Now, I’ve enjoyed Reckless Life for a long time. It wasn’t one of the strips that convinced me to subscribe to the Graphic Smash collection – Fans! and Digger did that – but it was the biggest discovery that subscription rewarded me with. It’s something of a crime that, while I’ve mentioned it in passing a time or two, I’ve never given it a proper review. In my defense, it was on a subscription site, and I tried to avoid directing people towards content that wasn’t freely available; but Graphic Smash has since moved away from that model, and the archives of Reckless Life are now open to all.
Given that I no longer have any excuse for discussing the strip, let’s get started on fixing my mistake.
Reckless Life is, in short, one of the most professional comics on the web. Everything about it seems to fit perfectly into place. Visually, the strip is consistently a pleasure to look upon – and more than that, feels pretty much artistically flawless. I am a fan of a great many webcomics that are still coming into their own – and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But as much as I enjoy seeing an artist develop over the course of a strip, Tim Demeter stands out as someone who has already mastered their own style. The world of Reckless Life makes brilliant use of contrasts and shadow, drawing from a palette of black and white, greys and reds. It makes for a cinematically powerful setting, and while it doesn’t sink in tone quite to the grim level of Sin City, a similar sense of stark simplicity is still there.
The stories are similarly well-executed. Tim hits a very careful pace between humor and drama – if one storyline deals with personal relationships, the next will be about ninjas. It all seems very carefully planned out – but the formula at the heart of it doesn’t prevent the stories from all working exceptionally well. Another nice touch is that each storyline is almost entirely self-contained. The strip does grow into a more complete world as it goes on, but it is not at the beck and call of a single over-arching plot. While new characters might be introduced who become recurring characters, and our hero, Locke, each episode is still able to easily stand on its own.
And rest assured, the characters who start to populate the strip are good ones. While fundamentally they may seem iconic – the hot-headed thief, the cold-blooded hit man, etc – they manage to develop into interesting characters. The credit for that goes to Tim’s sense of style – the characters stand out as more than merely stereotypes, and being visually dynamic manages to help make them into genuinely engaging individuals.
Let’s take a look at the star of the show: Locke. Master thief, gambler, joker, he’s just as good as he thinks he is – capable of dodging bullets and breaking through the best security in the world. Yet somehow, despite his skills, his relationships constantly fall apart, he doesn’t have friends so much as acquaintances, he lives in the ruins of Old Vegas, and manages to end in jail as often as not.
Locke is a fun character – he is able to do feats of incredible skill, and walks and talks like someone out of a movie… but the degree to which life seems to fall apart on him makes him exceptionally human. He’s the hero of the story, but he isn’t a good guy – not really. He has lived a life that has taught him that the only way to survive is to look out for number one, and while he doesn’t rub that philosophy in the reader’s face, you can see it in everything he does.
He has his good qualities, and would probably even be a nice guy if the world had dealt him a better hand. He’s surprisingly loyal to those he would call friends – even when they’ve betrayed him. He’s still willing to kill, hurt and steal if that’s what it takes – but in a world of corruption and crime, he compares favorably. He’s not a good guy – but he’s better than most, and that’s enough.
Which brings us to the latest storyline, where we learn what made him this way. After perhaps the most absurd story yet – the tale of how Locke Saves Christmas, complete with Santa, sleighs, and singalongs – we moved into the grim and gritty world of Locke’s past… as an emo kid in highschool.
The comic remains true to form, and takes a concept that could be cliche, and instead makes it work. In some ways, it is hard to picture Locke as the kid he is, living a life in suburbia.. but it also seems strangely fitting. And we can see it all begins here, as his life starts to go downhill, step by step – the title of the arc is Murphy’s Law, and you’ve got three guesses as to why.
It isn’t that Locke has the worst life in the world. He doesn’t. He’s had some hard breaks, yes, but in many ways it is his own nature as much as his circumstances that continually leads him down, step by step. But that doesn’t make him not sympathetic – in many ways, it makes him more so. He’s human – we can relate to that.
This week’s update shows Locke standing outside as it starts to snow. His friends and family are gone and left behind. He’s dropped out of school, been fired from every job, and sold his most valuable possessions for a handful of cash – and has been evicted anywhere. He has no home. He has no one. And here he is, standing in the snow.
It’s a powerful moment, but Mr. Demeter manages to do it justice. He’s had practice with scenes that lack any dialogue, but most of those are action sequences – much easier to pull off.
I’ve been enjoying the recent arc, but this was the moment that really grabbed my interest. Because we know how the story ends, in a way – we know who Locke becomes. We know that he does manage to improve his lot – and even if he doesn’t end up with the perfect life, it is still a far site better than this. We’ve even seen, quite early in the series, that he is able to find at least some degree of peace with part of his past.
But we haven’t seen how he gets there – and that is the story I think is about to start, and one I am definitely eager to see.