Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


Rascals in Paradise

1995 - available in soft cover

Written and illustrated and painted by Jim Silke.
Letters: L. Lois Buhalis.

Reprinting the three issue mini-series in over-sized, tabloid dimensions; plus a sketch gallery; intros by Dave Stevens and Geoff Darrow; retrospective of Silke's career.

102 pages

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Cover price: $23.75 CDN./ $16.95 USA.

Here at PDF we try to keep our reviews (relatively) contemporary -- but sometimes deadlines creep up on you and you can't always grab a new release. But this is still available at comic shops and on-line bookstores.

Rascals in Paradise is at once very modern and yet very old fashioned. It's old fashioned in that it's a deliberate evocation (with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) of pulp-era adventures. Set in the distant future, the location is a planet that has been remodelled as a tourist trap meant to evoke the nostalgic days of 1930s earth...but something went wrong and, instead of evoking the real 1930s, it evokes the pulp fiction world of dank jungles, lost tribes, and jodhpur-wearing adventurers. The logic behind this is vague. (If the world was artificially created, who are these people who inhabit it? Are they real or constructions?) The plot involves kidnapped damsels, jungle cults, and secret maps. Like I said, old fashioned.

On the other hand, there is a modern aspect to Rascals in that it features a "mature readers" story with plenty of nudity and racy material. This isn't so much a re-creation of old time adventure stories, as it's a re-construction of the milieu with modern explicitness.

The result is hit and miss.

Written and illustrated by Jim Silke, this was his first foray into sequential art ("funny books" to you and me). Before that, Silke worked as a jack-of-all-trades in Hollywood for many years, publishing fanzines, writing screenplays (including the 1985 version of King Solomon's Mines), hanging out with Hollywood legends like Sam Peckinpah, and working as an artist and photographer in the glamour field (ie: doing pictures of beautiful women). It's that latter career that is clearly fueling Rascals in Paradise.

Silke's a good artist, but not quite a great one. And his newness to the medium leads to some rather flatly presented scenes, particularly action scenes, and even some confusing ones (where a caption is sometimes used to bridge two panels that otherwise don't flow clearly one from the other). His painted style can certainly capture a beautiful woman or two, and his technique adds to the whole "nostalgia" flavour: soft, blurry colours, and a sometimes unsure handling of figures (with hands and feet sometimes indistinct) actually evoking old pulp magazine cover painters, as if someone like Margaret Brundage (of Weird Tales fame) had taken to illustrating comic books.

The story is a brisk romp, only vaguely coherent, and never takes itself too seriously. This latter aspect presumably explains how Silke could get away with all the blatant sexploitation without raising hardly an eyebrow among critics -- including a ravishment scene (off camera and semi-consensual) and a flagellation scene (somewhat demurely depicted, focusing as much on the people around the scene as the damsel herself). It's a joke homage.

On the plus side, one can certainly appreciate the wanton uninhibitedness of the story (well, at least if you're a guy). Others have tried similar efforts, but usually with a result watered down and self-consciously apologetic. Silke clearly takes the attitude that if he's going to do this story...he might as well do it, and political correctness be damned (resulting not just in underclad women, but natives speaking in pidgin English). And not just the nudity, but the story itself benefits from this attitude, with Silke throwing in everything but the kitchen sink -- from jungle temples and sacrifices, to jet packs and laser guns.

At the same time, if you remove the nudity, and the sexploitation, I'm not sure the rest is strong enough to stand on its own. The characters never really gel into people you care about (you can't even be sure who the main character is, with the nominal heroine being "Spicy" Saunders who arrives to join the local jungle patrol, but there's also her immediate supervisor String, and a roguish mercenary, and a damsel in distress who they're trying to rescue). At first, the story makes a loose kind of sense -- at least enough to get us from one scene to the next. But by the end, it just seems to get muddier and muddier, with too few explanations. "Spicey"'s suit has strange properties, like turning invisible and rendering her nude at various moments, but it has other abilities which manifest themselves in the climax with little justification. Even, as noted, the "reality" of the story doesn't seem to permit even a cursory scrutiny.

The story even ends a bit inconclusively. Oh, sure, everyone's rescued who's going to be, but new questions are raised. At the end of the book is a sketch gallery showing preview images from the next storyline. But either sales for this first storyline weren't what they were hoping for (though this TPB collection is still in print) or Silke just lost interest, because to my knowledge, no further adventures of "Spicey" and the gang were published. There's a problem with writing a story in which some threads are meant to be part of something larger...if the creator doesn't have the discipline to follow through. Silke's only other foray into the comicbook field, I believe, was the later, similarly-themed Bettie Page: Queen of the Nile (taking the real life 1950s pin-up queen and featuring her in a racy, tongue-in-cheek sci- fi adventure).

The bottom line is, if you don't expect much, Rascals in Paradise can be campy fun (more for guys than gals) simply for its unapologetic luridness (lots of nudity, though no full frontal) and the old fashioned idiom it evokes. But as a story it's uneven, becoming more unsatisfying by the end.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

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