In what has turned out to be his tightest, most accomplished work to date, Winnipeg artist GMB Chomichuk explores the horrifying framework propping up the fearless heroes of Maxima City with his signature craft and style.
Every hero needs an origin story. We all know this.
An orphaned alien baby travels to Earth to become a godlike avatar of truth and justice. An awkward teenaged boy learns the pitfalls of shirked responsibility after a radioactive spider bite grants him unimaginable abilities. A warrior princess leaves her home to teach man’s world how to transcend war to embrace tolerance and peace.
These are all familiar histories to any self-respecting comic book reader. But where did they really come from? What is the secret origin of origin stories?
Drawing inspiration from decades of colourful heroes and villains traipsing around the various multiverses, critically-acclaimed, award-winning creator GMB Chomichuk believes he’s found the answer in his latest original graphic novel from Toronto-based publisher ChiGraphic.
Midnight City: Corpse Blossom takes place in a fictional metropolis called Maxima City, where heroes and villains cavort across a stygian landscape of jumbled skylines and shadow-drenched allies in a dangerous game of preordained one-upmanship. When one of the villains goes off script and begins murdering her nemeses in a particularly gruesome fashion, neophyte caped crusader the Risk receives a call on the “Red Phone.”
Tasked with solving the murder of his mentor, the Risk must confront his own secrets before he can truly penetrate the mystery surrounding his friend’s death and the rigid super-normal hierarchy of his supposedly heroic compatriots.
In a lot of ways, Midnight City is the superhero book I’ve been waiting for. Although some might call it deconstructionist or post-modern, at its heart is a real love and respect for heroic archetype. As he peels away the layers of history and urban myth from what we’ve all come to accept as the superheroic ideal, Chomichuk reveals a hidden architecture lying beneath the pulpy trappings of capes, masks, and telephone hotlines. In Chomichuk’s superhero universe, one’s origin story is earned – kind of like leveling up in a video game.
It’s a metafictional approach that unlike most exercises of its kind doesn’t feel forced or overwrought but a natural outflow from the plot and setting. As with his treatment of paradox in last year’s Infinitum, Chomichuk doesn’t shy away from what is arguably the genre’s most important convention – the origin story – but weaves it seamlessly into a world that becomes far more mysterious and sophisticated because of it.
Chomichuk’s distinctive multimedia art, with his use of photography and marvellously-spotted blacks lends the work an atmospheric, documentary feel, as if we’re experiencing Midnight City not as a print comic book but as a pulpy newsreel from the 1940s. There’s a much clearer progression from one scene to the next as he relies less on collage in this offering, falling back on more traditional layouts. The result, while still cosmetically unconventional, provides a much cleaner, more immersive reading experience.
In the past, creators and publishers have open-pit mined the public domain for nostalgia-infused romps down memory lane with heroes most of the rest of the world forgot long ago or never knew existed. Some have been very successful doing so.
What’s different about Chomichuk’s sounding of the rich history of the public domain is that rather than directly capitalizing on what’s gone before, he’s building something new and exciting from the crumbling ruins of a power fantasy that many think has become obsolete in its execution and resonance. From an awkward, bombastic adolescence, Chomichuk ushers the mystery man into an adulthood that as horrifying as it may seem, refuses to cast off its overwhelming sense of wonder.
GMB Chomichuk (W, A) • ChiGraphics, $19.99 USD/$21.99 CAD