Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Jim Mahfood
Publisher: IDW/Lion Forge
Release Date: March 25, 2015
Unlike the soothing Phil Collins tunes and sharp fluorescent hues of the original TV show, or the hazy purple skies of Michael Mann’s 2006 film adaptation, writer Joe Casey and artist Jim Mahfood’s Miami Vice Remix #1 is marked by something harsher, more guttural. The debut issue lives up to its “remix” moniker, and it feels like a genuinely distinct reinterpretation of the source material. If the show was defined by synthy ‘80s mood tones and the film by club mixes and mash-ups, Casey and Mahfood’s take—were it to have an audio component—would be defined by EDM figureheads Diplo or Skrillex: aggressive, vulgar noises being torn apart and slammed cacophonously back together.
For the most part, the first chapter of this five-part miniseries appears to be identical in the abstract to the film and the ‘80s television show: Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are undercover Miami-Dade police officers who engage primarily with drug and sex traffickers and organized crime. Like Mann’s aforementioned adaptation, Miami Vice Remix is a new interpretation of that basic idea and those basic characters, but this time transposing them into 2015. But what makes this a “remix” instead of just another “reboot” is the entropic cartooning that Mahfood brings to bear on just about everything he works on. It genuinely feels like the b-side of an Unkle or Massive Attack record, as opposed to a garden variety cover version by the pop-star du jour.
Mahfood’s greatest strength is an ability to create a space where the laws of time and gravity cease to be, where characters’ extremities grow and shrink and contort in unnatural, impossible ways. He draws car chases and shoot-outs with aplomb; the exaggerated, sheer length of the cop cars and the way Justin Stewart colors their red and blue bubbles so they swerve and trail implies incredible speed, tension and movement. Stewart is also invaluable in conveying emotion and mood. Mahfood’s acting is inherently melodramatic, so Stewart’s tonal palette doesn’t necessary need to help the reader understand a character’s feelings, but it does underscore them and lend them a striking gravitas. A character yells at the top of his lungs and his disposition is readily apparent, but Stewart colors his face purple and his balloons green, adding a heightened complexity and emotional pull.
Unfortunately, Mahfood’s anarchic Expressionism extends all the way to his lettering, which makes the word bubbles difficult to read. Letters appear slanted, blurry and hard to discern from one another. You can make out the words with little effort—not much, but enough that it yanks you out of the flow of reading long enough to force you to reorient. But this cognitive dissonance isn’t even Miami Vice Remix’s biggest problem.
This first issue presents a collage of different plot threads that will presumably pay off in subsequent installments, but introduced all at once, they feel half-baked and under-considered. The issue opens with Crockett and Tubbs barrelling down the street on the run from the cops, trying to prove their street cred, so their undercover identities can be taken seriously. This thread runs through the first half of the issue, but then breaks off into a vignette introducing the miniseries’ antagonist—or at least one of them. The unnamed villain is a drug kingpin who also appears to be a Voodoo priest. The man forces one of his employees to inject himself with “Miami bath salts,” which turn the user into a zombie.
The issue cuts to a character who appears to be from Crockett’s past, but there’s no lead-in or lead-out. It’s pure non-sequitur that feels totally divorced from everything else going on the book. And then only a few pages after Casey introduces zombies (in a Miami Vice comic!), the Lieutenant lays down another case at the feet of Crockett and Tubbs by throwing pictures of his daughter at them and screaming expository block of dialogue after expository block of dialogue so we really get how personal it is.
Casey packs so much material into so few pages that this issue feels 10 times longer than it actually is. In the right hands, density of plot can be a wonderful thing. Alan Moore made his name on approaching comics like a watchmaker approaches a timepiece—pages were designed specifically to compress as much material as possible into whatever space was available, while retaining a very specific rhythm. Think about how much information he and artist Eddie Campbell render in From Hell, or Dave Gibbons’ nine-panel grids in Watchmen. Consider, even, the more recent The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 from Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Nathan Fairbairn, itself an homage to Watchmen, with layouts resembling the Penrose Steps, sometimes splaying 32 panels over two pages.
Density isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And Mahfood’s aesthetic and commanding sense of pace and rhythm play into a fuller narrative exceedingly well. Unfortunately, Casey has so much going on, and so little that makes sense with the minimal context that a first issue provides, that it feels chaotic and haphazard. The writer has become become well known for hyper-literate, self-reflexive superhero comics, and I was initially interested in this series because of his involvement. But it reads like a “lost” work, a script he wrote 15, 20 years ago when he was just finding his footing as a writer.
Whether these plot threads will be more seamlessly sewn together in future issues is still up in the air, but having four competing stories in a single issue—a first issue no less—doesn’t allow for any one of them to develop to any substantive degree. The result is a first issue that feels tossed off and sloppily constructed, more like a TV spot than a first chapter.