Wednesday, February 15, 2017

COMIC REVIEW: The Blacklist: The Gambler (No. 148)

The Blacklist: The Gambler (No. 148)
Writer: Nicole Phillips
Artist: Beni Lobel
Publisher: Titan Comics
Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Media Tie-In

PG-13 for action/violence, moderate language
Recommend to fans of The Blacklist.

The Gambler. Collecting together the first five issue story arc of the comic and introducing a brand new villain, created exclusively for the comic by the writers of the TV show.
Someone is targeting the FBI with a series of planned attacks including framing them for the murder of a leading political activist. Red at first suspects that a dangerous, media-manipulating Blacklister known as the Lobbyist is responsible, but comes to realise that there is someone far more sinister and deadly behind the scenes manipulating events for his own nefarious purposes... via Goodreads

The Review
First off, Titan Comics is freaking AMAZING, you guys. The artwork here is incredible. Lobel has obviously taken great pains to capture the exact features of the characters and the effect is absolutely breathtaking. So many of their most recognizable expressions are perfectly captured on the ink and page!

But this isn't the first time Titan has done such an amazing job. They have several different tie-in comics in their docket, but it wasn't until after I read The Gambler that I realized I've praised Titan before. Remember those Doctor Who comicsThat's right. I read the first volumes of the Ten and Twelve comics and my biggest praise by far was the quality of the artwork and the authentic flavor of the writing.

Ladies, gentlemen, and Blacklisters -that was not a fluke. Whatever Titan Comics is doing, they are DOING IT RIGHT. (And The Blacklist tie-in novels? Titan Books.)

But we're not here to talk about the other amazing stuff Titan has done. We're here to talk about The Gambler.
Really, I knew this was going to be epic when I read the foreward from showrunners John Eisendrath and Jon Bokenkamp:
So how did Red's story really begin? Who were his allies? His enemies? What were the pivotal moments in his life that transformed Raymond Reddington into the Concierge of Crime?
With this comic series, we're attempting to answer some of those questions.

Uh, Happy Birthday. And Happy Hannukah. FOR ALL ETERNITY

Because not only do they promise us insight into the past exploits key to the development of one of the most fascinating anti-heroes ever, they actually deliver. We get a significant event of Red's backstory, veins of it running all through the story, until it suddenly takes over. Granted, we don't get answers to big questions like 'Why did Red turn to crime?' or 'What IS his connection to Liz?' but we don't really expect that. This is developmental stuff, how Red came to be, what really makes Red Red and I love every panel of it. (Seriously, I've read it twice already.)

Red really gets into the action on this one and those are always my favorite stories. (Remember my Top Ten episodes?) This Blacklister is personal and Red lays it all on the line. While the story leaves us asking more questions than it answers -in the grand tradition of The Blacklist- it's one heck of a ride and worth every minute. It's a high-energy story, convoluted and delicious, with fantastic twists, great interactions between Red and Liz, and a phenomenal Blacklister -created exclusively by the TV writers for this comic, I might add. It's explosive and addictive, just like the episodes. I finished it and immediately wanted to read it again. (Which I did.)

Nicole Phillips -said by Eisendrath and Bokenkamp to possess an 'encyclopedic knowledge of the world'- does a phenomenal writing job. The artwork, the dialog, even the pacing and ambiance of the story is so harmonious with the show that it immediately became inseparable in my mind. The transformation from screen to comic is so seamless, the script so in-sync with the series -this is magic right here, guys, and not the Hollywood variety. This is the magic of an amazing story and characters; the magic of artists so inspired by their subject that their work shines. I didn't spot a single inconsistency with the canon in these pages. My gosh, even the inflections of the characters were spot-on!

I really can't give The Gambler enough praise -and I'm totally burying the lead!

Two words for you:
Young. Red.

What unfurls here is a wonderful, deep-probing arc fully worthy of the show, and seeing young Red running around the world up to no good made it even better -and that part would never make it on screen. Seriously, who could play a young Red and measure up to Spader?

So, is The Gambler a To Read or a Not To Read?

There is one thing my super fangirl senses picked up on. It's on the cover. Right here:
Every Blacklister listed on the cover has already been revealed. We've got Madeline Pratt, Pavlovich, Milton Bobbit, The Kingmaker. The Gambler is even obscured by the spine. But this half-written name -I'm guessing 'Sandpiper'- is utterly unfamiliar.  Is it significant? Is it a breadcrumb? When will we meet this Blacklister and do they hold the key to unraveling the enigma that is Red?

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