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inner city romance 2
solid writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 2
total score 8
Inner City Romance Comix #2
Radical Rock
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1st-2nd Printing / December, 1972 / 36 pages / Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
Nine months after the first issue came out, Last Gasp published Inner City Romance #2, subtitled Radical Rock, a story that was originally serialized in the San Francisco tabloid, Good Times. In many ways, the second issue is quite different from the first, with its lushly painted cover art and dense, dark interior drawing. After using no screentone in the first issue, Colwell burnished it everywhere in the second. After the gritty realism and street-wise dialog of Choices, Colwell employs a relentless rhythmic cadence and musical undercurrent in Radical Rock. After focusing on three key characters in #1, Colwell delivers the entire community and their collective discontent in #2.

Inner City Romance #2 carries over one element of the first issue, and that is the character James, the militant ex-con who wants to fight the system to improve the future for his people. At the end of the first book, James appears to be choosing between the temptation of easy money, drugs and whores or killing the people who perpetuate the lack of moral character and despair in his community. While his decision is not expressly revealed here, it seems clear that he chose neither option, choosing instead to simply walk away and save himself for a better purpose.

As the book opens, we learn that James has helped organize resistance to government brutality and injustice against citizens of his community, which include people of all colors with similar economic hardship. His latest endeavor is arranging a benefit concert to raise funds to bail out three activists who were arrested on false charges, but he learns that the cops are planning a bust of everyone involved, scuttling the concert. Word spreads throughout the neighborhood of the impending bust, but everyone seems determined to do the concert anyway. After James is gunned down in the streets by the cops, the resolve to rally together and be heard only grows stronger.

With James dead, the focal point of the story shifts to the nameless lead guitarist of the rock band at the benefit concert. He gets on stage and starts whipping the crowd into a frenzy as he sings "we got to make a stand!" Hordes of police show up at the concert and conflict soon follows, which lands the guitarist (and many others) in jail.

While the riot is going on, Colwell introduces us to the guitarist's parents; a World War II veteran and his hefty wife, who live in an apartment nearby. In this bawdy interlude, mom and dad watch a little TV in their bedroom and then have passionate sex, all the while debating about what's wrong with the uppity youth of today. Just after their roll in the hay leaves them both spent, the phone rings and they find out their son, the guitarist, is in jail for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.

Colwell instantly switches to the jail where the guitarist is pleading with his parents on the phone to bail him out. After the cops get him off the phone, they tell the guitarist they'll drop the charges if he'll just tell the crowd gathered outside the jail to all go home. The cops want to quell a potential riot because the news media is also outside the jail, and they don't want any of these radical punks getting face time on TV. The guitarist agrees to their deal, but when he steps outside the jail he can't resist stirring up the crowd once again, causing the news media to start flashing cameras and rolling tape.

The guitarist's parents have also made their way down to the jailhouse, bringing the money needed to bail their son out of jail. The father is none too happy about the scene his son is making, while the son only wishes he could explain to his dad how "the man" doesn't care any more about good nigguhs than he cares about bad nigguhs. They all still nigguhs. Alas, the guitarist never gets that chance, as both his dad and himself are shot to death by snipers on the roof of the jailhouse.

On the inside back cover, an epilogue reveals that the shootings of the guitarist and his dad led to the deaths of four police officers, causing the mayor to convene with the governor to determine "possible steps to end the violence." Martial law has not been ruled out.

The tragic story in Inner City Romance, Radical Rock looks and sounds like a play in epic theatre, a specific genre of theatrical performance in which the audience is always aware that it is watching a play; the illusion of reality is neither pursued nor desired. Radical Rock feels like epic theatre primarily because almost all of the dialog is set in rhyme, much like the dialog in a children's story from Dr. Seuss. Here's two examples from the story that illustrate such dialog:

"Tell me please, what's in your head? What ARE we gonna do?"
"A brother's dead, a bust's ahead! It's up to me and you!"

"That fucking mountain top be damned! I ain't doin' that!"
"We're fightin' for survival now, pig showed us where it's at!"

This rhyming takes place whether the dialog is spoken by one character or in an exchange between two or three characters. It quickly imbues a sense of theater to the story, which otherwise plays out as a sober urban drama, like a darker version of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing." Colwell's use of this class of dialog, which reigns throughout a story with virtually no narrative or exposition, is a bold choice. He may have chosen it because Radical Rock was first serialized in Good Times and it seemed to make sense for a story that had to recapture its audience with every new issue. But ultimately, I think it detracts from the power inherent in the story. If I were to take the entire script of this comic book and rewrite it to eliminate all the rhyming, I think the net result would be a more harrowing and impactful chronicle of a tragic and deadly conflict.

But perhaps that's just me. Whatever the nuances of the script, Inner City Romance #2 remains a fascinating and authoritative study of the grim consequences of bureaucratic oppression and abuse of power in a disadvantaged community hungry for justice.
There are two printings of this comic book, both by Last Gasp and both with 50-cent cover prices. The 1st printing (20,000 copies) and 2nd printing (10,000 copies) are currently considered indistinguishable from one another.
Guy Colwell - 1-36