Billed as a gritty, fast-paced crime-thriller, Blue Estate is a story that’s brave enough to not take itself too seriously.
The plot mainly centers around aging B-movie action star Bruce Maddox and his starlet-turned-alcoholic wife Rachel. Whether it’s that Bruce spends most of his time engaging in homoerotic acts with his bodyguard or that Rachel is very quickly falling for her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, their marriage is gasping its last breath. The only thing keeping their relationship alive is Bruce’s controlling nature and Rachel’s fear that Bruce would rather kill her than let her leave.
A separate, somewhat smaller storyline looks at Billy, a cowardly real estate agent who just happens to be Rachel’s no-account brother. Billy’s only client is Tony Luciano, son of the biggest Italian mob boss in all of L.A. Tony runs the family strip joint and dreams of building a “business” of his own, hoping to use Billy’s house flipping scheme to make some quick cash and finally escape from under the heavy thumb of his dad.
Other characters include Alyosha “The Lion,” a drug dealer so strung out on his own product he can’t realize how cluelessly arrogant he is, and Roy Devine, Jr, the pudgy, not-too-bright son of the successful L.A. vice detective Roy Devine. Junior dreams of becoming the best private detective in the city and provides much of the narration of the story. His voice spins everything into a noir-ish tone that Junior thinks comes off as Sam Spade tough, but really points to how horrible a detective he truly is.
Needless to say, with all these intersecting plots, there’s a lot happening here. And while plot-maestro Viktor Kalvachev does a good job keeping it fast-paced with plenty of humor and violence, it does suffer a bit from a lack of a central character. Between Junior’s goofy narration and his being hired by Bruce at the end of volume one, all signs point to Junior being the hero, so to speak, for the overall tale. But that’s little more than guesswork, because, by the end of the first volume, so much is happening that you aren’t sure about the overall point of the series. It gets a bit more controlled in volume two as the different pieces start to bleed into each other, both figuratively and literally. But other elements like Russian crime bosses and a race horse bearing the same name as the title of the book are dropped in to further complicate the story.
One aspect works really hard, though, to hold everything together and that’s the humor. Whether it’s the punchy, Guy Ritchie-esque dialogue penned by co-writer Andrew Osborne, the slightly off-kilter characters, or the almost goofy pop-culture references filling this gritty version of Hollywood, the humor goes a long way to cement things tonally, so the different pieces at least feel like they all take place in the same world at the same time.
Kalvachev’s own website boasts the artwork of Blue Estate as a series of “jam-pieces” done by several different artists. Ranging from Kalvachev’s own naturalistic style (he also did the fantastically pulpy covers) to the very sketchy, almost nightmarish visuals of Toby Cypress, the books feature the wide range of styles of eight different pencillers. This ambitious approach works best when the artist changes with the scene or point of view, giving us visual clues that something different is going on. But at other points it happens on the same page and even in the same panel, often working as a detriment when different interpretations of the same character or setting can make readers pause to figure out, once again, who’s who and what’s what. One page in volume 2, for example, shows Rachel looking so different from panel to panel it would be easy to think her a different character in each one.
With bloody violence and in your face depictions of drug use and prostitution, this title is clearly not for younger readers. But these very same details make it an easy sell to big fans of other crime comics like Ed Brubaker’s Criminal or Greg Rucka’s Stumptown. While the bumpy plotting keeps it from working on the same level as those landmark titles, the dark humor in Blue Estate manages to keep this from feeling like a watered-down version of a better book.
Blue Estate, vol. 1-2
by Viktor Kalvachev and Andrew Osborne
Art by Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Tomm Coker, Viktor Kalvachev, Robert Valley, Paul Maybury, Peter Nguyen, Andrew Robinson, and Marley Zarcone
Volume 1 ISBN: 978160706429
Volume 2 ISBN: 9781607064947
Image Comics, 2011-2012
Publisher Age Rating: Adults