By Courtney Ryan. The comic book industry feeds on our insecurities, desires, and fears. That’s not meant to be a diss; pretty much anything created by people that’s worth engaging with does this, since humans are ultimately little more than funny-looking balls packed with these traits. There are a few redeemable attributes — such as humility, compassion, and optimism — but these aren’t the attributes that push us to seek out stories about superheroes and vigilantes. Or celebrities. Though oddly enough, the comic book industry hasn’t addressed celebrity culture nearly as much as the former two.
I say it’s odd because, much like superhero stories, celebrity culture often parallels present-day societal and political issues, if only because celebrities are ultimately the creation of society’s collective super-ego. Like superheroes, celebrities promote an ideal and often act as stand-ins for their audience. Superheroes and celebrities both live extraordinary lives and are either celebrated or abhorred depending on how closely they follow their predetermined narrative. Unlike superheroes, though, celebrities are real people with deep insecurities, conflicting desires, and complicated fears.
If you read the 2016 series, Glitterbomb (compiled into Glitterbomb, Vol. 1: Red Carpet) then you are well aware that it’s nothing like a superhero comic. It’s a dark horror-revenge tale more akin to Carrie than to Superman. Still, it’s one of the few series to utilize our celebrity-obsessed culture in order to flesh out a comic book character. And with its recent continuation into a second mini-series, titled The Fame Game, Glitterbomb has now officially become a universe unto itself.
Written by Jim Zub.
Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan.
Colors by K. Michael Russell.
Letters by Marshall Dillon.
Part Two. As stated above, we’ve been here before. In Red Carpet, Farrah Durante occupied most of the narrative. A washed-up TV star relegated to the dim purgatory from which most middle-aged actresses never emerge, Durante was a vengeful, desperate woman, hell-bent on murderous destruction after encountering a dark water spirit during a moment of intense torment and despair.
In Red Carpet, author Jim Zub achieved a thrilling condemnation of ageism and a grim reflection on how the individuals that society discards and deems pariahs often are the most vulnerable to the influence of greater, darker forces that rarely have anyone’s best interests in mind. It was a fun, disturbing, and clever Hollywood noir. But if there’s one justifiable criticism of Red Carpet, it’s that it didn’t go deep enough in exploring how people will deliberately trade on their deepest fears and most agonizing trauma to achieve any modicum of notoriety. It seems, however, that this is exactly the path Zub is set on exploring in The Fame Game.
Tragedy breeds opportunity. With Farrah dead and a mysterious bloodbath left in her wake, there’s now space for a younger, less broken-in woman to take her place as the central character in Glitterbomb. Fittingly, it appears she’s also the new agent for the ocean monster’s violent dirty work.
We first met Kayden Klay as Farrah’s underpaid babysitter in Red Carpet. Now she’s the coveted eyewitness to Farrah’s homicidal delusions and has even snagged a thirsty agent to coordinate her television interviews and tabloid headlines. This shameless ploy at fame in the wake of a gruesome murder is all too real. I still cringe recalling how in 2007 the controversial and garishly fame-hungry celebrity blogger Perez Hilton excitedly thanked his readers for helping him achieve his highest click rate following Anna Nicole Smith’s drug overdose and death.
Kayden may not be Perez Hilton quite yet—she’s merely an LA teenager struck by the promise of fame, so perhaps she could be forgiven for falling prey to corrupt agents and bloodthirsty water ghouls. But it seems that Zub is content to demonstrate how complicit we all are in the cycle of exploitation, from the starry-eyed babysitter willing to forego human compassion for a chance at the limelight, to the audience who frantically follows the press and clicks through blogs while feeding off a story’s wicked sensationalism.
A stunningly grim portrait. Or, as the creature calls it, “beautiful despair.” When Glitterbomb first appeared, it was perhaps artist Djibril Morisette-Phan who grabbed the most buzz for his remarkable work as a newcomer. His strong lines and fine facial details made Farrah’s horrific transformation into the creature appear hauntingly realistic. A year later, he’s no longer a newcomer, but his etchings still impress. He doesn’t enjoy the opportunity to relish in the grotesque limbs and expressions of the monstrous creature this go-round, but he takes advantage of the chance to build personalities with tightly framed panels and nuanced expressions that subtly add context to what goes unsaid by the characters.
Colorist K. Michael Russell perfects Morisette-Phan’s line work by imbuing Kayden’s world with a sad dullness. Muted colors streak across the apartment complex, schoolyard, and even the press junket. Thanks to to the foreboding tone painted in by Russell, every page immerses us in Glitterbomb’s unsettling world. At no point does any character’s decision or motive feel “right,” but their behavior feels normal and expected, which only adds to the horrific tempo.
A fresh continuation. This being the first issue in a new arc makes it hard to determine whether The Fame Game will up the ante established in Red Carpet. My hope is that Kayden’s trajectory is a bit more “human” than Farrah’s was and that we as readers can perhaps experience the unease that comes from relating a little too closely to someone else’s abhorrent behavior.
If you didn’t read Red Carpet I don’t think you’ll have difficulty settling into The Fame Game. This issue establishes a strong tone and makes use of the media’s desperate meddling to help recall the incidents of Farrah’s story. As Kayden was never a focal point in the previous narrative, she’s presented here with fresh light and her school and home life helpfully add dimensions that were missing before. Detective Rahal, who was perhaps the only authority with a clue about Farrah, appears here again, confirming that his will probably be the longest arc in the entire series.
I’m hopeful that Glitterbomb: The Fame Game will build on the series’ success but add at least a few unexpected twists to its formula. Celebrity obsession and its many offenses provide ample room to explore the horrors and contradictions housed in modern society. For his part, Zub seems to be painting this tale with large brushstrokes, though I look forward to discovering where his characters — and we, the readers — end up amid the finer details.
7 out of 10