Fishtown (IDW Publishing)

fishtown-header.jpgKevin Colden plumbs the mind of teenage killers in this true life tale of murder.

 

 

118 pgs. FC; $19.99

(W / A: Kevin Colden)

 

Kevin Colden’s Fishtown is based on the true story of group of three guys and a girl who lured a peer to a wooded area and killed him with a brick, an axe, a hammer, and a rock. Ostensibly, they did it for the victim’s cash, to fund their low-budget drug abuse, but, as Colden impressionistically tells the tale, they had a certain morbid fascination with seeing if they could carry out a murder, too.

Click for a larger image.As in the classic Crispin Glover film The River’s Edge, we meet a group of teen burnouts moving in depressing circles. Angelica passes out after smoking heroin in a bathroom stall at school. She’s also a "cutter" who tries to purge unwanted feelings by slicing at her legs with a razor blade, and she’s highly accomplished at trading sex for drugs. Her circle of friends is a tidy group of drug dealers and abusers, a guy who gets slapped around by his uncle (an after-school special cliché, really), and various other troubled types.

Angelica is the femme fatale here—it’s her idea not just to rob an acquaintance on payday, but to silence him. She lures him to a secluded area, and starts to take off her clothes. Three killers emerge from the woods behind him. The murder scene is terrifically bloody (for a second I wondered if I was reading an Avatar book!).

As we know, the kids were caught easily and locked away in prison. So why delve into this? Not just for the lurid sex and drugs.

No, Colden is doing the same thing Truman Capote did with In Cold Blood, and more to the point, what Bret Easton Ellis did in Less Than Zero. He wants to plumb the mind of a killer, specifically, a teenage killer who views murder as more or less an interesting night out, fun with the gang. He’s reaching to comprehend the un-comprehendible: how can murder be a way to get your kicks? And, arguably, to look at this sort of amorality as a symptom of modern life. This is what you get, ultimately, with desensitization.

I wanted to be on board for all the coldness and the dark mystery, but it didn’t click for me. I was left wondering about the relationship between the killers and their victim. One gets the sense he had a sort of emotional vulnerability that the other kids pounced on, but that’s not made very clear.

The big question is the killers’ remorselessness. Angelica literally laughs for the news cameras while being led to trial. She’s a monster, albeit with conflicted moments. For instance, at one point she decides to probe her own evil further still by knocking on the door of the mother of the boy she’s just killed, to offer to help her look for her missing son. As the drive around together, Angelica absorbs the phenomenon of a mother’s concern. Afterward, the thoroughly lost druggie bends over and vomits on the street. That’s guilt, and the shot of emotion in the middle of the amorality piques the reader’s interest. More resonant moments like this, that begin to penetrate the mystery of her coldness, would have been welcome.

Presumably, we are supposed to intuit it is the bad parenting, drug abuse, teenage anomie, and so on that led to this brutally rendered murder. Or maybe it’s just nature, kicking out the occasional sociopath and followers. Whatever the case, the tale is ultimately as mysterious as the murder. Random and sick, but not rich in the telling. I wanted to feel the queasy alienation of life among guilt-free teen murderers, but it never arrived.

The art has its moments—particularly in Colden’s renderings of buildings and street scenes—but the characters’ facial expressions leave something to be desired. They’re just not on-point, lacking a realism that might pull the reader more deeply into the book. The color choice, submarine-blue and white with yellow highlights, is distracting, unsuccessfully garish. The intrusions of red, a fourth color that starts to show up with disturbing frequency to show bloodstains, can be chilling, though.

Fishtown was a weekly web comic before being collected into this hardcover. It may have worked better as a jarring mystery with weekly cliffhangers and other fun quirks of a serial than it does here.

Or, you may get into its sex, drugs, and violence as a lurid journey, just not, in the end, a particularly disturbing or philosophical one. | Byron Kerman

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