Never Ending #1 (Dark Horse)

NeverEnding1

Rating: 4.5/5 – A superhero and his battle against immortality.

I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with the works of Adam Knave and D.J. Kirkbride even though both creators have created comics that have won them numerous awards. By their reputation alone, one can infer that their new Dark Horse 3-issue mini-series ‘Never Ending’ will potentially be a great comic.  This isn’t their first collaboration, having co-written the critically-acclaimed fantasy/adventure comic ‘Amelia Cole and the Unknown World’ for Monkeybrain. Will that same collaborative success translate to Never Ending? If this first issue is any indication, it seems headed in that direction.

Never Ending, at first glance, looks like your typical superhero story. At least until you read its premise, which goes like this:

What if a virtually unkillable superhero (Charles Baxter) makes a decision to make the necessary steps that may finally lead to his demise?

And get this: he does so by asking the assistance of someone no less than his long-time arch-nemesis, Archibald Crane – the very person who made it his lifelong mission to end Charles’s life but failed time and time again (it’s fair to say that Archibald is the Lex Luthor to Charles’s Superman). Sounds crazy? Not if you’ve been fighting supervillains and saving the world for almost a century. Once you’ve gone past a certain point playing the hero role- such as having all of your loved ones die while you continue to live on with such painstaking longevity – ennui sets in and you can’t help but feel weary of it all. As Charles’s first internal monologue puts it, “Nothing. Ever. Changes.”

Non-linear storytelling is a narrative technique that some comic book writers misuse. That’s not the case in Never Ending #1, where the non-linear approach is used in a way that not only moves the story forward, but also builds the reader’s sympathy for the protagonist  to a fevered pitch. The seemingly chaotic interplay of the different time periods has been told in such a way that made each pivotal moment in the hero’s life stand out in stark relief. There’s an economy of writing that is on full display in the narrative. The story isn’t bogged down by unnecessary words, but rather presents each character beat through a streamlined juxtaposition of words and art. As a result, we have here a comic that is loaded with subtle nuances, all done in service to enriching the story. The issue is laced with a good combination of perfectly timed humor, raw emotion, and balls-off-the-wall action. Sounds like a perfect superhero comic book if you ask me.

Robert Love’s art looks like something most readers would describe as “cartoony”, yet there’s a depth in his approach that adds more layers into the reading experience, specifically in the way he uses unusual perspectives to dramatic effect, on how he does transitions from panel to panel,  and on how he draws facial expressions. His pop-art sensibilities come through in a way that makes both the quiet moments and the action scenes feel more pronounced. Combined with the bright yet unflinchingly savage coloring of Heather Breckel, we get a fine looking comic with a tone that fits perfectly with the story being told.

Given the credentials of the creators involved in the making of this comic, I read the issue with very high expectations. I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. My only issue with it is that it relies too much on familiar tropes. There is, however, an emerging undercurrent of themes atypical of superhero stories that makes this a fresh and engaging read. Elegant yet fun writing combined with strong art makes this first issue deserving of your time and attention. It has certainly entertained me and I’ll be more than happy to read the remaining two issues of this mini-series.

Reviewed by: Lawrence Arboleda – lawrence@comicspectrum.com
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