Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dart Adams presents Read A Book: Cell Block Z

Graphic novels are one of my favorite mediums and the Hachete Book Group is currently making a line of graphic novels for several Wu Tang Clan members. The first book was "Method Man" and "Cell Block Z" features a concept by Ghostface Killah but is written by the duo Shauna Garr and Marlon Chapman. The art was handled by Chris Walker and done with what looks like a charcoal pencil. In any event, here's my take on Ghostface's Killah's graphic novel "Cell Block Z"

The graphic novel is set in a future where the United States is ravaged by terrorism (why, I don't know) and the youth of America become swept up in the surge of violence and chaos. The generation gap is widening and the citizens live in a constant stare of fear and desperation. They don't even trust their own government (once again, no elaborations on why). A former heavyweight boxing contender dedicates his life to keeping young people from taking up arms in the streets and joining the lawless mobs are falling in with terrorist cells. His name is Cole Dennis and he's about to be framed for a crime he didn't even commit.

Cole is tried and found guilty for robbing a federal bank and killing a security officer even though he was innocent. He's then shipped off to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Caucasus Federal Penitentiary (ha!), the future version of Alcatraz. While he's there, Cole Dennis is forced time and again to have to fight someone. All he wants to do is keep to himself, stay out of trouble, research his case and get a lawyer to work on a retrial. Caucasus is a maximum security prison in the future where there are no programs & no groups other than prison gangs and the mysterious Fight Program. Eventually, Cole is forced into using his fists again.

The back story is pretty thin but you will be engrossed once the protagonist gets locked up and you wonder how he becomes the one called Ghostface Killah or what is exactly going on with the Fight Program and what is the secret behind Cell Block Z. Unfortunately, the story is on the predictable side and the art is dark, angular and blocky so the action is kinda tough to follow. The supporting characters were pretty well written/scripted and you are genuinely interested in seeing how everything pans out. Will Cole fight and earn his freedom? Will he uncover the secrets of Caucusus Federal Penitentiary and escape the Hell On Earth that his government has confined him too? If so, how?

I really wish that there was more of a back story and the character of Dennis Cole had more depth. It seemed at times that supporting characters such as Caucasus correctional Officer Johnson had as much of a role in "Cell Block Z" as the protagonist himself. Is the United States at war? Is the government corrupt? Why? Who's in office? It's been made clear that the United States is mired in problems but without addressing in it any way in the Age Of Obama (or explaining what the world climate was or what year it's supposed to be (?)) things get a little problematic. The government has people in it committed to stemming the rise of terrorism but the cause is never really addressed. I really think the ball got dropped there because in order to suspend belief you need to have a better grasp of what exactly is Cole facing here (in prison) vs. the overall climate in the outside world?

In any event, I think you should definitely check out "Cell Block Z" although I think that the story & art of the previous book "Method Man" was more substantial as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Hopefully, the next graphic novel in this series will keep in mind that the story is the thing that keeps the reader engrossed and plot holes make the narrative that less enjoyable thus making sub par art even more of a glaring issue. Maybe in the future I'll get to write one of these jawns and help fix those problems, who knows?


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