Cinder and Ashe
(1988 - four issues, Mature Readers, DC Comics)
Writer: Gerry Conway. Artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
Cinder is a tall, beautiful, red-headed half-Vietnemese war orphan and Jacob Ashe is a cajun Vietnam vet. Together they're "damage control" experts based in New Orleans -- essentially private eyes only ones a little more likely to shoot it out. Actually, the duo seems like a private eye equivalent of the spy heroine Modesty Blaise (star of comic strip, novels, and a forgettable motion picture -- really, forget it!). Blaise is also a debonair war orphan and ex-thief, whose platonic partner is an unpolished, working class type.
They're hired by an Iowa farmer whose daughter has been kidnapped and whose life is being systematically destroyed -- by who and for what reason he doesn't know. The case opens the door for a flood of flashbacks and time jumps as we learn the history of Cinder and Ashe and their relationship, the case striking a personal chord since a man associated with the case is Lacey -- a man Cinder and Ashe thought was dead, and who raped Cinder when she was thirteen, back in Vietnam.
A crime-thriller with psychological and sociological aspirations, Cinder and Ashe is a mix of detective story, action-thriller, character exploration, and yet another pop cultural visit to the Vietnam war (though focusing on the slightly more original milieu of city life in Saigon). It doesn't entirely succeed in hitting all the targets it sets up for itself, but comes close enough to many to be a sufficiently engrossing read.
A lot of that has to do with Conway and Garcia-Lopez, two comics pros who were working very near the top of their game here. Here Conway's ear for dialogue and sense of pacing puts a lot of the current crop of "sophisticated" comic writers to shame. He scripts dialogue naturally and crafts scenes with economy, so that even when the characters are just sitting around talking, the energy never lags. And Garcia-Lopez has a beautiful style, at once kinetic and eerily realistic, ideally suited to this non-superhero story. Here inparticular, he shows a near flawless eye for composition.
One can quibble in spots. The farmer-plot seems too much like a catalyst for the rest of the story (the flashbacks and character exploration), rather than a well-developed mystery of its own. And Conway's pretentions can be heavy-handed in spots. While Garcia-Lopez's depiction of Cinder looks pretty caucasian, never quite evoking a half-black, half-Vietnemese character.
The story is definitely a "mature readers" tale, with cussing and rape. If Conway and Garcia-Lopez had depicted Cinder in salacious shower scenes, or having consensual sex, the mini-series would probably have been dismissed as sophomoric, even perverted. But as long as the sex and nudity is depicted in negative terms of death and rape, comic pundits will consider it a sophisticated, grown-up story. Someday someone'll have to explain that to me, 'cause it seems a bit...weird.
Often comic fans point to titles as being the sort of comic that can woo non-comic readers to comics. Cinder and Ashe might be a good nominee. What comic folks don't realize is that people don't like comics as much for the idiosyncratic genre (superheroes) as the medium. Cinder and Ashe, being squarely set in the more mainstream (read cliched) idiom of private eyes and Vietnam, might win over readers to the medium who would balk at people in tights, even those depicted in The Watchmen and its ilk. Conversely, the very nature of the "mature" subject matter might freak out non-comic regulars who see comics as a kiddie medium.
It's safe to assume that Conway and Garcia-Lopez were hoping Cinder and Ashe would get the O.K. for further adventures -- something that didn't happen (as far as I know). When I first read this, though I liked it, I felt the one mini-series was enough, saying all that needed to be said with the characters -- particularly since any follow up adventures would presumably be lacking the complex flashbacks and character exploration that is the real drive behind this story. Re-reading it, though, a part of me thinks it's a shame Conway and Garcia-Lopez didn't get to trot them out for another adventure or two, that Cinder and Ashe grow on you as characters (and I do mean Conway and Garcia-Lopez, since, as noted, a big part of the appeal of this series is them). Still, as mentioned above, this is a mature readers tale, so be warned.