Sunday, January 07, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #7: The Bloody Cardinal by Richard Sala

I wish I had a picture to share with you, but I don't, so you'll have to imagine it.

I live in a small town in northern New Jersey, and the mascot of our high school sports teams is the cardinal. In the manner of all true sports mascots, it has to be a tough cardinal -- hard as nails, bulging with muscles, threatening violence.

Now, I don't know if there's a fur-suited version of this mascot that shows up at football games -- I've avoided all high school football since I graduated myself -- but there definitely are pictures of the Cardinal. Every year, there's a new one in the auditorium with some sort of pun on the year of that graduating class. And the cafeteria has similar murals, rotating around the walls so that the last eight graduating years or so are represented by some red creature declaiming how awesome they were, drawn by (I assume) whoever had the most talent and zeal in that year's class.

So I'm quite familiar with the idea of an anthropomorphic Cardinal bringing mayhem. (I haven't made a serious study of it, but I can't imagine there are many schools with a cardinal mascot. So I think I'm one of the few.)

I'm also a longtime follower of the comics of Richard Sala, which have featured all kinds of bizarre monsters creating mayhem, in a colorfully detailed illustrative style, for thirty years or so now. (See my posts about his books Black Cat Crossing and The Hidden and The Ghastly Ones and The Chuckling Whatzit.)

And thus there is, I insist, no one better positioned to tell you about Sala's most recent book, The Bloody Cardinal. I've got the cardinal, I've got Sala -- I have the whole package.

Sadly for me, Bloody Cardinal is a minor Sala book, without the rococo trappings and more complex plots of his major works. Some years ago, there was a costumed hero, calling himself The Bloody Cardinal, who started out with the usual destroying-evil thing, in something like the mode of The Shadow (violent means, lots of helpers and secret messages), but soon turned to just killing people at random. As you might imagine, he was eventually betrayed to the authorities, ambushed and believed killed. Since then, most of his associates have been murdered and their copies of his secret book burned, but the usual Sala nosy young people are searching for copies of that book and the hidden secrets of the Cardinal.

We follow a succession of those young people in this book, and they don't come to good ends. Unusually for Sala, it's mostly young women who are killed -- he more typically has some square-jawed dope get himself killed by rushing in, while his smarter, sneakier girlfriend/compatriot escapes (frequently barefoot) to tell the story. This time, there are some older male authority figures who warn everyone, but all of the active characters are young women, who disappear one by one.

So the plot is a bit repetitive: girl discovers something about TBC, girl meets horrible fate, and scene. The Cardinal does eventually return, in more than one way. And this could be seen as the first of a series of Cardinal stories, making it more foundational -- and Sala has been serializing another Cardinal tale online recently. So the larger Cardinal story is not done, and might have a more pleasing shape when it's done.

The art is also a little less interesting than usual for Sala; he's working almost entirely in a four-panel grid, though he does move the borders around a bit occasionally and combine panels for major moments. But, all in all, this would not be my first recommendation for a Sala book -- there's no character the reader can follow or root for, and it's not as visually enticing as something like Delphine or Mad Night.

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