Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tiger Lawyer: Law of the Jungle

I first noticed Tiger Lawyer when it was featured in Hell Yeah as a back-up comic, and I was immediately struck by the strangeness of the concept.  Ryan Ferrier, writer and creator of Tiger Lawyer, has taken two completely disparate ideas and mashed them together in a way that shouldn't work.  You shouldn't be able to tell interesting stories about a practicing lawyer who is, without any explanation provided at all, also a humanoid bengal tiger.  However, I read Tiger Lawyer #1 and I think that Ferrier has done just that.  Tiger Lawyer is a comic that has something for everyone.  It can elbow the reader in the rib cage and defy you not to laugh along with it at itself, or it can be a surreal noir that takes itself seriously with only the occasional wink.

Tiger Lawyer #1 begins with an eight page story, "Attorney at Rawr" with writing by Ferrier and art by Matt McCray.  The story begins with the closing arguments at a murder trial, and Tiger Lawyer is the defense.  Attorney at Rawr is unabashedly fun and lighthearted in both its tone and artistic style.  Ferrier doesn't pretend that this is a realistic depiction of an actual murder trial, and he writes Tiger Lawyer as an impossibly smooth talking attorney ridiculing his client and the hilariously named prosecutor "Jilm Swamsert".  McCray's art matches Ferrier's writing with a cartoonish style, and his Tiger Lawyer looks just as suave and confident as Ferrier writes him.

After declaring that his client is a "fucking idiot", "a scumbag", and a "horrible human being", Tiger Lawyer shreds the prosecution's argument by revealing that the defendant's diabetic foot would prevent him from leaping a fence in the way that the murderer did.  Tiger Lawyer then proceeds to accuse the prosecutor of being the murderer, and the jury just loses their minds with happiness as if they're at a boxing match instead of a murder trial, and the losing fighter is making a miraculous come back.  Of course, with absolutely no evidence produced against him, the prosecutor doesn't deny his guilt, but rather he leaps onto a table and shouts, "Ya damned tiger bastard!  I'll kill ya!", at which point Tiger Lawyer fights him in the middle of the court room.

The story is topped off with a page of Tiger Lawyer in a hot tub with two beautiful women celebrating his legal victory.  There's the obligatory Tony the Tiger joke, and then an awesome page that reads like the intro sequence to a nonexistent Tiger Lawyer TV show, complete with amazing theme song lyrics such as, "He cleans the streets/and he eats raw meats/with the finest snakeskin/on his cat feets".  Attorney at Rawr dares you not to chuckle at a comic that isn't afraid to laugh at itself and bask in the silliness of its premise.

The second story in Tiger Lawyer #1 is "Dead Cat Walking" with writing by Ferrier and art by Vic Malhotra.  You can tell that Dead Cat Walking is going to be the polar opposite of Attorney at Rawr from the image of Tiger Lawyer shrouded in inky shadows on the title page.  The story details the first case that Tiger Lawyer ever lost, and like Attorney at Rawr, it's also a murder trial, but it ends with a man sentenced to death rather than a slapstick fight between attorneys.  Malhotra's art in this story is beautiful.  His heavy blacks and smokey darkness gives the narrative a distinctly noir atmosphere like you would find in an old black and white, private detective movie.

Tiger Lawyer reassures his imprisoned client that he's going to "fix this", and that the case was rigged in some way.  From there, all the classic elements of the noir detective story come into play.  You have the attempted assassination of Tiger Lawyer because he's digging too deep, you've got the corrupt District Attorney, you've got political intrigue and conspiracy, you've got an innocent man condemned for a crime he didn't commit, and of course, Malhotra provides the moody and monochrome atmosphere.  The only thing out of place is our hardboiled protagonist who is inexplicably a talking tiger.  This element, and the occasional reference to his animal nature ("Boss said this guy was a real animal."), lends this surprisingly serious and straight faced noir story a surreal dimension.

The thing about Tiger Lawyer that interests me is that he's a character that is extremely elastic.  He can be a goofy, fun joke of a character.  Tiger Lawyer can embrace his own ridiculousness.  The idea of a jungle cat acting as legal counsel is absurd, and it's fun to read a story that capitalizes on that absurdity.  On the other hand, Tiger Lawyer can also be a surreal noir.  Tiger Lawyer can be a dark narrative in the vein of private detective stories about a lawyer dealing with crime and corruption, but with the surrealist wink of a humanoid tiger (tigernoid?) protagonist.

There is an adaptability to Tiger Lawyer that is fascinating to me.  The 11 pin ups at the end of this issue illustrate that fact in the diverse variation of their styles and the way that they depict Tiger Lawyer.  This adaptability reminds me of a series that is similarly created with ideas that are totally unrelated to each other: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  TMNT can have a dark tone when it parodies Frank Miller's Daredevil, but it can also be light and fun.  Tiger Lawyer feels like it has a similar ability to stretch itself to fit comfortably with tones ranging from dark noir to bright, cartoonish fun.

Beyond the flexibility of the two ideas, there's something to be said about the fusion of concepts you would never associate with each other; like ninjas and turtles, you would never associate tigers and lawyers with each other, and bringing them together produces a jarring but also weirdly enjoyable feeling.  It's like the conceptual synthesis of jungle predator with refined legal practitioner produces cognitive dissonance.  This feeling of cognitive dissonance immediately surprises you and engages your psyche on a subconscious level.  Of course, this is just my own pseudo science theory, but I think that cognitive dissonance plays a part in making Tiger Lawyer a catchy concept.

At first glance, it might seem like Tiger Lawyer shouldn't work, but it's an idea that is surprisingly pliable.  Tiger Lawyer can be as silly as you want him to be, or he can be a noir action hero and be as darkly surreal as you want him to be.  You can get the first two issues of Tiger Lawyer here, and it seems like Ferrier is getting ready to have issue three available soon as well.  Tiger Lawyer is a strange beast of a comic, and I'd definitely recommend that you check it out.

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