium is an interesting one. His plots and stories are often simply laid out with a direct progression of events. In the hands of a less capable writer, this could fail to engage increasingly jaded comic book readers. But Lindsay uses his plots as a vehicle for superb character interaction and development. His characters are always engrossing. Here he’s taken a group of Noir archetypes and imbued them with their own dreams, failures and disappointments.
CHUM is only a crime yarn on the surface – go deeper and you see that it’s all about different personalities tearing each other apart in a feeding frenzy. Only one of them can achieve their final goal. The reader is left guessing as to who this will be.