CIUDAD is essentially an 80’s action movie played out on 160 black-and-white comic book pages, with all the nuance (or lack of) that comes with those films. Your enjoyment of this latest graphic novel from Oni Press is entirely dependent on your predilection for the DIE HARD’s and CON AIR’s of the world. If exaggerated violence and one man armies induce eye-rolls, CIUDAD isn’t for you. But if you’re happy to indulge, there’s enough here to keep you entertained. Still, as I was reading I couldn’t help but envision this as a screenplay turned into a graphic novel as a consolation for it having not reached the big screen.
There is heckuva conglomeration of creative talent involved in CIUDAD. Ande Parks is a veteran of the comic book form, and his fellow storytellers include writer/directors Joe and Anthony Russo, while Fernando Leon Gonzalez handles the art. The plot is simple: Eva Roche, the daughter of an imprisoned mobster, has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in the real world locale of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; home to the largest illicit economy in the Western Hemisphere, where there’s a potential new threat on every corner.
Tyler Rake, mercenary for hire, is hired rescue Eva. He’s your typical action hero; a cold and merciless drone, who kills on autopilot, does the job and gets out, emotionally unattached. So of course, in CIUDAD we witness the smoothing of Rake’s rough edges as he grows closer to the girl. Standard action movie trope right? Our hero starts of cold and distant, someone we admire for his skill, but admonish for his attitude; but when the credits finally roll, or when we turn the final page, we’ve warmed to him; he’s been humanized by his experiences.
Gonzalez’s artwork, though polished, feels handicapped by the persistent grid layout of CIUDAD; almost like the creative team had too much story for the number of pages they had available to tell their story, so Gonzalez had to limit his use of wider panels. Certain action sequences lack the dynamism that would’ve truly made them pop, which has nothing to do with color (the black and white really works) and everything to do with layouts. The script is solid, and the plot contains the requisite twists and turns and treachery one expects from an action blockbuster – but there’s an air of unoriginality about things. We’ve seen this story a thousand times before, and while this is a solid reincarnation, it’s not exactly in the top echelon.
If my review sounds unduly harsh it’s because I had such high expectations for this creative team, and the result of their collaboration, CIUDAD, doesn’t reach the heights I’d hoped it would. My suggestion would be to borrow this from your local library, and meanwhile immediately purchase CAPOTE IN KANSAS, which truly showcases Ande Parks’s talent.