Sleeping Dogs – Cabal Press 2015 – written by Fraser Campbell, drawn by Lautaro Capristo, coloured by David B. Cooper and lettered by Colin Bell.

“One reads so few comics that are truly juvenile, knowingly juvenile and proud of it” – is that true? If not, why did it hit me with the force of a thousand failed understandings when my pal Plok said it, in relation to Millar/Hitch’s work on The Ultimates?

If it’s not true, why does it feel that way? Is it because I’m disconnected from my more juvenile instincts now that I’m a high-faluting comics critic on the internet, or is it just that I don’t encounter comics that play to my own juvenile tastes that often these days? Having read Sleeping Dogs, I’m starting to think that the latter might be the case.

It knows that it’s a bit crude, Sleeping Dogs, which isn’t to say that it’s particularly gross or shlocky in comparison to fairly mainstream things like, say, Takeshi Miike movies or Mark Millar’s creator owned comics and their Hollywood adaptations. You don’t get the feeling that Campbell, Capristo and co are trying too hard to shock you or that they’re fundamentally damaged in some way when you’re reading Sleeping Dogs, but it has a rude energy to it. It reminds me of Philip Bond comics, of Garth Ennis when he’s almost-but-not-quite being too much of a piss-taking arsehole, of a million silly alternative roads for British comics that could have been well-stomped post-2000AD and post-Deadline but which are perhaps a little more neglected than they could be.

It’s tempting for me to overdo this UK comics connection, so strong is the appeal of this book’s big faced hardmen to me…

…but for all that the shabby locale (a run-down tower block) and the clipped, action movie patter put me in mind of those comics, it’s worth remembering that Capristo is Argentinian. I know little of the man or his work, let alone of his living environment, but I think I know what he likes in his comics and I like it too.

The plot will be familiar to you regardless of your country of origin. Our protagonist is down on his luck, working as a mascot for a comics shop. He lives in a shite neighbourhood, and while we’re given to understand that he might have been a bit of a boy in his youth (translation: his hands might not be entirely clean), it seems like he’s living a more ordinary sort of life now (translation: this beast has caged itself voluntarily). When his son becomes the victim of the local gangster who runs their neighbourhood, what option does our man have but to unchain himself and ascend, working his way from the bottom of the tower block to the top.

This could be the site of some genuine, difficult emotion of course, or it could be a queasy right wing fantasy (the law are powerless, but that’s okay, as a local hardman once said to me in a moment of astonishing self-aggrandisement, “There is a higher power in this area”). In context, while I’m not saying that the father-and-son bit is totally unaffecting, or that it doesn’t rely on the not-exactly-cuddly tropes that underly most action movies, the plot points of Sleeping Dogs are largely a pretext for some good old fashioned head cracking, eye-poking fun:

It’s there in the dialogue (“Beard prick!”) as much as it is in the art: this is fun, it’s blocky, it’s juvenile, and the blood that’s spilled is hardly likely to trouble your stomach. As I’ve already said, the whole thing reminded me of other, vaguely defined things I’d read and watched when I was younger, for sure. Still, none of this goes against it in the final analysis.

CRITICISMS: well, okay, it’s not often that I find myself saying this these days, but I could have done with a bit more of this, if I’m honest. The scenes in which Malcolm and helpful (vengful? sympathetic?) cop Harper fighting their way up the tower block probably weren’t going to top The Raid for sheer Thrill Power, but I could have stood a few more twists and turns, a few more “special” bosses for the duo to overcome along the way. I could also have probably done with a bit more gore and violence, but perhaps I’m just regressing here – I’ll cut this sentence short before I make a total arse out of myself by punning too heavily on the title of the comic I’m currently reviewing.

I’d initially thought that the gimmick of having Malcolm wear a superhero costume throughout was an obvious visual joke that never really went anywhere, a cheap Ennis-ism, but the end of the book takes it just that little bit further and justifies the whole thing so bollocks to that.

How to rate Sleeping Dogs then? Not as a masterpiece of social realism or a sign that comics are the new literature of the 21st Century or as a bold new direction for action comics, but as something that’s fun to read on the bus or in the bath or on that rare non-rainy day down the park.

It’s a proper comic, right, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy so I can read it again…

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