6.16.2008

REX by Danijel Zezelj

REX (Optimum Wound Comics): Let's harken back to the collegiate SAT world and try to conjure an analogy here... Danijel Zezelj is to comics, as soccer is to sports. In the rest of the world, they are more widely accepted and understood as brilliant examples of their respected industries. While here in America, there hasn’t been a whole lot of visibility regularly provided to them in the mainstream media and our collective pop culture diet, save for Zezelj’s fill-in on a handful of stray titles, including my personal favorite Desolation Jones (which I still don’t know if Warren Ellis plans on finishing, but I digress). In any case, thank goodness for the team at Optimum Wound Comics, a boutique online publisher that is now pushing hard to showcase more of Zezelj’s groundbreaking work in print. The opening page boldly tells us much of what we need to know about the REX world, with its urban poet graffiti tag style, filled with lyrical rhyme and raw power. It’s an interesting mix of in your face violence and quiet contemplation about man’s existential angst. “I will sleep through the winter, dream about a foreign land, when you wake me my love, we will give it a name.” As the story itself opens, there is again a beautiful shot with a thought-provoking composition of images. There’s the desert wasteland that I read as emblematic of the US being totally devoid of culture, the image of a pseudo-Mickey Mouse figure harkening back to an earlier and more innocent time, the loner dog ready to rumble, and a lone butterfly soaring above the chaos. It’s impossible not to sit and draw meaning from these deliberately placed images. Zezelj’s work makes us think about what they mean to us, and ultimately provides clues as to their meaning vis-à-vis the lead character, but never insults our intelligence by telling us what specifically to think or feel. REX slowly brings us in to these variegated layers of meaning. There’s the image of the pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes aside an old wheel gun; if this doesn’t say “outlaw” to you in the way the old Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns did, then you’re just not a fan of that type of genre fiction. I like that the narrative is largely driven by the very base motivations of revenge, guilt, and redemption. Those drivers push us through events containing brutal, visceral, disturbing sequences; it’s a steamy mix of sex and violence. It’s an evocative work; your mind can practically see the red blood spattered around through the black and white images, as evidenced by the wince-inducing scene involving the barbed wire. I like that the work also feels transformative. REX (“King” in Latin) really seeks to exert some control over his reality, which has otherwise spiraled into becoming a very out of control existence. One of the final images is the butterflies bursting forth as our REX is finally laid to rest as the king of his urban jungle, perhaps finally at peace. The images bristle along with the kinetic energy of a Kirby sequence, notice how the figures frequently pop through the panel borders, refusing to be contained. Zezelj’s work is easily as good as other crime noir authors in the mainstream, like Azzarello or Brubaker, and is deserving of wider exposure and recognition. Kudos to Optimum Wound for their pledge to develop the accessibility of this important library and deliver it to the masses which might not otherwise get to see it. Grade A.

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