Neroy Sphinx – Back In The Game is the latest comic from writer Daniel Whiston and artists Johnny McMonagle, James Kircough and Dave Thompson. It tells of a confidence trickster and thief. Well-paced and punctuated by comic scenarios, there are double-crosses and double-double crosses, feuds, foes and grudges.
The story is of a noir in space whose anti-hero protagonist is cock-sure and cavalier. However, he has an appeal that makes it difficult to call him callous; even so, I confess I can’t bring myself to use the old adage ‘a lovable rogue’. Yet I can say that fans of pulp and noir will likely enjoy this.
The comic sets out as a history of the eponymous conman. As with other comics, we are presented with text boxes throughout. Those with clean cut edges relate an internal monologue. This, of course, is a well known feature of comics as a form. However, there are others with ragged edges which report what might be called the official story published after the events are depicted. These are excerpts from a fictional history book titled Neroy Sphinx: Man and Myth written by the equally fictional author Andromedous Hark. These citations are set against the comic’s internal monologues, speech bubbles and illustrations. As you may guess, the narrative trick is not dissimilar to the tensions between direct speech and reported speech often found in fictional prose. While readers of the comic book enjoy the exploits (pun intended) of the cavalier space conman, the official line damns Sphinx and his associates. In one particular description, Hark slanders a psychic colleague called Griffin as a witch.
The set-up is pleasingly reminiscent of the Karma Sutra, an unlikely comparison that Sphinx himself would doubtless approve of. The Karma Sutra text was originally compiled by Vatsyayana, a supposedly celibate monk who lived in India during the 3rd century. As a monk, Vatsyayana experienced no hands-on knowledge of the practices he advises on, yet in the mere act of authoring the text, he cannot but demonstrate an evident fascination with the practices in question. Much the same comment can be leveled at Andromedous Hark, Sphinx’s fictional biographer. Hark is not only unclear on the details of the life he recounts, but, while condemning the ‘disgracefully flamboyant’ actions of the Sphinx, cannot help revealing that he is intrigued by them. Indeed, Hark’s very name puns on his interest: Hark who speaks!
Told with a wit like that, the story is clearly not spoon-fed. In one chapter titled ‘The Job From Hell’, our anti-hero has just disclosed, albeit obliquely, something of colossal importance concerning the well-being of whole planets. He reveals that he set into motion a series of events that endangered his entire galaxy. Yet when he’s finished relating the events, he wanders out seemingly unbothered. It is as if he were improvising a yarn as misdirection, in order to steal the listener’s wallet or watch (or, more likely, both!), or perhaps just for his own amusement. Such disregard is a comic conceit, but some readers may find it difficult to invest in character like this. Others may find interest in the form of glib amusement, Then again, in large doses that has the potential to become wearing.
On the other hand, the Neroy Sphinx is a noir in space. Noir has its roots in pulp, which as a staple fixture prioritises plot over character. In other words, the comic is concerned less with who these characters are and who they are growing into, than it is where they are, what they are doing and how they get out of whatever jam they find themselves in. That is a part of what makes the plot both funny and clever. These characters are unlikely saviours of the universe in any genre, never mind noir.
As a result, Neroy Sphinx – Back In The Game is interesting as an experiment if nothing else. Whether or not readers will go for it is an open question. Some will like this. Some won’t. Others may may take the middle-ground, finding content like this something to pick up occasionally. A good ‘dip-book’. For my part, I’m curious to see where the next installment leads.
A witty and entertaining read.