Overview: This issue we journey with Abe and his new companion Grace, whom Abe rescued from captivity last issue. Together they meet, and join up with, a couple desperate to save their ailing son. They all end up at a strange property, where a man is supposedly able to heal visitors with a special clay and some holistic practice. As usual in this “Hell on Earth” things don’t always go as planned, and the harsh realities of this new world come crashing down on the group of travelers.
Art: Sebastian Fiumara is on art duties this issue, and he does a brilliant job. The issue starts with, and contains, a few flashback sequences throughout, Fiumara takes this opportunity to differentiate them with rough, free-hand panel outlines. It’s a subtle choice, but I really appreciate when an artist does something like this; often it’s left up to the colorist to modify things to provide a visual cue that a scene is from the past, but Fiumara proves that’s not the only creative way to get the point across and it’s the kind of choice that shows how much the artist “gets it”, which is nice to see.
Sebastian’s style is all his own and I’ve become a big fan since he debuted on this title. To me his work feels like Richard Corben, filtered through Sean Phillips, with hints of Guy Davis, and his action sequences are right up there with James Harren. He also does a fine job channeling Mignola in his layouts and sequencing. This issue there is a thematic constant of a mysterious bell tolling; from the cover, to various key moments during the issue it appears, often in sillhouette, and provides an ominous presence; this is a tool Mignola has nearly patented, and Fiumara uses it to great effect. Every page of this issue has a visceral quality, you can almost feel the dread and weariness of every surface and character. The mood will morph into a calmness, but then like a time-bomb something clicks and….BOOM! The page is awash in mayhem and violence. It’s not often that an artist is well rounded enough that an issue can jump from such extremes without some discernible change in quality, but Fiumara has a firm grasp on both action and character, and it’s awesome to experience.
Story: This issue was interesting story wise, but for me the art really propelled the ambiance and lifted things beyond a so-so episode. I’m still not sure what to make of Grace; it’s obvious she is deeply traumatized, but she seems to jump back and forth between catatonic and aware; often shifting only to complicate situations, like a child who’s aware they can manipulate people with their behavior. I’m not sure if this is done on purpose to shape her character, or if she’s becoming a plot device. This also seems apparent when Abe describes his need to protect her, and his belief that he can do so. I trust Allie to develop this further, because it does make sense for Abe, who’s lost control of nearly everything in his life, and is grasping for something he can help or alleviate in the face of a crumbling world.
The parents of the ailing boy suffer from this as well, I feel like they were unnecessary, and the story could have happened without their existence. They’re around mostly to be a device for us to feel sorry for, both before, and after their demise. I think if you can remove a character and still achieve the same story, then you should consider removing them all together, or modifying their role; that is just my take though and it’s a minor thing in the long run, but it’s something I think Allie needs to consider for future arcs.
I’ve enjoyed this series and it’s measured approach to dealing with the end of the world through a zoom lens. It separates itself from BPRD, by focusing on the rest of the population, and the powerless nature of their plight. Abe is wandering through the madness, knee-deep in tragedy and suffering, searching for answers , or at least signs, that there is something left for him in the world. This journey is complicated by his desire to help others, and his resemblance to the very monsters infecting and destroying the world around everyone. I believe Allie and Co. are doing an admirable job conveying the melancholy and seemingly insurmountable odds facing everyone, in the same way John Arcudi is doing with our intrepid agents of the BPRD in the main title, but on a scale that reflects the abilities-or lack thereof–of the civilian population.
Conclusion: If you’re looking for a rosy good vs. evil story, where the white knight always wins, then look elsewhere. This book is taking on the apocalypse on the ground floor, and it’s anything but rosy–unless you count the shade of all the blood. The art by Sebastian Fiumara alone demands your attention, and I trust Scott Allie is building things that will reward us throughout the series, that is as long as you don’t mind rewards in the form of frog-monsters, mayhem, and a frightening look at the end of the world as we know it. If that’s your jam, then dig in, because there’s plenty to go around 🙂
Just for fun here’s a Pull list Playlist suggestion for this issue: The Partisan, By Leonard Cohen If you’ve never heard this song then please give it a listen, in my opinion it’s one of Cohen’s best.