Friday, 22 October 2010

Ragman: Suit of Souls #1 review

Ragman's been around since the Seventies but never developed a fanbase. Truth be told, Rory Reagan comes across as just another Gotham vigilante, wandering around the rooftops in flowing cape and beating up bad guys. He's become more of a mystical character down the years, but magic users don't attract the greatest audiences. And the name doesn't help. Ragman? Smelly. His nickname? The tatterdemalion of  justice.

God help him.

Well, here he is again, with a one-shot which respects his conflicting history as a character who was originally presented as Irish, then revealed to be Jewish. Why did Reagan's father, the previous Ragman in a line going back to 16th-century Prague, deny his heritage on moving to the US from Europe? Why was he seemingly ashamed? After a hard-fought war in Europe, why did he never don the suit of rags after reaching Gotham? These are the questions that motivate Ragman here. It's driving him mad, he must know. He must!

So he seeks out a rabbi who, of course, has no idea, but sensibly advises focusing on the good his father did. And eventually Ragman finds the answers he seeks, within his suit of lost souls. The end.

Writer Christos Gage gives us the history of Jewish oppression in Europe, touches on the careers of several Ragmen (one met Jonah Hex, it seems) and has Rory make peace with his demons. The script is crisp and clear, letting us know what made Ragman Sr tick. That's the stage nicely set for a series, in which we'll get to know our Ragman, Rory, better.

Except there is no series. This is a special. Next time a series does arrive, someone will have to tell the origin of Ragman again, perhaps giving the suit of souls a new wrinkle or two.

With respect, I think the wrong route was taken here. This is a one-shot, as in, you have one-shot to grab the reader's attention, make them cry out for more. That's unlikely to happen if we're not shown how cool the current Ragman is, and given an idea of how he might move forward. But this story is backward looking, leaving us at the end, pretty much where we came in, with daddy-fixated Rory Reagan feeling somewhat better, but still tied to his father's two lives, as pawnbroker and hero. He's the latest Ragman, not The Ragman. And soon I'll have forgotten all about him until the next time he turns up in a Shadowpact crowd scene.

Stephen Segovia's art is as accomplished as Gage's script, dripping with atmosphere. The historical and fictional locales and characters look splendid and were Ragman to get a series somewhere, I'd be very happy to see Segovia draw it. His renderings reminds me of those of the great Tom Mandrake. Colourist David Curiel and letterer Rob Leigh likewise do sterling work here, and Jesus Saiz provides an attractive cover. But the book as a whole never soars, and I put that down to lack of ambition.

Ragman: Suit of Souls is a decent reminder that the character exists, though I doubt it'll prove a lasting one.

10 comments:

  1. Patricio/Patty BoomFriday, 22 October, 2010

    I was SO disappointed.

    I really like Ragman (fan base of one. Woot!) I think the character concept is great, and I was so looking forward to this book.

    What we got was not a one-shot, but rather an extended version of the two-page origin shorts they included in 52. Where's the story? Even as an origin tale it comes up short, since we don't really get a story; what Gage gives us is a character telling us what his origin is all about. Isn't this one of the most BASIC no-nos in writing? SHOW, don't TELL.

    It would have been much more interesting to focus on how Rory came to be the Ragman, or perhaps script a story that builds on the Ragman mythology. I don't know, more about the connection between the folk legend of the Golem and the DC-specific character Ragman. that would have been a fun read!

    I loved the cover, liked the art, but thought the writing was some of the most lackluster I've read in a while. He phoned it in. Christos Gage you have betrayed me!

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  2. Oh, you said that so much more succinctly than I did. Nice one, sir.

    I have to say, I do get sick of characters suddenly becoming legacy types, such as Iron Fist or Ragman. Let 'em be unique!

    A story featuring Ragman and the similarly Golem-connected Monolith could be fascinating.

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  3. I thought Willingham expounded enough on Ragman's origin in Shadowpact.

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  4. I agree. Though I love the character and picked up the one-shot purely out of curiosity, the piece was essentially a recap.

    Which is a shame, given his prominence as recently as Infinite Crisis and the whole Shadowpact series he supported.

    The biggest problem I have is that the theology behind the suit really doesn't feel very "Jewish" to me. Though I'm not Jewish myself, and make no claims to the finer wisdom of Talmudic scholars, this whole notion of "redemption of souls through purgative service" feels very alien to Jewish thought as I understand it. It is essentially Catholic theology of purgatory grafted onto a Jewish character with little regard to the differences between traditions.

    I found Palmiotti & Gray's overlooked "Monolith" series a far more respectful treatment of the Golem tradition in comics and encourage everyone to pick up those 12 beautiful back issues to see what Ragman is missing.

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  5. Thanks for the comments, lads.

    Chris, I'm woefully ignorant of the Jewish faith - if it wasn't on Rhoda, I'm scunnered. I'd love someone with knowledge of Judaism to let us know how well the Ragman redemption angle fits.

    And was Monolith ever collected? Now writers Palmiotti and Gray are bigger names, it may find an audience. I'd love to buy a few copies of any collected edition as gifts.

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  6. Alright lets clear up Jewish Redemption shall we. On Yom Kippur we attone for our sins of the previous year. That is essentially our redemption. Mind you in the Jewish faith we do not believe that the Messiah has come yet and our souls would still be waiting for his arrival so in essence there is no moving on. However that is not to say that those in his suit that aren't of the Jewish faith would not move on if their time has come. In comics all faiths are proven to be valid so it could just be faith based of those in the suit itself.

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  7. Hey, I liked the Iron Fist legacy bit. With way he gets his powers it actually made sense. Plus, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction handled it really well.

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  8. Good to hear you enjoyed the Iron Fist series. I never tried it ... no particular reason, though I hate the move from the classic suit. I may have a look.

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  9. Did you catch the back-up feature in Streets of Gotham? I had dropped the title and I saw sweet little Rory's face in the lower right-hand corner and buckled. Those 10 pages were better than the whole one-shot.

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  10. Oh no, is that the latest? I'll check it out, cheers.

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