Online Edition: Summer 2003

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Ruse: The Silent Partner

Mark Waid, Scott Beatty, Butch Guice, Mark Perkins, Laura DePuy, et al.

CrossGen Comics ($15.95)

by Rudi Dornemann

The founders of CrossGen Comics entered the comics marketplace with the goal of appealing to an audience beyond superhero fans and habitual comics specialty shop patrons, and over the past few years it's been interesting to watch their plan unfold. Their steadily growing roster of titles has eschewed superheroes, but hasn't shied away from other recognizable genres--horror, space opera, medieval fantasy, samurai adventure, mystery. They've made sure that readers can find earlier chapters of ongoing titles, especially through well-timed collected editions. And they've cultivated a female audience by focusing several of their storylines on women who aren't drawn in skimpy costumes. Given the company's business savvy in producing, packaging, and marketing the comics that advance their strategy, the question remains--how good are the comics themselves?

Looking at Ruse--the CrossGen title with perhaps the broadest appeal--it would seem like they're on the right track. While not as edgy as many small-press and independent comics, Ruse is certainly more sophisticated than most superhero books, and offers a consistently entertaining read. In pitching their work to a non-comics audience, Ruse's creators and publishers haven't forgotten how much of the pleasure of comics lies in their serial nature, the gradual development of character and story, and the simple fun of anticipation.

Ruse's main character--hyper-logical, largely emotionless detective Simon Archard--would seem to signal that Ruse is a Sherlock Holmes knock-off. This is, however, only the first of many stock items that writers Mark Waid and Scott Beatty use to set up our expectations only to tweak them. Filling the Watsonian niche of sidekick/narrator is Emma Bishop, who is both more capable and less appreciated than Holmes's associate. The crisply-written banter between Simon and Emma propels the comic from panel to panel through some fairly tricky plots.

A large part of the fun of Ruse is the sleight of hand with which familiar tropes emerge only to develop in unexpected directions. The second Ruse collection, The Silent Partner, leads off with a thorough rearrangement of the typical Middle-European-village-menaced-by-vampires scenario. There's also a brief bit concerning an assassination attempt by agents of the League of Aggrieved Manservants--the unstated joke being that Archard has solved one too many cases in which "the butler did it."

Ruse is at its most entertaining when it's least on-task; The Silent Partner's opening two chapter digression and the third chapter's self-contained mystery deliver more zing than the sequence of showdowns in its concluding three chapters. Those three chapters, however, are full of character development, backstory revelations, and climactic showdowns--all of which deepen the world of the characters and prime the reader to pick up the next Ruse collection.

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Summer 2003 Table of Contents