Say what you will, but “Charlatan Ball” is a very fun comic. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It begins with another metafictional reference, but even that is goofy and fluffy. Unlike the appearance of Joe Casey and Ashley Wood in “Automatic Kafka,” which did have moments of humor but was serious overall, Casey and Andy Suriano here are comic characters in their own right. The over-the-top art features exaggerated expressions, strange body dimensions and an utter disregard for the laws of physics.
But, to what point? Is it just absurd fun or is there more here? The rest of the issue unfolds that way, walking the line between fun and pointless. Casey’s usual comedic dialogue is here, but where’s the wit that comes along with it? As Raymond Chandler wrote, “Flip dialogue is not wit.”
The plot is ridiculous, as human stage magician Chuck Amok trains for a qualifying match for a tournament featuring real magical beings. Despite attempted protests that he doesn’t know real magic, he’s trained by a bug-like Dr. Strange lookalike and fights against a monstrous beast. It’s all very light and moves along with speed, but it’s also rather forgettable, and lacks substance.
Take Chuck Amok; it’s been six issues and what do we really know about him? He’s a crappy stage magician over his head. And... uh... hmm... I... um... his rabbit was turned into a giant, foul-mouthed humanoid rabbit? He’s a cipher still, so there’s little to latch onto. The adventures may have entertaining elements, but I couldn’t care less if Chuck lives or dies, because why should I?
It isn’t all bad, because taken by itself, this issue is entertaining and Chuck’s predicament is engaging. You feel for this loser in over his head merely because he’s facing a giant monster with glowing pink hands that can crush him. And Casey does write the odd line worth a chuckle, like describing Thunk, the magical beast Chuck fights: “He eats aggression! He craps punishment!”
Suriano’s art has really grown on me over the first six issue of “Charlatan Ball.” Take a look at CBR’s preview pages and see how energetic it is. Thick lines, fluid movement, dynamic points of view. He uses seemingly basic and boring page layouts, but skews them a little to give a slightly off-kilter feel. He’s helped a lot by colorist Marc Letzmann with bright colors that work to bring key elements of each panel into focus. It’s not realistic, but neither is the book. It’s a very simple look that works really well.
This issue finished the first season of “Charlatan Ball,” so who knows when the next issue will come out — but Casey promises it will. Hopefully, when it does, things will tighten up a bit and Casey will find a way to inject a little wit and characterization into the fun.