REVIEW: “Buzzkill” #4

(Dark Horse Comics, 2013)

Review by Shawn Warner

Written by Donny Cates & Mark Reznicek
Artwork by Geoff Shaw
Color Artwork by Lauren Affe

The final issue of Buzzkill is an emotional gauntlet full of gut-level honesty that paints a uniquely authentic portrait of addiction complete with the contrasting moments of cacophonous chaos and the quietude of cathartic silence. Co-writers Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek have created the quintessential flawed hero in Francis. He wants to do the right thing but he is so conflicted on so many levels, due in large part to his addiction and the addictive nature of his personality, that the “right thing” has become increasingly ambiguous. Francis is a living metaphor for those of us who have struggled with addiction of any kind. He embodies the indecision and inner-conflict that conspire to arrest our better judgment, leaving us confused, unable to identify the “right thing” let alone act on it to bring about positive resolution when faced with any of life’s countless problems. Cates and Reznicek cleverly write Francis as a hero who derives his power from mind and mood altering substances in juxtaposition to reality where these substances render the user powerless. It is in his inability or perceived inability to be powerful without using these substances that is the crux of Francis’ spiritual dilemma.

At the core of this narrative is the story of a father and son in much the same way that Star Wars is a father and son tale, as dysfunctional as it may be. Francis’ father, Courtland is a big, mean bastard. He is abusive mentally, physically and perhaps most detrimental of all his cruelty was the emotional abuse suffered by Francis. Courtland instilled a villainous outlook in his son at a very young age. It was only through some inherent goodness, perhaps from his mother, that he is able to overcome his father’s malevolent influence. Francis’ life has been a journey of self-discovery, self-loathing, self-medicating and finally recovery.

Buzzkill is a very poignant and brutally honest account of redemptive suffering. Cates’ dialogue is unpretentious yet extremely effective and genuine. His script is tempered with just enough humor to keep the weight of the serious subject matter from becoming oppressive. This is a hopeful conclusion albeit not in the conventional sense, Francis’ final decision though tragic is the very definition of heroic, it is a selfless act done for the good of others. In the words of the ultimate hero, Jesus Christ, “There is no greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I couldn’t sum it up any better than that.

Geoff Shaw’s art matches the emotional tone of this narrative beat for beat. I mentioned in my review of Buzzkill #1 that Shaw’s style brought to mind the raw intense work of Sean Murphy and never more so than in this last issue. His frantic line work and kinetic sense of movement are the perfect complements to Cates and Reznicek’s fever pitch pace. Shaw masterfully arranges the action sequences to convey optimum dynamism. His expert use of facial expression speaks volumes of the anguish and torment endured by these characters. Shaw’s work is haunting and passionate with a tremendous sense of urgency and tumultuous tonal quality. His character design is spot on whether it is the quirky Doctor Strange on acid, the hulking sinister Courtland or any of the other eccentric heroes and villains that populate this wonderfully original universe Shaw delivers a memorable character. In the short span of four issues Shaw has become one of my favorite new artists. I believe that we are going to see some impressive things from this guy, in fact those of us who have read Buzzkill already have.

The final page of this issue feels like the eerie calm after a destructive tornado has leveled a trailer park, the debris has settled but only seconds before the sky was full of kitchen chairs and screen doors. It is the perfect epitaph to Francis’ gloriously altruistic sacrifice. Buzzkill is one of the best mini-series of 2013, I hope that when it is collected into a trade that it acquires the vast readership it deserves. If you missed the single issues when they came out please pick up the trade and get ready to be blown away. Buzzkill delivers on every level. (5/5) Don’t miss the magic. So until next year, see you at the comic book store.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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