Spoiler Warning: “Ken Games” is a series that works best without spoilers. This review will be spoiler free for the second volume, but the first volume (which I reviewed here) is fair game.
Yes, the three volumes in this series are titled “Rock,” “Paper,” and “Scissors.” We know all about Rock, the boxer, from the first volume. And we know from the end of the first album that “Scissors” is a nickname of some sort for Anne in her assassin’s guild.
Which means this is TJ’s issue, so we get lots of poker!
It was established very early in the first book that TJ’s math studies in college leaned towards things like probability, statistics, and accounting. So while his girlfriend, Anne, thought he was using that math to work in a bank, he actually spent his days in an underground poker joint. Those three math skills would be very helpful to a poker player.
Basically, “Ken Games” is a STEM publicity tool, showing us all the potential job opportunities we have open to us if we start by studying math. That includes degenerate gambler and confused boxer.
It All Comes Together
The three worlds of lies that were established in the first volume crash together pretty quickly in the second. It’s the night of a big boxing match, a big poker match, and a big assassination target. The three events interweave, as TJ’s narration and various characters’ dialogue helps parallel what’s going on from one scene to another.
And, as usual, the storytelling keeps cutting between the three in amazing fashion. You never lose track of what’s going on. You know the cuts happen at particular times to keep the tension high and keep you on your toes.
The Storytelling Style of Marcial Toledano
In particular, Marcial Toledano’s art tells the story masterfully. He populates every page and every panel with realistic backgrounds and decorations, without cheating on any of them.
He also picks camera angles that not only serve the story, but display his ability to draw a scene from any angle. Read his pages carefully and you’ll see him move his camera from ground level to eye level to an elevated angle looking down. He’s also good at drawing things in all levels of each panel, from the nearest foreground to the furthest backgrounds.
Let me show you an example. This is a scene from the first album, but it’s nearly repeated in the second. It shows the routine everyday life of Anne and TJ as they head off to work.
First, note the camera position across the three panels. It goes from low to eye level to high.
In all three panels, Anne is looking towards TJ, and by reversing their positions on the third panel, Toledano keeps her from looking off panel or making TJ appear to drive off the page.
Layers of Art
In the first panel, the stick shift is in the foreground, the characters are in the middle, and the back seat and city out the back window form a background. In the second panel, it’s Anne, TJ in the car, and the buildings showing the three planes of the panel. The final panel is the same, though without TJ in view.
Toledano draws out the city in exquisite detail in the background, though, in what has to be one of the smallest panels of the album.
In the last two panels, Anne and TJ-in-the-car stand out on the page for wearing primary colors amidst a sea of washed out and earthen tones.
No Detail Left Undrawn
Just look at all the details on that last page. From the tiles on the sidewalk and the lines on the curb all the way back to all the windows on those tiny buildings down the street, Toledano fills the panel. The rest of the panels and pages are like this, too. He draws every character in every environment, with very very few shortcuts taken.
I know some find this to be too busy, but I disagree. I think it gives the storytelling a greater strength; the reader will always know where every action takes place. The establishing shots are filled with details. The closer shots afterwards spare no effort in keeping things consistent and putting characters into a definite environment.
Toledano does a great job with his coloring in keeping all that detail from overwhelming the page by keeping his colors relatively simple.
A Good Poker Primer
I spent a lot of time playing and watching poker in the 2000 – 2010 time frame. Watching TJ become the star of the issue and live everything through the poker filter is fascinating. This is definitely a book of its era. It came in near the end of the poker explosion, but it uses all the tics of it well, even namechecking a couple of well-known poker names. There’s also a character who is clearly meant to be Doyle Brunson, but isn’t. (Really, lawyers, they tried very hard to not make it Brunson…)
Toledano and writer Jose Robledo simulate the televised poker experience in the book as well. They include everything from the lipstick cam to the presentation of the money to the race to the final table. They even simulate the graphics from the tv screen well. (The original series letterer isn’t named. The translated lettering is credited to Camille Gruenberg from a translation by Christi Clemons Hoffman.)
Nailed the Ending
The final two pages of this volume are masterful. It’s a great piece of staging a scene and creating frames within frames. It’s a crazy way to end the volume on an exclamation point. And the action that happens on the final page was seeded much earlier in the volume, if you were paying attention.
I’d love to see “Strip Panel Naked” take on those last two pages. They’re that good.
I can’t imagine what it was like reading this series as it was coming out, and having to wait a year for the next volume after reading this one. I’m incredibly happy I picked these all up at once.
I looked it up: Volume 1 came out in April of 2009, followed quickly by volume 2 in August that year. The third book debuted more than a year later in November 2010. The prequel volume followed four years later in March 2014.
Questions Answered In This Volume
Where does “Ken Games” come from?
How does TJ become “Paper”?
Wait, New Lies?!?
Of course. Once a liar, always a liar.
That’s the next big trick of the series. Even with Robledo seemingly blowing everything up halfway through the series here, events happen in just the right way that it creates a whole new sequence of lies. The web only gets bigger, even as the initial lies leak out.
As you might imagine, it’s the reaction to discovering the lies that should prove even better dramatic fodder than the desperation of keeping the lies in the first place.
Especially from that last page, because WOW that’s a good one.
Yes, absolutely. If you read the first volume and didn’t hate it, you owe it to yourself to pick up the second to see how much of it pays off so quickly. This book moves.
Read the Rest
I have reviewed all four chapters of this story. Here are where you can find the rest: