Black Apps

Few corners of the world remain unexplored, but the closer we feel to each other, the more dangerous things seem to get. Tension replaces mystery, and this is the source of “GetFisk”’s intrigue. The series of adventure iBooks picks up from the lineage of pulp action fiction, and with a confluence of media, achieves mixed results. midnight_in_juarez_cover 

Two novellas in, the adventure definitely gets better as it goes along. But then, classic pulp rolled off the presses at tens of thousands of words a month, and while it never missed, the hits couldn’t all be knockouts. The GetFisk series concerns the shaky line between glamour and brutality as high-energy movie franchises, videogames and open barbarism on the news cycle converge in both the Western and the global mind. Fisk is a mysterious businessman, a Tony Stark without superpowers but with a Doc Savage-esque troupe of operatives to execute his worldwide agenda.

That agenda is an interesting fantasy of judicious control; in the same way that Shakespeare’s work was an overall brief for the rightfulness of monarchy and the responsibility of leaders to be considered and humane, this newer violent crowd-pleaser shows a multi-billionaire trying to bring world stability by undermining drug cartels and high-seas pirates through the even bigger business he can install (and getting his hands dirty in the undercover muck while he does it, dealing with mercenaries and terrorists and double agents).

His main surrogates are secretly deadly moviestar Tarita Lee and deceptively charming merc Carlos Madrid (yep), figures operating suitably on the margin between our highest fantasies and worst nightmares.

Two GetFisk iBooks have thus-far appeared, Midnight in Juarez (the drug-cartel one) and Pirate Lair (the Somali one). At times — too many times — the drama that’s ripped from today’s headlines seems merely scrapbooked in place. The books’ narrative halts often for little TED Talks on how legalizing pot in the U.S. would really screw the gangsters making money off it south of the border, etc. — all true, but the text sings in husky, shrill colors more compelling when it’s talking about assassins with icepicks and glass-jawed heroes sent to “dreamland” and femme fatales “armed with two shotglasses and a serpentine tongue” — and when the skilled plotting takes over from the diagrammed background issues.

Juarez is told all in present-tense, which gives an interesting immediacy, though it often also feels like an extended pitch for a movie you might rather be watching; Lair is more traditional narratively but makes better use of its modern trappings — little gifs open each chapter of both books, but they are often so rudimentary as to not add much; the series would do well to exploit the pictorial nature of screen reading by integrating these scene-setting images as static illustrations with text run over them. The simple technique of Lair being designed for light text on black background pays more attention to design, and this second volume’s animations, and their selectivity of incident, show more refinement.

pirate_lair_coverWhen the books drop themselves into their own rush and demonstrate rather than describe, they can truly absorb the reader, and the second one is confident enough to double back into the life stories and venture inward to the motivations of its damaged, determinedly optimistic protagonists. Juarez ends on a jawdropping reveal about one of the main characters that keeps most of the other players in suspense while letting us in on something that hits us like an inevitable but unanticipated driveby. And the machinations of Lair pull us along in ways that the creators wisely let us in on less of beforehand than any of the dots connected one-by one for Juarez.

The real world is complicated, and we learn its meaning as we go along; speaking for themselves, in one of the books’ best touches, the marauders of Pirate Lair show us a shaded (if sketched) portrayal of how people not given much chance to be goodguys can try and do their best. I have the feeling that GetFisk will do better and better as it goes along; the plots it hatches are well-formed, and the scenes it weaves around them are becoming more and more persuasive. As Tarita muses about a charismatic turncoat druglord, and maybe our next thrilling series entry, “Too dangerous to love, but too exciting to miss.”

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