Teen noir is a niche genre that has yielded some captivating content like the soon-to-be-revived on Hulu Veronica Mars, Rian Johnson’s Brick, and most recently, CW’s Riverdale. Dynamite recently gave the genre a whirl with its “Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys” teamup mini-series that (as the marketing folks proclaimed) redefined noir for a new generation. From what I can tell, teen noir doesn’t quite share the black heart of traditional noir fare, in fact it’s often more romantic than noir usually dares to be while still featuring its share of neon and tough-talking youngsters wise beyond their years. The genre has a definite look that’s not so much style over substance as much as the style is the substance mixed with a dash of raging hormones and dark conspiracies to oftentimes create a compelling cocktail. So when Lion Forge announced “At the End of Your Tether” as a teen noir that would combine detective and coming-of-age tales, it was hard not to be intrigued, especially after seeing Deena So’Oteh’s lush and moody cover.
Written by Adam Smith
Illustrated by V.V. Glass
Colored by Hilary Jenkins
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Nervous about having to see his ex, Ludo Carre gives her a phone call to explain he’ll be returning to the old base they grew up on. Big laughs and a familiar sort of cadence in Arlo’s voice don’t just instantly calm him down they make him excited to see her. That excitement only hurts him more when they show up the next day and find out Arlo has been missing…for the last week.
Unfortunately, “At the End of Your Tether” is a frustrating read that’s takes an entire double-sized issue to get to the story’s central mystery, one that had already been revealed to anyone interested in the book. While that’s not necessarily the fault of the creators, the story takes much too long to hit any kind of dramatic stride or achieve any kind of tension. It’s also frustrating when a promotional trailer for the series contains more concise plot details than can be gleaned from the book itself. Series writer Adam Smith also seems unconcerned with offering anything new to the conversation of young love or family dynamics, choosing instead to keep his characters at a cool remove from the reader. And while it could be argued that it’s a convention of noir storytelling, it also gives readers little to latch onto when the story takes too long to develop.
Frankly, this promising-looking book is a bit of an uneven mess. The opening pages contain an intriguingly mysterious and vaguely supernatural prelude featuring three siblings with some well-crafted prose before the narrative shifts its attention to Ludo Carre and his family who are returning to a military housing complex in south Texas after not being able to make a go of life off base. Ludo’s mother is an imposing figure, an amateur boxer and a military police officer. She dwarfs Ludo’s father, a motorcycle mechanic who is forced to shutter his failing repair business much to Ludo’s chagrin. Ludo is a troubled kid with a good heart and a combative streak that lands him in trouble at school, and the somewhat elliptical narrative shifts back and forth in time and surrounds Ludo’s first love, an enigmatic and music-loving girl named Arlo. We don’t really know anything else about why she and Ludo hit it off other than proximity, a shared taste in video games, and a burgeoning veganism. I guess great love stories have been predicated on less.
In the present day, it becomes relatively clear that Ludo is acting out over some angst about the possibility of reuniting with his old flame some five years after they were separated by circumstance. By the time Ludo and family return to their old stomping grounds, Ludo’s unease dissolves into a giddy resolve to reconnect with his sweetheart, leading to the mystery that will drive the remaining installments in this three part series. The problem is that before the narrative reaches this point it reads like a disjointed hodgepodge of scenes that don’t build to or signify anything. There’s even a head-scratching episode that involves a stabbing victim outside Ludo’s dad’s garage that does little more than establish Ludo’s levelheaded penchant for astute observation at the expense of believability.Continued below
Contributing to the unevenness is V.V. Glass’s artwork which can approach perfection in one panel only to see it slip into stiltedness the next. At times there is a faint whiff of the work that Max Sarin contributes to “Giant Days,” but the scent is fleeting. Hilary Jenkins painted coloring which is often moody and expressionistic is even rendered a bit pedestrian here and does little to evoke classic noir chiaroscuro. It’s like she is merely coloring inside the lines, hemmed-in by Glass’s rigidly precise linework that does little to establish a real tone or sense of place in the book. It’s as if the design motif of military housing sameness has extended to the book’s artistic aesthetic.
While the book takes great pains to place the inception of Ludo and Arlo’s relationship in 1994, there’s little to explain that or the time frame that follows as being significant other than being pre-mobile telephonic ubiquity and the availability of a Super Nintendo game. If it’s merely a way to ratchet up suspense for Generation Z readers who likely view the time as a kind of technological dark ages, that’s certainly fine, but if it’s an excuse to shoehorn in the significance of Pitfall: Mayan Adventure to the developing storyline, I call foul. Either way, it felt like the panels spent establishing this timeframe might have been better served with hurtling the story along.
Essentially, it’s the main fault in the book: the lack of narrative economy. If a first issue is intended to grab the reader (it is), Smith’s script almost seems to flaunt his decision to ride the break when he should be hitting the gas. One can only hope that the following issues will proceed with a quicker narrative pace.
Final Verdict: 5.0 – “At the End of Your Tether” is a somewhat disappointing experience, squandering a compelling mystery premise in an intriguing genre with some tonally flat exposition.