Originally making a splash in the early 2000s, Paul Pope’s beloved sci-fi/noir graphic novel about a drug addict searching for a Parisian artist, Heavy Liquid, is being re-released by Image Comics. That means some people who haven’t read this yet are wondering if now’s their chance. I don’t mean to be a party pooper…but you could spend your money wiser elsewhere.
Some spoilers ahead.
Let me clarify by saying this isn’t a bad book. That being said, it’s one of those classics whose reputation precedes it. When people praise Heavy Liquid, it’s telling they mention the art more than the story.
I’ve been a fan of Paul Pope since reading Battling Boy and Batman 100 and his work here is equally stunning. His work is very chaotic and hectic, with blotchy inks that look like maniacal scribbles from afar. That being said, he inserts incredible detail into every page to the point where each panel is a tableau you have to spend time dissecting. The minimal color work (separated by Lee Loughridge) is vivacious, especially in flashbacks that are smothered in blood red.
Heavy Liquid tantalizes in its worldbuilding, which blends sci-fi, noir, conspiracies, and drugs into a swirling vortex. It’s got a punky, scraggly approach to its packed, melting-pot world with a rain-soaked, drug-addled to guide us through it; complete with Rick Remender-style emo monologues. New York, despite being overrun with Clockwork Orange-type gangs in the future, is captured to a staggering degree. But I can’t help but long for more concrete knowledge of this future Pope visualizes.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? And on some level, it is — if you’re looking for a showcase of some stellar, European art. Yet, the story is borderline incoherent. It’s frankly amazing how sloppy it is.
The plot revolves around S (groan), who’s addicted to heavy metal, a mysterious, possibly alien substance that’s better than any other drug, sex, or even people. A mysterious art collector wants S to recruit an old flame to create a masterpiece out of the substance. So S goes from New York to Paris to retrieve her. Complications ensue.
Now, if you’re like me, you expect something to come out of that plot. Like, maybe the art collector is evil, or maybe heavy liquid turns out to be destructive and it ends up hurting S’s old flame — something. Anything. But alas…no real conflict emerges from the central conceit of the book.
S gets chased down by some clown thugs, so that’s something, but then they die. S is also being pursued by a suited government agent, but S evades him by the end. S gets handcuffed to a girl hoodlum, but no worries, they get it blowtorched off and they go their separate ways. It’s mind-numbing to go through a book illustrated with such energy only for the plot to be so averse to structure. I haven’t even mentioned the end twist of the book, which you could see miles away and is beyond underwhelming. There are even more characters I haven’t mentioned who slip in and out with little consequence.
The pacing is infuriatingly bad. Every scene goes on for too long, crammed with rote inner monologues and/or corny dialogue. Granted, when the pacing slows down for atmosphere with aspect-to-aspect inserts, it’s fine. But when we’re subjected to endless exposition about facts we could infer or already know about, it’s a drag — despite this series only being five issues long.