Kicking off their new alcoholic-superhero miniseries, newcomers Donny Cates, Mark Reznicek and Geoff Shaw surprise with a master class in what a #1 issue should look like.A superhero who gets his powers from drugs and drinking — the concept is so face-palmingly obvious that it’s amazing it hasn’t been done before. In fact, it probably has, and probably with some of the same story beats that “Buzzkill” #1 features. Yet the obvious skill and care that writers Donny Cates and Mark Rexnicek, artist Geoff Shaw and colorist Lauren Affe have put into “Buzzkill” mean that it rises above the level of an interesting idea, and turns into a properly excellent debut issue.
Stories about powerful people with substance-abuse problems inevitably seem to feature them slumming it with the normals at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The structure of AA meetings — “Hi, my name is X, and I’m an alcoholic; here’s my story”– seems custom-built for dramatic exposition. The main character can literally introduce himself to the reader and tell his backstory, with an added layer of dramatic tension because we know that what he’s telling his fellow Friends of Bill isn’t the real truth.
Nevertheless, in the hands of Cates and Reznicek, this time-worn storytelling trope feels fresh and new. The dramatic tension works because the language that our hero uses is neatly measured to fit the true story shown in the art, but also make clear the much more mundane tale of alcoholism that the others at the meeting are no doubt imagining. There’s also a “Call me Ishmael”-like sense that even as our narrator, he’s holding things back: he gives a fake name at AA, and nobody ever actually refers to him as Buzzkill or anything else. References to a huge, city-destroying fight that seriously hurt another super are clouded in shadowy art and half-spoken names. This creates a mystery of what really happened to send him to AA at last, which will clearly drive the mini-series. Finally, the issue ends with a twist readers won’t see coming, which turns the worn-out powerful-guy-goes-to-AA story on its head and sets up a final splash page that’s simply stunning, and begs an issue #2 buy.
Speaking of stunning, artist Geoff Shaw and colorist Lauren Affe deserve a lot of recognition. Shaw’s art is strangely cartoony for what’s actually a fairly dark story, but his scratchy pen lines fit the scuzzy feel of the whole affair, and there is a feeling dark humor to the writing that his artwork captures nicely. Affe deserves the highest praise as well. I’ve spoken before about how pleased I am whenever the coloring in a comic actually supports the story, rather than just fills in the lines, and that certainly applies in “Buzzkill.” For most of the book, Affe uses muted pastels that, like Shaw’s art, capture the intersection of gritty and cartoony where this comic exists. The origin story, however, is colored in an old-school dot-tone style that immediately conveys three things: the fact that we’re reading a flashback, a sense of innocence and happiness that the book generally lacks, and an awareness of how played out it is to tell an origin story in a comic.
Ultimately, this self-awareness is what sets “Buzzkill” #1 apart from the pack. It hits all the same moments as any other debut issue, but it knows where to spend time and where to move quickly and let those of us who’ve read a thousand such issues in our lifetimes fill in the blanks. So it never gets bogged down telling the same story as all those other comics; instead, the innovations, no matter how head-slappingly obvious, have all the room they need.