By Leroy Douresseaux
October 20, 2011 - 10:35
|Sweets #1 cover image. Trade uses same image as front cover, but without the Image logo.
Sweets was a five-issue comic book miniseries written and drawn by Kody Chamberlain and published by Image Comics beginning in 2010. The series was recently collected in the trade paperback, Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story. Set in the days before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, Sweets follows a grieving detective as he tries to uncover the identity of a spree killer terrorizing New Orleans.
In the story there is a killer on the loose in New Orleans, one who sometimes leaves pecan pralines at the crime scene, so he is called “Sweets.” The investigation is dropped in the lap of New Orleans Police Detective Curt Delatte, who is still grieving the loss of his daughter, Katie (Kaitlin M. Delatte) in a car crash. His boss, Lt. Palmer is not really sympathetic; he just wants Sweets found, especially with the mayor becoming exceedingly insistent that the police catch Sweets after he kills one of the mayor’s pals.
Delatte and his partner Jeff Matthews, who protects Delatte’s job and acts as a sort of filter between Delatte and Palmer, navigate the exotic streets and neighborhoods of the Big Easy. Along the way, they meet an eccentric cast of characters and discover that Sweets may act as spree killer or even a serial killer, but there is more to his game than anyone realizes.
I have to say that Sweets’ basic story will be recognizable to anyone familiar with detective fiction, films, television, or even comic books. The troubled detective, his ass of a police superior, the destined-for-tragedy partner, the absolutely nuts and/or ruthless mass killer, and the gritty setting: this all has a very loud ring of familiarity. Also, I am not as enamored with the dialogue in this series as Duncan Fegredo, who provides an introduction to this volume, is. Then, there is that crazy ending that recalls Polanski’s Chinatown and Antonioni’s Blowup.
Because the detective story is so common and well worn, a storyteller must find a unique angle upon which to execute the story, and Kody Chamberlain does. This unique angle is New Orleans. Sweets is not just another Film-Noir pretense. Chamberlain presents a fictional New Orleans that is colorful and exotic even while it is gritty. It is a city of striking eccentricities, but in places it resembles both cookie-cutter bland and decaying urban landscape. This New Orleans’ sweetness can be candy or poison.
Chamberlain also offers interesting juxtapositions of characters and of character relationships. For instance, Curt Delatte works kind of a razor’s edge. On one side is a city bureaucracy that demands justice after a favored son gets snuffed, and on the other side is an aspect of the city that doesn’t really index death by social status. Death comes for all.
Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story is truly unique in crime fiction. New Orleans, however, has been done to death. I would like to see Kody do more crime comics, and I’m sure that between Thibodaux and Lafayette, he can find characters and settings to set the world of crime comics on fire.