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Ruse: Enter The Detective By Tue Sorensen
W: Mark Waid P: Butch Guice I: Mike Perkins Publisher: CrossGen Comics Price: $15.95 US
Reprinting Ruse #1-6
RUSE was a promising concept from the moment the series was launched. I only read #1 at the time, but didn't get around to picking up any more issues (my budget was, as it always is, strained), so I pre-ordered the TPB collecting the first six issues. Having read it, I am happy to report that the consistent praise this title has received is utterly deserved.
For the sake of those who have yet to experience RUSE, I won't go into the specifics of the highly enjoyable stories, except to say that this is a Sherlock Holmes inspired cocktail with just a pin's fee of superpowers and sorcery thrown in for good measure. The protagonist duo is made up of Simon Archard, a sleuth who's rational to a fault, and Emma Bishop, his attractive professional partner whose more affectionate demeanor gives her a quite different perspective. It's the old story of reason vs. emotion and consequently our heroes have their share of small personal conflicts, from bickering over common courtesy and gratitude to big debates on science vs. art. Unbeknownst to Simon, Emma wields strange (magical?) superpowers that she has agreed with some non-descript higher power not to use - which of course both intrigues and tortures the reader!
Although the base concept of the detective and his partner is interesting in itself, the superpower and sorcery elements give to the premise the edge that places it in the fantastic genre, thereby better exploiting the possibilities of the medium than a straight detective story might. Out of the six issues collected in this TPB the first four comprise one story arc, and the next two issues are excellent self-contained stories. The antagonist from the first arc, Miranda Cross, remains a mystery (she is however mentioned again in #6, which hopefully means that she'll be a recurrent villain), and what seems to start out as a Jack the Ripper riff in #5 thankfully turns into something quite different. And #6 establishes Lightbourne - the former partner (assistant?) of Simon Archard - as another villainous challenge to be reckoned with. I enjoyed this TPB immensely, and as soon as I can scrape the funds together I'm off to buy the following issues.
By today's standards this is an extraordinary product and these creators are clearly delivering the best work of their careers. Mark Waid admirably tackles the challenge of presenting the action in a near-Victorian setting, brilliantly replete with the phraseology to go with that era. And while the words are a joy to read, the pictures are even more impressive. As a reader weaned on European comics, I can fully appreciate that Butch Guice and Mike Perkins are here achieving a definite transcendence of the "assembly-line feel" that often tend to mar American monthlies. Movements and poses are comfortable and natural, as if Guice has had all the time in the world to come up with the most attractive page, panel and figure designs. The inking very successfully counters the slight stiffness that Guice's pencils have tended to have in recent years (Resurrection Man, Birds of Prey), and produces a rounder, clearer, smoother finish. The impeccable coloring by Laura DePuy beautifully completes the sequential situations. This is the kind of art that you can just sit and gawk at for hours.
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Those who are skeptical about CrossGen's use of its corporate logo - the CG sigil - in its books will be happy to know that in this entire TPB there is a total of one (1) reference to the CrossGen sigil, and it's quite inconsequential. Personally I have a good idea of what the sigil means, so I am quite delighted by its presence (and besides, the sigil-based CrossGen title THE FIRST is one of my favorite current comics), and I even hope it will eventually play an important role in RUSE as well.
If I were to venture any suggestions for improvement of what I've read of RUSE so far, it would be that the fantastic elements are not given quite enough room to unfold. True, there is an exciting aspect of suspense and fascination in keeping these elements subtle and mysterious, but in my opinion there should definitely be some revelatory developments every few issues. To have, say, ten issues of little hints and no explanations and expect people to just keep right on being intrigued - or should I say rused? - is perhaps a bit much to ask. The reason I stress this is that the fantastic elements comprise quite a bit of the reason this title interests me. I can get detective stories in any number of as well- or better written prose works, from Poe to Doyle, but here I am after innovative material; some new mix that stimulates my sense of wonder and larger-than-life imagination. So while I regret to see Waid leave this book behind after the twelth issue, I hope that new writer Scott Beatty will start increasing the spotlight on the superpowers and sorcery ingredients. Let's see where it takes us.