So, a few weeks ago, a coworker and I were talking about graphic novels, and during the discussion, she mentioned how much she loved Ruse. She told me a little about the premise, and while it didn’t really rock my socks off, she loaned me the first two trade paperbacks to give them a read, and I figured: Why not?
Well, on the bright side, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time reading the collections. And truth be told, the stories aren’t bad, as much as they’re just not anything I’m really interested in reading. The main character is clearly a Sherlock Holmes rip-off, and the fantasy setting and elements are (so far) so slight as to be merely asides to the more mundane challenges the detective faces. It’s clear from the first chapter that Emma, his assistant/partner, has some sort of supernatural ability, but she’s suppressing them as part of a wager that she has going on with … someone. Or something. Regardless, she has a recurring narrative with someone who doesn’t appear in the story, but it’s not so recurring that it becomes a major part of the story. Still, Emma narrates the stories, and she often brings up these abilities that she can’t use, so not only is it never far from the reader’s mind, but it also gets a little annoying.
Archard himself takes the stage whenever the two of them are “on screen,” but he’s such an insufferable, arrogant boor that Emma has to step in often to make up for his lack of social graces. There are hints in the second volume that Archard’s not all he’s made himself out to be, and the writers show a different side of the character, but not enough for me to care that much about him. That makes him a pretty unsympathetic character, which can be a death knell for any story. Of course, saying who is the protagonist here is up for some debate: Is it Archard, or Emma? I’m not entirely sure. I’d guess that reading more of the series would answer the question, but I’m not really interested enough to read further to find out.
As for the stories themselves, they’re entertaining, if a little overwrought in some places. The first volume has a more satisfying story-arc, but didn’t really move me. The second volume is nearly horrible, but not because of the main characters. Instead, the villain becomes the character at center stage, and he’s just not enough to pull off the series. The villain, Lightbourne, is intended to be the Moriarty character to Archard’s Holmes, but he winds up coming across more as a megalomaniacal ninny than as a challenging, recurring antagonist. The potential is there, but it seems wasted when he becomes the focus of the story.
The artwork is fine, but I find myself liking graphic novels where the artwork is more impressionistic than realistic, and in this series, the art definitely falls into the latter category. Despite that, I had a hard time following some of the action scenes, and during the final showdown between Archard and Lightbourne, there were a couple of scenes where I wasn’t even sure what happened. There was something huge happening, and then Archard did … something? … and it all went to hell for Lightbourne. I couldn’t tell you what that was, though. It was definitely the turning point in the battle, though.
This series has many fans, enough so as to demand a reprint of the original stories, but I just don’t get it. That’s fine (I don’t argue with people who say that Steve Alten is a horrible writer, but I still dig his novels), but for all the praise my coworker gushed about the series, I was expecting a lot more.