King of Nowhere (#1 – 5) – W. Maxwell Prince

3 out of 5

I hemmed; I hawed. I kind of hated the book for an issue or so, but its final page gave me pause to think back through it… and I was admittedly all in for the first three issues, and blown away by Tyler Jenkins’ and Hilary Jenkins’ art and colors throughout…

Writer W. Maxwell Prince has shot up in notability with his experimental Ice Cream Man series, but he’d been on an interesting and weird trajectory prior to that. ICM urged his oblique storytelling style to an extreme, though, leading to what’s become a series of thematically connected one-shots. In interviews regarding King Of Nowhere, his other series that kicked off during Ice Cream Man, he mentioned, essentially, having to get back into the swing of narrative serialization. And not to put too fine a point on it: but it shows. KoN works best when it isn’t a story, when it’s just a clutter of characters: normal guy Denis wake up in the mutated town of “Nowhere,” with fish people and bird people and tree people and a one-eyed sheriff and talking iguanas, and after accepting he wasn’t having another drug- or alcohol- induced vision, he seems to settle down into a life there. Tyler Jenkins’ brilliantly nervy is both grounded and let loose by Hilary Jenkins’ mix of splashed water colors and thick, crayon-esque accents, supporting the surreality, as details of Denis’ life before Nowhere trickle in, and an invading force – represented by a dude with a nailgun – heads to town, leaving bodies in wake while he tracks down our “normal guy.”

And then there’s an explanation.

What had been a pleasantly wandering tale that seemed to be plucking at Denis’ fears of responsibility – which, with the way Prince writes, are easily mapped to our own fears – suddenly turns in to a dumbly forced conspiracy story, where the normal guy learns a moral and turns his life around and yadda yadda. As soon as the first mention of this drops, the momentum of the story falls absolutely flat, and what seemed like purposeful shells of characters to keep them as representational counterpoints to our lead are now just shells of characters.

The last page, though… And here’s where being able to read something in context of a creator’s other works is helpful, because that last page gives me pause, and Prince has proven himself certainly capable of complex enough stories to give that pause credence, though regardless, the “risk” of the generic beats leading up to that isn’t offset enough by that pause to bump up the rating.