Monday, October 3, 2011

Proposition Player

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Paul Guinan, Ron Randall, and Bill Willingham

I totally understand why I passed over this Vertigo mini-series when it was first published in 1999 - it had John Bolton covers, and I was working hard at cutting back on my comics intake then.  Picking it up now, I see that I'd missed out on a fun, if inessential, little mini-series.

The book is set in Las Vegas, specifically at the Thunder Road Casino, which is a B- or C-list establishment.  Our hero, such as he is, is Joey Martin.  Joey works at Thunder Road as a Proposition Player, which means he fills empty seats at poker tables, stirring up some action, and then bowing out when there is enough demand at a table.  Joey's a creep.  He is rude to the regulars, and treats his girlfriend Lacy like garbage.  He doesn't really have friends, and is only concerned with building his stake, so he can move into the big time one day.

One night, when Joey is drinking with some of his co-workers, he ends up offering to buy one of his companion's soul for the price of a beer.  Everyone thinks this is a great joke, since Joey never buys, and soon some thirty-odd people have sold their souls away.  It all seems like a big joke, until an agent of Heaven shows up looking to negotiate for the souls, and to shut down what he sees as Joey's incursion into their territory.  It isn't long before someone working for the other side comes calling as well, and Joey and his circle find themselves in uncharted territory.

Like I said before, the book is a lot of fun.  It questions the power base of religions, and shows how Christianity was able to usurp the primacy of other religions through the acquisition of assets; Joey has created a religion for a capitalistic, ironic age, complete with a great Chaos Monkey (who on one of the covers reprinted within looks a lot like Detective Chimp, a great character Willingham recently resurrected).  The commentary is good, and never overshadows the sitcom-like presentation of the plot.

Willingham's writing here is much closer to Jack of Fables than anything else he's done, and I found it curious that he drew the first handful of pages before handing the book over to Paul Guinan and Ron Randall.  The book looks pretty strange, although that's mostly because of the character of Bill, Heaven's agent.  He's overly over-sized, in a way that makes Marvel's character Strong Guy look like a model of proportionality.  I don't know why they decided to draw him like this, but I found he ruined just about every page he's on.

The book is perhaps a little predictable (the guys from Heaven are much more vicious than the hot chick from Hell, for example), but this is a fun read.

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