Greetings, Inketeers! Juliet once again humbly reporting for duty as your guest writer. Yes, the promise and the threat have become reality, and despite my prior ramblings on fandom and shipperdom in my X-Files update, Matt’s invited me back to regale you with more of my ramblings….I mean, review the first arc of IDW’s CSI comics. I was initially a little hesitant to do this one because while it’s easy for me to proclaim my allegiance to the X-files from every hilltop, my fan relationship with CSI is rockier, a bit more complex. That said, this is actually the perfect time to explore all of that as I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it as of late. So let’s get to it, shall we?
I suppose I should clarify that when I’m talking about CSI, I’m referring the to very first one that took place in Las Vegas. The show premiered in the fall of 2000, and I recall thinking the concept looked fun. However, I didn’t really begin to watch it until the second season was rerun during the summer of 2002. I wish I could say what made me latch on to the show so intensely. Yes, it’s got all of the things I like in a show, but to be honest, I think I may have been having some separation anxiety as the X-Files series finale had just aired that spring. So, in essence, I was on the fandom rebound.
And rebound I did, with the intensity anyone just getting out of a nine year relationship. That year, a fellow X-Files fanfic writer and I had started a small fan group on Yahoo. Given that the show had just ended, the group never really took off in any big way, but it served as inspiration for something that would take off and became a huge part of my life for quite a while, The Graveyard Shift.
As I said, when I fell for CSI, I fell hard and of course I landed face-first in a ship. I pretty much immediately decided that my OTP (for you non-shippers out there, that’s One True Pairing, a term I’m pretty sure hadn’t been invented in 2002 or at least I had never heard the whole time I was running the group) were Gil and Catherine. I was not alone in this ship, by any means, but interestingly enough, the CSI fandom writ-large was fairly divided on ships: half of us were GCR (Gil + Catherine [the now commonplace practice of combining the names for ships: Pam + Eric = Parric, Susan + Jackson = Sackson, etc hadn’t really taken hold just yet]) and the other half was GSR (Gil + Sarah). If you watched the later seasons of the show, you know how it ended up, and if you didn’t, well, my team lost. I’ll get to that in a minute.
For now, back to the Graveyard Shift. We were a group of fans and the majority of us were also fanfic writers who shipped Gil and Catherine. What started as a small core group of co-writers who’d watch episodes together while chatting on AOL Instant Messenger grew into a community of hundreds. But even as the group grew and we made new friends, there was always a great core group, some of whom I still talk to today even though the Graveyard Shift faded away long ago. For those first couple of years, I was heavily, heavily invested in the Graveyard Shift. I was the founder and quickly dubbed the “fearless leader,” and thus felt inclined to lead by example, writing a lot, helping others edit and develop ideas and just keeping the conversation going. Now a days I find myself doing a lot of the same thing on a daily basis, professionally and personally, but at the time, it was extremely taxing, and I’m okay with admitting that I got burnt out really quickly.
But the other problem is that the show really took a turn for the worse around season 4. Sure, we got Lady Heather (who I ADORE) every once in a while, but as the seasons went on, the episodes got increasingly predictable, the characters went in weird directions, there were major cast changes and yes, my ship sank. It was disappointing to say the least.
I could go on about how the sort of collapse of the CSI fandom, or at least my turning away from it, had a weird domino effect in terms of my relationship with fandom, etc, but I’ll spare you that for now.
In my time in the fandom, however, the merchandise was just starting to flow. There were of course DVDs of the first few seasons, and as the show and it’s Miami and New York spinoffs progressed, there were computer games, board games, all of sorts of CSI everything. The first soundtrack, containing lots of wonderful post-triphop (yes, that’s a technical term) was released, but in my time in the fandom, the biggest development was what I’m going to be reviewing, the CSI comic series.
In 2003, IDW, who at the time was known for 30 Days of Night, launched its first ever TV tie-in comic with a five part miniseries based on CSI. The arc was called “Serial,” and was written by Max Allan Collins, a mystery writer who’s also known for his movie novelizations (including the great novelization of the first X-Files film) and TV tie-in novels. The artwork was done by Gabriel Rodriguez, who went on to be the primary artist on Locke & Key.
CSI: Serial # 1 **1/2
Released in 2003 Cover price $3.99 IDW #1 of 5
It’s nighttime in Las Vegas, and a young woman’s body is found near a dumpster. Gil Grissom and his team of CSI’s are called in to gather evidence at scene and find something odd, an authentic reproduction of a woman’s bonnet from the 19th century. Catherine and Warrick focus on the bonnet and the body while Nick and Sarah question potential witnesses and doing so, stumble upon another body, this one in a dumpster. In the autopsy room, Catherine observes signature stab wounds before she and Grissom are called to yet another scene. There’s a dead prostitute who’s been stabbed similarly the other victim, and Grissom begins to compare the cases to the murders of Jack the Ripper.
I had completely forgotten that this series had a Jack the Ripper parallel, which is oh so fitting given that CSI was sort of my last big fandom (in which I was actively participating in said fandom), and Ripper Street is basically my first fandom back in the game nearly 10 years later. This first issue is a bit slow, but there’s a lot of story to set up and the details are compelling enough to make you eager to read the next one and see how the story unfolds. The artwork is a nice mix of realistic but still comic-esque work and more abstract, painted looking panels for the flashbacks and/or quickshots that were used in the show as transitions between scenes and coming back from commercials. So speaking of transitions, let’s get moving on to the next issue and see how our Ripper mystery unfolds.
CSI: Serial #2 ***
Released in 2003 Cover price $3.99 IDW #2 of 5
We open with Grissom, Catherine and Warrick at the second “Ripper” crime scene. Grissom begins to explain the parallels with this murder and that of Ripper victim Polly Nichols, but they note that although staged as much, Gail Kelly (the victim) was not actually a prostitute. Meanwhile, Nick and Sarah begin to piece together the particulars of the dumpster murder victim, who’s likely not connected to the Ripper murders. They discover the woman’s identity and begin to search her apartment for clues finding garbage packs seemingly full of evidence. Grissom, Warrick and Catherine discover an interesting link to their case; there’s a convention for Jack the Ripper enthusiasts currently happening in Las Vegas. Warrick visits the convention and of course everyone there denies everything. The case seems stalled as elsewhere in the city, a prostitute is ready to meet her end at the hand of the faux Ripper.
Now we’re moving right along…sort of. I recall my mom complaining that CSI was a bit slow for her liking and if the comic is any indication of the pacing of the show, in retrospect, I can see what she means. It’s super procedural, which is why I think I lost interest in the show after a few seasons. You can only watch the same things over and over for so long. Anyway, that’s more of a judgement on the source material than the comic itself. Despite being a tad slow, it’s very well written, good artwork. Hopefully the story speeds up in the next issue so let’s get to it.
CSI: Serial # 3 ***
Released in 2003 Cover price $3.99 IDW #3 of 5
At the scene of the latest murder, Grissom Cath and Warrick talk through the similarities between this case and another Ripper victim, and Grissom observes a change in motive. Back at the lab, Nick and Sarah are ready to give up on the evidence collected in the garbage bags when Greg shows up with DNA evidence from 3 different sources, one female (the victim) and two male, one of which was related to the victim. Later that night Catherine follows up on a lead that Gail Kelly, one of the victims was HIV positive, while Grissom is visited by Hines, the reporter who’s been following the case. He’s obtained a recording on the newspaper’s tipline that may foretell the faux ripper’s next move. Meanwhile Catherine’s got a a lead of her own when she tracks Gail Kelly’s whereabouts through some show dogs, but comes up short. But Nick and Sarah’s lead begins to pan out. They find the victim’s brother whose DNA they obtained earlier and interrogate him. He points to the victim’s abusive boyfriend. The issue ends with Gil and Brass staking out the neighborhood where they Faux Ripper’s been striking. A suspect comes into view, but gets away…though not before leaving evidence on Grissom.
This issue started off a bit slowly and stayed that way, but a lot of things happened. It’s kind of the nature of a story like this that it’s a lot of nitty gritty details that go toward solving the mystery. As I get further into this story, I’ve noticed that I have to keep referring back to the earlier comics to keep the victims straight – that’s not a problem I recall having with the show,but maybe it’s because this particular story has a lot happening between the different CSI’s and the victims each paralleling the Ripper story. That parallel, by the way works really well for the most part, and I’m glad they chose to do this story in comic form rather than on TV. I think the harkening back to Victorian England would have been rather cheesy in the typical CSI-style flashbacks, but the artwork lends itself nicely to subtle stylistic differences between the modern and Victorian flashbacks. I’m very much looking forward to issue 4 because I cannot remember how this story ends…or in this case begins to end. So let’s go!
We open where the last comic left off, at the scene of Grissom’s stakeout gone slightly awry. Catherine and Warrick arrive on the scene for backup. Grissom’s concerned that by letting the faux ripper go, they’ve only played right into his hand and encouraged him to follow the real ripper’s pattern. Meanwhile, Nick and Sarah interrogate the boyfriend of their garbage dump victim, and while he admits to being violent, he points the finger back at the girl’s brother. Grissom, Warrick and Catherine find another dog hair at the crime scene and one of the cops radios that they’ve got the suspect in their sites, but he once again escapes, this time leaving another body. Warrick mentions that the man running the Ripper convention is named Tumblety, meaning he may be a distant relative of an original Ripper suspect. If the case follows the original Ripper pattern, there’s only one victim left before the killer disappears so Grissom prepares to visit Tumblety.
The story’s progressing nicely in this issue, though I’m wondering how they’ll wrap everything up in only more comic without seeming cliched or contrived. I actually had to do some research on the whole Francis Tumblety thing because his name wasn’t ringing a bell from my prior Jack the Ripper reading. Tumblety was an actual Ripper suspect, and based on his biography, I’m wondering if he wasn’t a partial inspiration for Jackson on Ripper Street. Then again, I could probably link just about anything to Ripper Street if I tried hard enough (obsessed much?). I’m going to keep this one short as I’m eager to get to our conclusion. So onward to issue 5.
CSI: Serial #5 ***
Released in 2003 Cover Price $3.99 IDW #5 of 5
The media is on to the Ripper story, but the good news is that Sarah and Nick have solved the dumpster murder (it was the brother) and can help the rest of the team with the Ripper murders. They’re sent to Tumblety’s house while Grissom ambushes him at the Ripper convention in the middle of a panel discussion during which he’s passionately defending his ancestor. Grissom interrogates Tumblety, and it’s looking worse and worse as a knife found in his garbage is proved to be the murder weapon. So….whodunit? Well dear reader, I’m not going to spoil it for you. You’ll just have to read for yourself.
If you watched early 2000s crime dramas (CSI, Law & Order, Without a Trace), you won’t be terribly surprised by how the ending of this comic series panned out. It’s not a disappointing ending at all, and probably the first time I read it, it was really cool. Now, however, having seen it a million times, the ending feels just a bit cliche. Ultimately though, this is a really good series. The artwork and story are consistently well done and fit the sensibility of the show. An ad on the back of the final issue reminds me that IDW had already begun advertising a follow up story called “Thicker Than Blood,” which I also own and remember even less of than this first story. Perhaps I shall grace Rotten Ink once more to tell you all about it at some future point.
In the meantime, Matt will be returning for the next update and taking you on a delicious trek into the woods as you travel to Camp Candy.