Rating: 3/5 – Boy Meets Girl Meets Violence.
Small press books face a difficult problem of enticing an audience without spoiling them. At the 2013 Long Beach Comic and Horror convention, I was making my usual rounds in artist alley and came upon the table of B. Alex Thompson. He had a limited edition print run of Hass #1 which he sold me on (and without any special request, he even threw in one of his older works for free). The Long Beach edition had a more provocative cover but the cover above is reproduced within on the inside back cover. Written and lettered by creator B. Alex Thompson, pencils & inks by Federico Santagati, colors by Russell Vincent Yu and edited by John P. Ward. The creative team was previously unknown to me. Approbation Comics has other comic titles available on B. Alex Thompson’s web site, so I would imagine that Hass will eventually join the others in wider availability. This is an oversized issue and is priced accordingly.
Those of you that know me will appreciate that the cold opening on action followed by flashback is a well-used device is comics that I would not mind seeing retired. In this comic it is somewhat more justified because the book shifts quite a bit in its tenor. I was going to use the term “tone” but I wanted to make clear that the characterizations and art style do remain consistent. Our opening is a young black man in his underwear being beaten by five racist skinheads. The only dialogue is caption boxes providing a monologue about his fear of dying at their hands. The book’s protagonist, Josh Jones (whose name is first revealed on page five for those that track such details), is the same young black man being beaten before we flashback on page two to “earlier.” The book’s location and time are given in unboxed text while the boxed narration are from Josh’s perspective. In fact the entire book is from his perspective so the reader is well advised to get to know him.
It is the first day of college, Josh spots a girl that catches his fancy and pursues her, replete with hunting metaphors in his descriptions of the “chase.” The book spends 19 full pages on this first day, whereby Josh sees Maggie (whose name is first revealed on page thirteen). He also meets his roommate and we get the backstory of both our leads but our focus remains on Josh. Josh is a trust fund orphan whose parents stipulated he must attend college to receive his inheritance and Maggie has a dead mom, sick dad and has to work during her schooling. The dialogue is quick, snappy patter that would not be out of place with any contemporary romance. The book is not compressed and to my taste is a little too wordy.
What follows the budding romance between Josh and Maggie is eight pages of the violent beating referenced on the first page. The attack scene is particularly brutal with elements of threatened sexual violence, death and further gross acts. Josh is beaten unconscious and wakes up in his dorm. Because our delightful romance turned into an “I Spit On Your Grave” exploitation violence piece the actions seem even more horrific than if the entire book was so themed.
I was really struck by the art team on the book as there is significant use of background screentone (which I habitually refer to zip-a-tone although I believe that particular brand is out of business). I love screentone but that is my own preference and I can certainly see how some may find it distracting.. I think the art team also does a great job with facial expressions of the characters. They are slightly exaggerated but given the fact that so much of the book involves Josh and Maggie (and then Josh and his antagonists) the faces are extremely important. We need to see how the characters act and react, which is most important with Maggie because the narrative focus is entirely on Josh. The pacing works great and the action is clear.
The book sets up an interesting system but the quick quips create some distance between this reader and the subject. That lack of connection further leads me to dwell on some of the formal plot elements which is not where the strength of the book lies.
There is something here but I am unsure of the direction this book is going to take in #2. The shift from the romance to the violence made it really feel different and I respect the creative team for staking out that ground. Notwithstanding that, the focus on Josh left Maggie as more of a cypher than a character and it was a tad too heavy in dialogue/narration for me. I am curious about the further direction but I wish this issue had provided some indication of what is to come.
Reviewed by: Andrew Sanford – email@example.com
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