After a page titled “What is jazz?” which I hope is a running feature, but is this time answered by a quote from Sid Caesar, the first image in Jazz Legend #1 is an instrument case surrounded by garbage bags. To the side are a few, crushed up beer cans, and there’s a leg telling us somebody else is looking over this scene, too.
So immediately you’re thinking something bad has happened to the Jazz Legend. Or maybe this is a story that’s starts at the end and flips back.
We don’t know his name yet, but Martin appears on the next page, so at least the Jazz Legend’s alive. He’s snoring, and it’s the cutest spelling for snoring I’ve ever seen: “zzznooore.” Cristian Docolomansky inks and letters this issue and the snore, and an out of tune trumpet blowing on the next page, are great examples of visualizing sound.
The leg turns out to belong to a little boy, Jamal, who’s curious, and Martin opens one eye. Artist Vasco Duarte puts Martin’s eye in extreme close-up and there’s some evil eyebrow arching going on. You’re worried the lad’s about to hear a piece of Martin’s mind.
Except turn to the next page, and Martin’s fine with the boy playing his horn. Except (again), Jamal’s dad isn’t. He storms onto the scene and that’s the end of my close read of Jazz Legend #1.
The reason I wanted to go over those first few pages in such detail is to get across how many emotional turns this issue takes in three pages. When your expectations are subverted that often, that early, it makes you sit up and take notice (and I can honestly say none of these turns come close to the Big one that drops towards the end of the issue). It also gives you a complicated impression of Martin, who we meet being awfully sweet with Jamal, but who later treats women horribly and suffers from alcohol and substance abuse addictions.
Written by JC Lacek, Martin is the Jazz Legend of the title but there’s another important character we meet whose name is Benjamin Way. A writer in Sam Spade’s image, Way has a way with words alright (his theory for creation involves a constipated toddler) and typewriter keys that have never looked more murderous hitting a page. A bunch of people have gone missing in Motocity, where this story is set, and Way lives across the street from the jazz club where Martin works. Why these two cross paths you’ll have to read on to find out but if you’re a fan of the surreal cover art, then the Big turn I mentioned should go over nicely.
There’s a puffy texture to the art that I’m not completely sold on – it can make faces pop but other times gives a fuzzy feel to Patrick Gama’s colors (which, shade-wise, are always on point). The red lights of the club and motel sign mix with the night sky to give the outdoors a purple hue. There’s a noir tale broiling in Motocity and, like jazz, it’s not restricted to reality’s rules. That’s the best part.
If the idea of a surreal noir that regularly surprises pleases, Jazz Legend #1 comes out May 30th from Scout Comics.